Forward osmosis (FO) is an emerging process for dewatering solid–liquid stream which has the potential to be innovative and sustainable. However, the applications have still been hindered by low water flux and membrane fouling when activated sludge is used as the feed solution due to bound water from microbial cells. Hence, a novel strategy was designed to increase sludge thickening and reduce membrane fouling in the FO process under ultrasonic condition. The results from the ultrasound/FO hybrid system showed that the sludge concentration reached up to 20,400 and 28,400 mg/L from initial sludge concentrations of 3000 and 8000 mg/L with frequency of 40 kHz after 22 hours, while the system without ultrasound had to spend 26 hours to achieve the same sludge concentration. This identifies that the presence of ultrasound strongly affected sludge structure as well as sludge thickening of the FO process. Furthermore, the ultrasound/FO hybrid system could achieve NH4+-N removal efficiency of 96%, PO43−-P of 98% and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) of 99%. The overall performance demonstrates that the proposed ultrasound/FO system using seawater as a draw solution is promising for sludge thickening application.

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