Compaction of a Polymeric Membrane in Ultra-Low-Pressure Water Filtration


Applications of ultra-low-pressure filtration systems are increasing as they offer enhanced sustainability due to lower energy input, almost no use of chemicals, and minimum operational expenditure. In many cases, they operate as a decentralized system using a gravity-driven membrane (GDM) filtration process. These applications are relatively new; hence, the fundamental knowledge of the process is still limited. In this study, we investigated the phenomenon of polymeric membrane compaction under an ultra-low-pressure system. The compaction phenomenon is well-recognized in the traditional pressure-driven system operating at high transmembrane pressures (ΔPs > 200 kPa), but it is less documented in ultra-low-pressure systems (ΔP < 10 kPa). A simple GDM filtration setup operated under a constant-pressure system was employed to investigate the compaction phenomena in a polymeric hollow fiber membrane for clean water filtration. Firstly, a short-term pressure stepping test was performed to investigate the occurrence of instantaneous compaction in the ΔP range of 1–10 kPa. The slow compaction was later investigated. Finally, the compaction dynamic was assessed under alternating high and low ΔP and relaxation in between the filtrations. The findings demonstrated the prominence of membrane compaction, as shown by the decreasing trend in clean water permeability at higher ΔPs (i.e., 3240 and 2401 L m−2 h−1 bar−1 at ΔPs of 1 and 10 kPa, respectively). We also found that the intrinsic permeability of the applied polymeric membrane was significantly higher than the apparent one (4351 vs. 2401 L m−2 h−1 bar−1), demonstrating >50% loss due to compaction. The compaction was mainly instantaneous, which occurred when the ΔP was changed, whereas only minor changes in permeability occurred over time when operating at a constant ΔP. The compaction was highly reversible and could be restored (i.e., decompaction) through relaxation by temporarily stopping the filtration. A small fraction of irreversible compaction could be detected by operating alternating filtrations under ΔPs of 1 and 10 kPa. The overall findings are essential to support emerging GDM filtration applications, in which membrane compaction has been ignored and confounded with membrane fouling. The role of compaction is more prominent for high-flux GDM filtration systems treating less-fouling-prone feed (i.e., rainwater, river water) and involving membrane cleaning (i.e., relaxation) in which both reversible and irreversible compaction occurred simultaneously.