The American Water Works Research Foundation (AWWARF) and the U.S. EPA recently granted $350,000 in funding for a two-year study on natural organic matter (NOM) fouling of low-pressure membrane systems that use microfiltration and ultrafiltration. Members of USFilter's North American Technology Center (NATC), CH2M-Hill, the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Colorado and the University of Poitiers France will conduct the study.

“This research study will greatly improve our understanding of membrane fouling, which will result in defining better site-specific fouling control strategies through appropriate membrane selection, as well as effective pretreatment and cleaning,” says Jerome Leparc, research engineer with the NATC's drinking water division.

Participating utilities include the Tampa Bay Regional Surface Water Treatment Plant and the Indianapolis Water Treatment Plant, which are both operated by USFilter. The plants will host pilot studies, offering a range of water qualities for testing the fouling effect on microfiltration and ultrafiltration membranes.

During the study, the research team will investigate conditions contributing to NOM fouling of these low-pressure membrane systems. Researchers also will examine and quantify the impacts of NOM fouling on the microfiltration and ultrafiltration systems, using various pretreatment conditions and water qualities.

Fouling occurs in all pressure-driven membrane processes and can can limit implementing a full-scale membrane system. Although many types of materials accumulate on membranes during drinking water treatment processes, NOM fouling can cause irreversible accumulation, leading to long-term flux decline. To date, little research has been done on natural organic matter and membrane interactions in low-pressure systems because researchers used to think water-soluble molecules passed through microfiltration and ultrafiltration membranes.