Away back in 1953 few people in the world, let alone South Africa, knew or had heard about membrane desalination, but there was an increasing awareness that electrodialysis had considerable potential for the desalination of brackish water.

In South Africa the development of the new gold fields in the northern Orange Free State and the problems posed by the presence of excessive volumes of very saline mine waters stimulated interest in desalination and the CSIR* in collaboration with the mining industry became involved in the development of the electrodialysis process. By 1959 the largest brackish desalination plant in the world had been built and commissioned. South Africans were thus in the forefront of this technology, even to the extent of making the required membranes locally.

Our historical review of membrane development and the applications of membrane technology in Southern Africa encompasses both pressure- and voltage-driven processes. Examples of the pressure processes are microfiltration, ultrafiltration and charged membrane ultrafiltration or nanofiltration, and finally reverse osmosis with fixed and dynamically formed membranes. The voltage-drive processes considered are electrodialysis and electrodialysis reversal.

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