Fouling and subsequent chemical cleaning are two important issues for sustainable operation of nanofiltration (NF) membranes in water quality control applications. Because fouling strongly depends on the feed water quality, especially the ionic composition, chemical cleaning solutions should be chosen to target the solution chemistry that is most responsible for the formation of a compact, high resistance fouling layer. In this study, the effect of solution chemistry on natural organic matter (NOM) fouling of two NF membranes with different surface properties was investigated. Compared to monovalent cations, divalent cations were found to greatly enhance NOM fouling by complexation. Moreover, calcium ions caused a much greater fouling rate than magnesium ions, presumably due to the intermolecular bridging formed among NOM molecules through the calcium ions. Various chemical cleaning solutions were evaluated for water flux recovery efficiency. Although both deionized water and dilute NaOH solution were found effective in cleaning membranes fouled in the absence of calcium ions, efficient chemical cleaning in presence of calcium was achieved only when the calcium ion bridging was eliminated. The cleaning efficiency was shown to be highly dependent on solution pH and the concentration of the chemical cleaning agent.

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