Rejection by membrane adsorption has been observed and widely reported. However, little is known about whether membranes possess an adsorption capacity. Experimental data showed that when a hydrophobic polypropylene (PP) microfilter was used to filter a large volume of particle-free surface water containing dissolved natural organic matter (NOM), later batches of microfiltration (MF) permeate caused more flux decline to a fresh 20K-Dalton polyethersulfone (PES) ultrafilter. This suggests that membranes can have an adsorption capacity for foulants. In this research, the gradual increase in absorbance of ultraviolet (UV) light by subsequent batches of MF permeate was observed, and supports the findings from previous studies, that only a small fraction of NOM causes membrane fouling. Attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectrometry and energy dispersive spectroscopy of fouled PP and PES membranes suggests foulants containing amide, aromatic, ether, hydroxyl and silicate functional groups. Silicates appear to participate in membrane fouling, and its removal with the small fraction of fouling NOM can reduce the fouling potential of water. These data improve our understanding of membrane fouling by natural waters, and have implications for the design of membrane plants that filter natural waters.

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