Membrane is the heart of the RO plant. An ideal membrane is characterizedby its unique properties of high water permeation (flow), very low salt passageand dimensional and chemical stability. Salts, in spite of their small size, are notpermitted to pass through the membrane at a significant rate. Their passage isheld at a very low level, normally less than 1.5% Passage of the larger sizemolecules and particles, such as colloidial and other suspended particles, alsomicroorganism such as algae, bacteria as well as scaling and corrosion productsis not permitted through the membrane’s closed structure. These materials whenpresent in the feed could be trapped by the membrane causing it to foul. Toprevent membrane fouling, a pretreatment is included as part of the RO processto remove all potential foulants from the feed. This not only results in longerlife of the membrane but also improves the overall plant efficiency and reducesthe water cost. Thus, seawater desalination by the RO method is a three stepprocess: feed pretreatment, water desalination and product water post treatment.An aerated feed is normally fed to the plant and depending on the feedpretreatment and type of membrane used the feed pH could vary from 6-8.Acidity in this pH range has very little influence on SS metal corrosion. Theentire RO process is carried out at a room temperature, 15 -
and atsufficient water flow rates that do not allow for water stagnation. These factorscombined with a good flushing system to remove saline water during plantstoppage also minimize scale formation, fouling and contribute to inhibition of corrosionBy contrast to pretreatment and posttreatment processes which are done atlow pressure, less than 6 bars, the desalination step is carried out at much higherpressure, between 60 - 80 bars. Moreover, due to the separation of fresh waterfrom saline water, the salinity of the feed inside the RO modules and rejectlines is considerably higher than that of the seawater feed by 40 - 50%. It isbecause of these differences, mainly the high pressure, that the materials usedin SWRO desalination equipment are quite different from those used in thepretreatment and posttreatment plants.
MATERIAL PROPERTIES AND MATERIAL SELECTION
With the exception of pumps, low cost noncorroding plastic materials, e.g.,PVC, GRP are used in both the pretreatment and the posttreatment parts of theSWRO plant. This includes piping, tanks, valves, joints, filter housing, etc. Inlarge SWRO plants holding tanks and filter housing are made of special concretestructures. For the intake line, asbestos cement or GRP are the usual materials.To be able to take the high pressure, only special corrosion resistancematerials of high strength are used in the desalination part of the plant.Stainless steels are the conventional materials used for high pressure inletpiping leading to the RO membrane module, brine rejection pipe, product wateroutlet pipe, and high pressure pump. These materials have adequate resistanceto aqueous corrosion and therefore prohibit formation of corrosion productswhich could eventually block the membrane. Amongst stainless steels, austeniticsteels are more commonly used due to their excellent resistance to generalcorrosion and erosion-corrosion along with good mechanical strength.