Assessing Advances in Anti-fouling Membranes to Improve Process Economics and Sustainability of Water Treatment

Sabyasachi Das, Margaret G. O'Connell, Hui Xu, Roy Bernstein, Jae Hong Kim, Kirti Sankhala, Tamar Segal-Peretz, Rahul Shevate, Wei Zhang, Xuechen Zhou, Seth B. Darling, Jennifer B. Dunn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Membrane fouling in desalination and wastewater treatment increases operating costs and energy consumption. Accordingly, research efforts have focused on developing new membrane materials and surface treatments that can resist fouling. Due to the case-specific nature of fouling, there is limited quantification of the impacts these novel anti-fouling membranes can have on water treatment systems. To address this gap, we report results of high-level analyses that evaluated savings in cost, energy consumption, and life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions when membranes with improved fouling resistance are used in brackish water desalination with reverse osmosis and wastewater treatment with anaerobic membrane bioreactors. To carry out these analyses, we used models Water-TAP3and GPS-X for desalination and wastewater treatment, respectively. We considered the influence of the membrane replacement rate and clean-in-place frequency in both scenarios. In the case of desalination, we also considered the influence of fouling factor and antiscalant dosage. In both scenarios, we determined that increasing membrane lifetime was the most influential factor in reducing operating expenses. Less influential factors included energy associated with increased pumping pressure to maintain a constant flux in the face of fouling and the frequency of clean-in-place events. Overall, desalination energy consumption was insensitive to the parameters we evaluated. Reducing energy associated with sparging in anaerobic membrane bioreactors offered the best opportunity to reduce AnMBR energy consumption in the wastewater treatment plant configuration we modeled. Greenhouse gas emissions were largely unaffected by the adoption of fouling-resistant membranes. Membranes made with new anti-fouling materials could be more expensive than current membranes. For the case studies we evaluate, depending on key variables such as membrane lifetime, the cost of desalination membranes could increase by 1.2-2.9 times, and the cost of anaerobic membrane bioreactor membranes could increase by up to 43% without operating costs increasing above our calculated baseline. This analysis highlights the promise of fouling-resistant membrane materials to reduce costs and energy consumption in water treatment systems. It also underscores a significant need for improved empirical data and multi-scale modeling to improve estimates of these savings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2159-2173
Number of pages15
JournalACS ES and T Engineering
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 11 2022


  • desalination
  • fouling
  • life cycle assessment
  • techno-economic analysis
  • wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Process Chemistry and Technology
  • Chemical Health and Safety
  • Environmental Chemistry


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