Harnessing the potential of in-situ, electrically generated microbubbles via nickel foam for enhanced, low energy membrane fouling control

Eun Tae Yun, Junseok Lee, Seung Soo S. Lee, Seungkwan Hong, John D. Fortner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For membrane-based, water treatment technologies, fouling remains a significant challenge for pressure-driven processes. While many antifouling strategies have been proposed, there remains significant room for improved efficiency. Direct application of microbubbles (MBs) at a membrane surface offers a promising approach for managing interfacial fouling through continuous physical interaction(s). Despite such potential, to date, integration and optimization of in-situ generated MBs at the membrane interface that are both highly antifouling with minimal energy inputs and unwanted side reactions remains mostly outstanding. Here we demonstrate the application of conductive, porous nickel foam for electrolysis-based generation of hydrogen microbubbles at an ultra-filtration (UF) membrane interface, which significantly mitigates membrane fouling for a range of model foulants. System characterization and optimization includes comparison of metal foams (Ni, Cu, Ti), faradic efficiencies, hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) curves, cyclic voltammetry, and quantification of hydrogen gas flux and bubble size, as a function of applied current. When optimized, we report rapid (<5 min) and near complete (∼99 %) flux recovery for three classes of foulants, including calcium alginate, humic acid (HA), and SiO2 particles. For all, the described MB-based approach is orders of magnitude more energy efficient when compared to conventional cleaning strategies. Finally, we demonstrate the MB-based regeneration/cleaning process is stable and repeatable for ten cycles and also highly effective for a challenge water (as a model oilfield brine). Taken together, this work presents a novel and efficient approach for the application of in-situ electrically generated MBs to support sustainable pressure-driven membrane processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120886
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 2024 Feb 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023


  • Antifouling, membrane cleaning
  • Electrolysis
  • Membrane filtration
  • Microbubble treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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