Reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membranes remove colloids, macromolecules, salts, bacteria and even some viruses from water. In crossflow filtration, contaminated water is driven parallel to the membrane, and clean permeate passes through. A large pressure gradient exists across the membrane, with permeate flow rates two to three orders of magnitude smaller than that of the crossflow. Membrane filtration is hindered by two mechanisms, concentration polarization and caking. During filtration, the concentration of rejected particles increases near the membrane surface, forming a concentration polarization layer. Both diffusive and convective transport drive particles back into the bulk flow. However, the increase of the apparent viscosity in the concentration polarization layer hinders diffusion of particles back into the bulk and results in a small reduction in permeate flux. Depending on the number and type of particles present in the contaminated water, the concentration polarization will either reach a quasi-steady state or particles will begin to deposit onto the membrane. In the later case, a cake layer eventually forms on the membrane, significantly reducing the permeate flux. Contradictive theories suggest that the cake layer is either a porous solid or a very viscous (yield stress) fluid. New and refined models that shed light on these theories are presented.

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