Viability of nanofiltration and ultra-low pressure reverse osmosis membranes for multi-beneficial use of methane produced water

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Produced water management has become one of the key factors to sustainable development of natural gas/oil resources. The substantial quantities of saline water present intractable environmental threats and also increase oil/gas production costs through produced water disposal such as deep well reinjection. Developing high-efficient and flexible treatment systems that can be operated at low costs is of high interests for producers and state regulators. Beneficial use of produced water could represent a new water resource especially for areas with inadequate existing supplies. Furthermore, some produced waters generated are also characterized by elevated concentrations of recoverable constituents, for example iodide. Recovering iodide from brine could offer additional benefits besides providing methane gas, reusing produced water, or reducing brine disposal volume. The advent of ultra-low pressure reverse osmosis (ULPRO) membranes and nanofiltration (NF) membranes with high desalting degree might offer a viable option for produced water treatment because these membranes can be as effective as reverse osmosis (RO) in removing certain solutes from water while requiring considerably less feed pressure resulting in lower operating costs. The objectives of this research were to investigate the viability of ULPRO and NF membranes as potential techniques to treat produced water by meeting water quality standards and concentrating iodide in the brine. The produced water extracted from sandstone aquifer in Eastern Montana was characterized as brackish groundwater of sodium chloride type with total dissolved solids (TDS) concentration of 5300 mg/L, absence of hydrocarbons, and average iodide concentrations of 55 mg/L. The produced water exhibited a very high potential to membrane fouling indicated by silt density index (SDI) measurements due to the presence of small particles and inorganic constituents. The studied candidate membranes included one RO membrane (TFC-HR, Koch Membrane Systems), three ULPRO membranes XLE (Dow/Filmtec), TFC-ULP (Koch) and TMG-10 (Toray America), and three NF membranes NF-90 (Dow/Filmtec), TFC-S (Koch), and ESNA (Hydranautics). Bench-scale cross-flow flat sheet test units were employed to assess the candidate membranes using the produced water with focus on fouling potential, iodide recovery, and general salt rejection. The degree of flux decline was found to be dependent upon the combination of permeate drag force and physico-chemical properties of the membranes. The membranes with higher permeability generally displayed faster initial flux decline. In addition, hydrophobic and rough membranes exhibited a higher flux decline and lower chemical cleaning efficiency than smooth and/or hydrophilic membranes. Flux decline experiments, in situ microscopic techniques, analysis of elemental composition and functional groups revealed that the pretreatment including microfiltration, pH adjustment and addition of antiscalants could alleviate membrane fouling significantly. Chemical cleaning using caustic and anionic surfactant solutions restored membrane permeability more efficiently than hydraulic cleaning or using acids and metal chelating agents. This study showed that TFC-ULP, TMG-10, and NF-90 membranes exhibited competitive efficiency regarding salt rejection, iodide recovery and adjusted specific flux as compared to a conventional RO membrane.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-76
Number of pages10
JournalSeparation and Purification Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Desalination
  • Membrane fouling
  • Membrane technology
  • Produced water
  • Water reuse


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