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Reverse Osmosis System

Chapter: 4

Presented by:
Sujit Dahal

Key RO system Components

Filtered water transfer pumps

High-pressure pumps
RO membranes
RO skids (trains)
Energy recovery system
Membrane flushing system
Clean-in-place (CIP) membrane cleaning system
Instrumentation and control system

Components may differ from one desalination plant to another depending on

type of intake, source water quality, energy recovery system, and design
Entire volume of
pretreated water
is used in RO
Energy is
recovered and
reused to drive
high pressure RO
Cartridge filter
and chemical feed
system are
considered as
pretreatment and
not as RO system

Fig 1. General RO membrane filter configuration

Purpose and Function

Filtered Water Transfer Pumps
Typically vertical turbine or horizontal centrifugal pumps
are used to convey water to RO system
Based on flow pattern:
1. Direct flow-through desalination system
Intake pump station is designed to deliver suction pressure needed
for efficient operation of high pressure pump
Pretreatment is designed in such a way that:
it does not break pressure by use pressure gravity media filters or pressuredriven membrane pretreatment filters and
withstand the extra pressure needed for suction of high pressure RO pump

Suction pressure in SWRO: 2-6 bars

BWRO: below 1 bar

Filtered Water Transfer Pumps

2. Desalination system with interim pumping
Separate pump is installed to booster the filtered source water
flow to suction pressure needed for high pressure RO pump
In state-of-art design of SWRO, transfer pumps are equipped
with variable frequency drives (VFDs) to cost effectively control
feed pressure of RO pumps.
This is required because of impact of source water
temperature and salinity on osmotic pressure and net driving
pressure (NDP)
Temperature AND/OR Salinity
Required NDP and
feed pressure

Filtered Water Transfer Pumps

To maintain HPPs at their maximum performance efficiency
and constant feed flow at all the times, VFDs are installed
which reduces overall plant energy use.
VFDs are used either on high-pressure RO pumps motors
or on filter effluent transfer pump motors
Installation of VFDs on filter effluent transfer pumps is
usually more cost effective.
If the difference of maximum and minimum operational
pressure is (2-5 bars) VFDs are installed on transfer pumps
If the salinity of source water varies in wider range (more
than 30% of average annual level), VFDs are installed on
high-pressure RO pumps.

Filtered Water Transfer Pumps

Fig: Direct flow through desalination system

High-Pressure Feed Pumps

Designed to deliver adequate pressure to separate fresh
water from salts.
Typically, the pressure is 5-25 bars for BWRO and 55-70
bars for SWRO
Required pressure depends on source water salinity,
temperature, target product water quality, and configuration
of the RO system.
These pumps are sized based on performance curves
provided by pump manufacturers
Wetted pump materials should be of adequate quality
stainless steel. (316L or greater for BWRO and Duplex and
Super duplex for higher salinity BWRO and SWRO)

Spiral-Wound Polyamide Membrane


Classified into 3 based on

type of water they are
configured and designed
to desalinate
1. NF elements
2. BWRO elements
3. SWRO elements
Have similar configuration
but differ by type of
membrane material, salt
rejection, permeability,
and operating pressure

Pressure vessels
Inside pressure vessels (housings), six to eight membrane
elements are installed in series
Elements are interconnected with short plastic, spool pipe
segments with sliding rubber seals (O-rings) or via specially
designed interlocking interconnectors.
One pressure vessel houses 6-8 RO membrane elements; 8 is
more beneficial especially for medium and large plants because
of smaller number of pressure vessel housing
Could also yield lower overall concentration polarization factor
due to higher feed, beneficial in terms of fouling too.
Need slightly high feed pressure
Minimum feed flow= 10 and maximum flow= 17 CMH
Minimum recommended flow of concentrate per vessel= 2.7CMH

Pressure vessels

Alternative Membrane Configuration within the

Standard configuration
All membrane elements in same vessel are identical and flux
decreases in the direction of flow
First two elements produce over 35-40% of total plant flow
In actual conventional SWRO systems, flow distribution is uneven
and first membrane element produce over 25% of total permeate
flow (uses over 25% of pressure available for desalination)
Last element yield 6-8% of total permeate
Decrease in permeate production id due to increase in feed salinity
and associated osmotic pressure
The downstream RO elements are underworked, hence efficiency of
conventional SWRO systems in not at optimum level

Alternative Membrane Configuration within the


Internally staged Configuration with Different


Hybrid membrane configuration with SWRO elements of

different productivity and rejection within same vessel makes
optimal use of energy
Most energy-efficient desalination process with lowest fouling
can be achieved by redistributing and evening out the feed
pressure and flux in near equal level.
Recent SWRO plants use internally staged design (ISD) with
three different models of membrane with different permeability
within same vessel.
Disadvantage is RO membrane elements cannot be used
interchangeably at any position which hinders membrane
rotation making more inconvenient and costly.
Hence, ISD vessel industrial use is limited.

Internally staged Configuration with Different


RO System Piping
High quality stainless steel piping is typically used for high-pressure feed.
Higher the source water salinity and brine concentration, higher the quality of
steel required to prevent from corrosion
Copper-nickel alloys are also used for brackish and seawater intake screens
and other facilities
Fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) and HDPE piping are also used for lowpressure applications
Quality of steel is measured as a function of %content of Cr, Mo, and N
contained in steel termed as pitting resistance which is given by:
PREN = %Cr + 3.3%Mo+16%N
Reinforced flexible tubing could be used for NF and low-salinity BWRO systems,
but its useful life is shorter and has higher replacement costs.
PVC (schedule 80), is commonly used for low-pressure permeate piping and
Flexible tubing should be covered with UV resistant coatings and need to be
replaced every 24-48 months.

RO System Piping
General velocity recommendation for different pipe materials:

Stainless steel: 2.5-3.5 m/s

Schedule 80 PVC piping: 1.5-2 m/s
Schedule 40 PVC piping: 1-1.5 m/s
FRP: 1.5-2 m/s

Pressure piping are typically rated at minimum of 150% of its

design maximum operating pressure and fully restrained.
Pipe coating and cathode protection is used to protect buried
material from corrosion and dissimilar metals are isolated to
protect from electrolysis
Buried gravity pipes are sloped uniformly with minimum cover
of 1m and equipped with vents and drains at pipe high and low

RO System Piping

RO Skids

Skids are support

structures for arrangement
of multiple pressure
They are made of powder
coated structural steel,
plastic coated steel or
RO train is combination of
RO feed pumps, pressure
vessels, feed, concentrate
and permeate piping,
valves, couplings and
other fittings, energy
recovery system, and
instrumentation that can
function independently.

Energy recovery systems

Remaining energy from RO concentrate can be recovered and
reused using specifically designed equipment called energy
recovery device (ERD)
Payback time for installation in SWRO plants is usually less
than 5 years
For BWRO plants, savings are significantly low, hence not
frequently used.
Can be divided into centrifugal and isobaric ERDs based on
principle of operation.
Most widely used centrifugal energy recovery devices used in
SWRO and BWRO plants are pelton wheel and hydraulic

Pelton Wheel
Concentrate pressure is
converted to rotational kinetic
energy which is applied to
shaft of wheel
Concentrate discharge is done
by gravity
Energy conversion rate is
about 80-90%
Max. size of RO train is equal
to size of pelton wheels and
max. size available
commercially is 21000 CMD
Simple to operate, more
compact and less costly than
isobaric ERDs.
But are more costly and less
efficient than turbochargers for
small size installations.


Hydraulic turbo booster (HTB) consists of turbine and centrifugal pump on

same shaft.
Installed in series with a single-stage, medium-pressure centrifugal pump
driven by electric motor.
Has concentrate bypass to reduce flow when it is more than required to
boost the feed pressure target level.
Medium pressure pump:- 50-75% of total RO feed pressure (35-46 bars)
HTB:- remaining
pressure (25-37 bars)
up to 56-70 bars
Total energy efficiency of
system = 80-90%
Low equipment cost,
minimum space, and
simple O&M.
Low efficiency for large

Isobaric Chamber Type ERDs

Transfer concentrate pressure directly into RO feed pressure
via pressure exchange by use of piston.
Energy-bearing concentrated stream is applied to back side of
piston of isobaric chambers known as pressure exchangers.
Conveys 45-50% of total volume of feed water and the rest is
handled by high pressure centrifugal pumps.
Has widespread application and has reduced desalination
power costs by aprox. 10-15% compared to other technologies.
Efficiency of pressure exchangers about 93-95%
Two most commonly used isobaric chamber-type ERDs are:
Pressure exchangers (PX) and
Dual work exchanger energy recovery (DWEER) system

Isobaric Chamber-Type ERDs

PE are most widely used in medium and

Lower concentrate/filtered water mixing
than PE
Latest DWEER system are cost
effective compared to older ones
Have more moving parts, take longer to
commission, and are more
maintenance intensive.

large SWRO plants

High energy recovery efficiency and
More compact compared to DWEER
Has fewer moving parts than DWEER
Key components made of fiberglass
which is low cost and non-corrosive.

Routine RO System Operation

Either VFDs or pressure

control valves are
installed to adjust feed
flow and pressure of
centrifugal high-pressure
These valves are
throttled to achieve
target recovery, feed
flow and pressure

Two main goals that drive RO system operation are to:

1. Produce desalinated water of a target flow rate
2. Meet target permeate water quality specifications defined by the final users of
desalinated water
Both goals are achieved simultaneously and continuously
Present desalination plants have at least 96% annual capacity availability (350days)
Well designed and well operated plants can achiece over 98% availabilty

Routine RO System Operation

Over time, RO membrane has to be operated at higher feed pressure to

compensate for loss of permeability and produce same quality of water.
Water with high content of fine solid and colloidal particulates, NOM,
biodegradable dissolved organics, aquatic microorganisms and mineral
scale-forming compounds are responsible for higher fouling.
Fouling capacity of water may change with seasons and extreme weather
Feed pressure is limited by max. capacity of feed pumps and max. pressure
the RO membranes can withstand
Increase in salinity and temperature = negative impact on product water
quality and vice versa
RO membrane permeability along with their productivity decrease
irreversibly with time.
Typically , an RO system loses 8-15% of its initial productivity over a period
of 3-5 years.

Maintaining RO System Fresh Water Production Rate

Compensation for loss of productivity is done by increasing feed pressure of

high pressure pumps via increase pump speed using VFDs or by one of the
following actions:

1. Closing concentrate flow control valve which increase source flow through membrane
2. Opening pressure control valve which increases feed pressure within limit of pump

Maintaining RO system Permeate Quality

Product water quality can controlled by increasing feed pressure and by operation at
high recovery (increasing membrane flux)
This accelerates membrane fouling and hence there is need to increase pressure or
flux to overcome accelerated fouling
This leads to permanent loss of long term production capacity of RO membranes.
Alternative way is to adjust permeate backpressure valve and closing it reduces
concentrate polarization.
During periods of RO shutdown this may lead to thin film delamination if permeate
backpressure exceeds 0.3 bar.

Alternative Approaches for Ro system


Running the RO
system at constant
near max. pressure
of RO feed all the

At 25 C and 1 year operation

permanent loss of membrane
productivity for:
55 bars
less than 2%
69 bars

For actual case in SWRO

desalination plant with source
temperature between 28-35 C:
In 2 years 25% and in 4 years
50% production capacity lost

RO system startup
Key system components to be set before
starting RO trains are:
1. Calibration of all instruments
2. Verification of pressure relief protection is in place
3. Open permeate drain line
4. Open concentrate control valve
5. Set the pressure control valve to partially (<50%) open position.
6. Increase gradually the feed pressure of the high pressure
pumps until target pressure is reached
7. Gradually close concentrate valve to achieve desired Ro train

Key Routine Operational Tasks

Involves frequent checking RO train feed and permeate flow
rates, conductivities, feed and concentrate pressures and
adjusting RO feed pressure/ concentrate flow.
Change in more than 10% source water quality and quantity
require identification of reasons for changes and predict
adjustments required to maintain target levels of all parameters.
Includes daily visual inspection of RO train equipment and
identify deviations from normal operations (unusual vibrations,
noise, overheating, corrosion, leaks, failures, and out of range
sensor readings)

Performance Monitoring
Performance Data Collection
Typical Performance Parameters of RO systems

Source water pH, conductivity, turbidity, SDI, ORP, and Temp.

Permeate and concentrate conductivity and pH
Source water flow and pressure
Concentrate flow and pressure
Differential pressure
Permeate flow (difference of feed and concentrate flow)
Recovery of individual RO trains and entire RO system (ratio of RO permeate
and feed flows)
8. Membrane control valve status
9. High-pressure pump and ERD status
10.Membrane feed, interstage, and concentrate pressures
11.Product water clear well/ storage tank level
12.Degasifier effluent pH (for BWRO plants)
13.Product water pump flow and discharge pressure

Performance Monitoring
Performance Data Collection
Typical conditions for shutdown of Individual RO Trains
Initiated automatically or manually under these conditions:
1. Membrane feed pump low suction or high discharge pressure
2. ERD system is shut down/malfunctioning
3. Train recovery rate is out of range
4. Train concentrate flow is low
5. Train permeate flow is out of range
6. Train permeate pressure is too high
7. Water level in product water clear well or finished water storage tank
reaches preset high level
8. Loss of individual RO train power

Performance Monitoring
Performance Data Collection
Typical conditions for shutdown of Entire RO Trains
Initiated automatically or manually under these conditions:
1. Pump run failure at intake, critical chemical feed pumps or product transfer
2. Source water pressure below a preset minimum
3. Feed water pH, ORP, chlorine residual, temperature, or turbidity are above
maximum acceptable preset design levels.
4. Water level in product water clear well reaches preset high level
5. Loss of power

Performance Monitoring

Impacts of Source water and operational parameters on

RO system Performance
Factors affecting RO system performance in terms of
desalinated water quality and quantity:
1. Changes in source water quality
2. Normal wear and tear of Ro membranes, cartridge filters,
equipment, and instrumentation
3. Membrane and equipment failures
4. Operator errors
5. Changes in regulatory requirements

Source Water Salinity

Higher feed water salinity reduces net driving pressure because of
increased osmotic pressure, which in turn decreases permeate flux
Water salinity
Salt concentration gradient = accelerated salt
transport through membrane
Lower salt rejection

Source Water Temperature

Warmer water reduces viscosity and helps to increase membrane
But osmotic pressure is increased at same time which is not desirable
Rule of thumb: Permeate flux increases by 3% for every 1C increase in
High temperature loosens the membrane structure leading to increase in
salt passage as RO membrane are made of plastic material.
Temperature above 40C
accelerates compaction of
membrane support layer and
results in premature irreversible
loss of membrane permeability.
Recommended to operate below

Source water fouling potential

Depends mainly on following WQ parameters:

Suspended solids
Silt and colloids
Oil and grease
Mineral scaling foulants

Source water Oxidation potential

Strong oxidants (Cl, O3, permagnate, bromamine, etc) cause irreversible
damage to membrane structure and can permanently increase membrane
salt passage
Measured by ORP of source water
If ORP > 250mV, membrane would be damaged irreversibly

RO system recovery

Increase in recovery causes

slow decrease in permeate flux
till osmotic pressure exceeds the
applied pressure.
NDP is not enough and fresh
water production is stopped.

RO feed pressure



At high pressure more water is

produced with constant amount of
salts, hence permeate salinity
decreases (salt rejection increases
with pressure)

Net Driving Pressure (NDP)

NDP = pressure available to produce fresh water at given time
Determined by RO feed pressure, osmotic pressure, and
membrane permeability
RO system production is proportional to available NDP.
NDP = f(membrane type, source water salinity and temp.)
To counter this problem,
high-pressure feed pumps
should be designed with builtin-size and flexibility to
control feed pressure
This is required especially
when new generation
membrane or higher fresh
water productivity is installed.

Performance Data analysis and

Data normalization is standard procedure to adjust key
water quality parameters (permeate flow, salt passage) in
order to eliminate effect of temperature and evaluate the
effect of membrane fouling and/or oxidation separately.
These parameters are recalculated for TCF and MCF and
the standard formula is given by:
NPF = QpTCF25 (NDPinitial /NDPpresent)MCF

Membrane compaction

NDP at time of measurement

NDP during initial operation period of RO

membrane system (48h after installation)
Permeate flow
measured at ambient

Temperature correction factor provided by

supplier of RO membrane: If not known, can be
calculated as:
TCF25 = 1/(1.03(T-25))

RO system maintenance
1. Membrane Flushing and preservation

Typically equipped with a permanently piped membrane flushing system

to automatically or manually every time RO membrane trains are taken
off service
If not flushed causes gradual fouling and deterioration of membrane
permeability due to microorganisms growth, silt and SS settling, etc.
Either flushed using RO permeate water or chemically conditioned
filtered water
Flushing is completed in direction of feed flow and flush water is drained
through the concentrate line
Permeate line should be open to avoid backpressure and consequently
avoid membrane thin film caused by delamination.
Flushing can be carried out by following methods:

Flushing before Standby or Short term shutdown

Flush before or after Long-Term RO train Shutdown

RO system maintenance
1. Membrane Flushing and preservation

Membrane Preservation for Long-Term Shutdown

It is recommended to fill the TO train with sodium bisulfate (SBS

concentration of 500-1000 mg/l) in case RO membrane has to be shut
down for long period of time (> 1 week),.
If there is heavy biofouling, cleaning should be done using CIP procedure.
At the end of flushing, RO membranes should be filled up with
nonconditioned RO permeate.
Addition of SBS consumes Oxygen in flush water and will suppress
biogrowth on membrane surface.
pH of the solution should be checked weekly (If pH < 3.2, the solution
should be replaced with fresh solution)
SBS should be replaced once per 2 weeks 1 month
If ambient temperature < 27C, solution should be replaced in every
month and it the temperature increases the threshold replacement should
be made in every 2 weeks.

RO Membrane Cleaning