Relating Organic Fouling in Membrane Distillation to Intermolecular Adhesion Forces and Interfacial Surface Energies

Chanhee Boo, Seungkwan Hong, Menachem Elimelech

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigates the fouling mechanisms in membrane distillation, focusing on the impact of foulant type and membrane surface chemistry. Interaction forces between a surface-functionalized particle probe simulating a range of organic foulants and model surfaces, modified with different surface energy materials, were measured by atomic force microscopy. The measured interaction forces were compared to those calculated based on the experimentally determined surface energy components of the particle probe, model surface, and medium (i.e., water). Surfaces with low interfacial energy exhibited high attractive interaction forces with organic foulants, implying a higher fouling potential. In contrast, hydrophilic surfaces (i.e., surfaces with high interfacial energy) showed the lowest attractive forces with all types of foulants. We further performed fouling experiments with alginate, humic acid, and mineral oil in direct contact membrane distillation using polyvinylidene fluoride membranes modified with various materials to control membrane surface energy. The observed fouling behavior was compared to the interaction force data to better understand the underlying fouling mechanisms. A remarkable correlation was obtained between the evaluated interaction force data and the fouling behavior of the membranes with different surface energy. Membranes with low surface energy were fouled by hydrophobic, low surface tension foulants via "attractive" and subsequent "adsorptive" interaction mechanisms. Furthermore, such membranes have a higher fouling potential than membranes with high or ultralow surface energy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14198-14207
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec 18

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the support received from the National Science Foundation through the Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (EEC-1449500). The characterization facilities were supported by the Yale Institute of Nanoscale and Quantum Engineering (YINQE) and Yale West Campus Materials Characterization Core (MCC).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Chemical Society.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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