Pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) is a novel membrane process to produce energy. PRO has the potential to convert the osmotic pressure difference between fresh water (i.e. river water) and seawater to electricity. Moreover, it can recover energy from highly concentrated brine in seawater desalination. Nevertheless, relatively little research has been undertaken for fundamental understanding of the PRO process. In this study, the characteristics of the PRO process were examined using a proof-of-concept device. Forward osmosis (FO), reverse osmosis (RO), and nanofiltration (NF) membranes were compared in terms of flux rate and concentration polarization ratio. The results indicated that the theoretical energy production by PRO depends on the membrane type as well as operating conditions (i.e. back pressure). The FO membrane had the highest energy efficiency while the NF membrane had the lowest efficiency. However, the energy production rate was low due to high internal concentration polarization (ICP) in the PRO membrane. This finding suggests that the control of the ICP is essential for practical application of PRO for energy production.

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