Influence of membrane surface properties on initial rate of colloidal fouling of reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membranes

Eric M. Vrijenhoek, Seungkwan Hong, Menachem Elimelech

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

973 Citations (Scopus)


Recent studies have shown that membrane surface morphology and structure influence permeability, rejection, and colloidal fouling behavior of reverse osmosis (RO) and nanofiltration (NF) membranes. This investigation attempts to identify the most influential membrane properties governing colloidal fouling rate of RO/NF membranes. Four aromatic polyamide thin-film composite membranes were characterized for physical surface morphology, surface chemical properties, surface zeta potential, and specific surface chemical structure. Membrane fouling data obtained in a laboratory-scale crossflow filtration unit were correlated to the measured membrane surface properties. Results show that colloidal fouling of RO and NF membranes is nearly perfectly correlated with membrane surface roughness, regardless of physical and chemical operating conditions. It is further demonstrated that atomic force microscope (AFM) images of fouled membranes yield valuable insights into the mechanisms governing colloidal fouling. At the initial stages of fouling, AFM images clearly show that more particles are deposited on rough membranes than on smooth membranes. Particles preferentially accumulate in the 'valleys' of rough membranes, resulting in 'valley clogging' which causes more severe flux decline than in smooth membranes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-128
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Membrane Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001 Jun 30
Externally publishedYes


  • AFM
  • Colloidal fouling
  • Flux decline
  • Fouling
  • Membrane surface properties
  • Membrane surface roughness
  • Nanofiltration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Filtration and Separation


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