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A performance and energy evaluation of a fertiliser-drawn forward osmosis (FDFO) system
Globally, water is considered an essential resource as it sustains human, animal and plant life. Water is not only essential for all forms of life but imperative for economic growth. The world’s population is increasing at a disquieting rate, which will result in an increased demand for fresh water and food security. The agricultural industry is the main consumer of global freshwater and utilises fertilisers in order to meet food demands. The demand for water in South Africa (SA) has increased considerably due to the rapid expansion of the agricultural industry, and of the municipal and industrial sectors. Agricultural developments in SA are affected greatly as the country is facing a current drought crisis as a result of low rainfall and large water demands. With an abundance of saline water globally, desalinisation will be a major contributor to solving the global freshwater crisis. With limited fresh water resources accompanied by the agricultural industry as a major consumer, alternative measures are required to desalinate water specifically for agricultural use. Forward osmosis (FO) is a membrane technology that gained interest over the past decade because it has several advantages over pressure-driven membrane processes such as reverse osmosis (RO). FO technology is based on the natural osmotic process which is driven by a concentration gradient between two solutions separated by a semi-permeable membrane. Naturally, water will permeate through the membrane from a solution of low solute concentration or low osmotic pressure (OP) known as a feed solution (FS) to a solution of a higher concentration or higher OP also known as a draw solution (DS). Whilst various research studies have contributed to several advances in FO, several process limitations such as reverse solute flux (RSF), concentration polarisation (CP) and membrane fouling remain problematic, hindering FO for large-scale applications. Further investigation is therefore warranted and crucial in order to understand how to mitigate these limitations to develop/improve future processes. The aim of this study was to evaluate a fertiliser-drawn forward osmosis (FDFO) system by investigating the effects of membrane orientation, system flow rate, DS concentration, and membrane fouling on an FDFO systems performance and energy consumption. The FS used was synthetic brackish water with a sodium chloride (NaCl) content of 5 g/L whereas a potassium chloride (KCl) synthetic fertiliser was used as a DS. The membrane utilised was a cellulose triacetate (CTA) membrane and was tested in forward osmosis mode (FO mode) and pressure retarded osmosis mode (PRO mode) whilst the system flow rate was adjusted between 100, 200 and 400 mL/min. Additionally, the DS concentration was altered from 0.5, 1 and 2 M KCl, respectively. Experiments were performed using a bench scale FO setup which comprised of an i) FO membrane cell, ii) a double head variable peristaltic pump for transporting FS and DS’s respectively, iii) a digital scale to measure the mass of the DS, iv) a magnetic stirrer to agitate the FS, v) two reservoirs for the FS and DS, respectively, vi) a digital multiparameter meter to determine FS electrical conductivity (EC) and vii) a digital electrical multimeter to measure system energy consumption. Each experiment comprised of seven steps i) pre-FDFO membrane control, ii) membrane cleaning, iii) FDFO experiment, iv) post-FDFO membrane control, v) membrane cleaning, vi) membrane damage dye identification and vii) membrane cleaning. Pre- and post-FDFO membrane control experiments operated for 5 h whilst each membrane cleaning procedure operated for 30 min. The FDFO experiment operated for 24 h whilst the membrane damage dye identification operated until a minimum of 10 mL water was recovered. The process parameter which largely contributed to a beneficial system performance and specific energy consumption (SEC) was the increase in DS concentration. Water fluxes increased approximately threefold from a DS concentration increase from 0.5 to 1 M, followed by an additional 30 to 50 % rise in water flux at a DS concentration increase 1 to 2 M. SEC decreased by 58 and 53 % for FO and PRO modes, respectively, with a DS concentration increase from 0.5 to 1 M. An additional 35 and 37 % SEC reduction for FO and PRO modes was obtained for a DS concentration increase from 1 to 2 M. Altering the membrane from FO to PRO did not contribute to a beneficial system performance nor did it improve SEC. However, at a DS concentration of 0,5 M, the PRO mode obtained a 5.3 % greater water recovery compared to the FO mode. Conversely, at a DS concentration of 1 and 2 M, the FO mode achieved 5.4 and 7.0 % greater water recoveries compared to the PRO mode. The increase in flow rate also did not increase system performance significantly, however, a fluctuation in system SEC was observed. Throughout the study, no membrane fouling was observed, however, possible minute traces of membrane fouling could be observed from the membrane surface electron microscope (SEM) images. Additionally, minor changes in post- FDFO membrane control water recovery results were noticed which support the possible occurrence of membrane fouling during the FDFO experiment.