The removal of different alkyl phenols by two commercially available reverse osmosis membranes, one cellulose acetate and one aromatic polyamide both with very high rejection of NaCℓ was investigated. The polyamide membrane rejected phenol very effectively while the cellulose acetate membrane showed virtually no phenol rejection. In order to explain these differences a study was made of the mechanisms of phenol rejection by the two membranes. Transient diffusion tests as well as partitioning tests were conducted in addition to the reverse osmosis experiments. From the results it is concluded that phenol is sorbed in both membranes and that the forces of attraction between phenol and cellulose acetate are relatively weak compared to the attraction between phenol and polyamide resulting in a faster rate of diffusion in cellulose acetate and hence poor rejection.

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