Forward Osmosis Evaluation and Applications for Reclamation

Project ID: 7911
Principal Investigator: Miguel Arias-Paic
Research Topic: Desalination and Water Treatment
Funded Fiscal Years: 2015
Keywords: water treatment, forward osmosis, desalination, low energy

Research Question

The following research questions will be answered in this work:

1. Is there technical merit to the concept of fertilizer driven forward osmosis?
2. Is there merit to residential scale, in-home FO systems for grey water treatment for remote communities, such as the Navajo Nation?
3. Is recovering an ammonium bicarbonate draw solution with ion exchange economical and technically feasible?
4. What configurations and applications of forward osmosis have the greatest potential to compete with other water treatment technologies for solving Reclamation's water supply challenges?

Need and Benefit

According the National Academy of Sciences 2008 report on Desalination, there is a need to "develop approaches to lower the financial costs of desalination so that it is an attractive option relative to other alternatives in locations where traditional sources of water are inadequate" and "develop novel approaches and/or processes to desalinate water in a way that reduces primary energy use." Because of advances in membrane properties and process operation, forward osmosis may have the potential to meet those needs.

There has been a lot of interest lately in forward osmosis in the water treatment industry. There have been companies selling FO systems (like Oaysis) and membrane manufacturers focusing on marketing FO specific membranes (HTI). The most recent NAMS annual conference featured 3 sessions on FO presentations. Because the field of FO is moving very quickly due to this increased interest in the technology, understanding where FO can serve Reclamation's needs in a cost effective, environmentally sound manner may help meet Reclamation's mission.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Bureau of Reclamation Review

The following documents were reviewed by experts in fields relating to this project's study and findings. The results were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Forward Osmosis Evaluation and Applications for Reclamation (final, PDF, 596KB)
By Julie Korak and Miguel Arias-Paic
Publication completed on September 30, 2015

Forward osmosis (FO) is a separation technology that has garnered increased focus from the research community as a potential water treatment method. FO is a separation process driven by differences in osmotic pressure across a semipermeable membrane. Water permeates from a solution with low osmotic pressure to high osmotic pressure without the application of a hydraulic driving force. Water permeates across the membrane until equilibrium is reached, and both feed and draw solutions have equal osmotic pressures. The product is a diluted draw solution and concentrated feed solution. FO applications range from osmotic dilution prior to desalination, water recovery from wastewater, fertigation, emergency water supply and treatment of high salinity brines. FO is generally most viable in the following scenarios: 1) highly fouling and scaling brines where increased water recovery is required, 2) highly saline solutions where other methods of water recovery become operationally unsuitable, 3) applications where multiple barriers are required for water recovery, and 4) situations where the draw solution can be directly used for beneficial purposes and 5) dilution of a high salinity feed stream with a low salinity waste stream.

The following documents were not reviewed. Statements made in these documents are those of the authors. The findings have not been verified.

Evaluating potential applications for forward osmosis (final, PDF, 1.2MB)
By Julie Korak and Miguel Arias-Paic
Publication completed on September 30, 2016

This bulletin summarizes the research results and potential application to Reclamation's mission.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20