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Paugam L., Taha S., Cabon J., Gondrexon N. and G. Dorange (2001). Nanofiltration of ammonium nitrate solutions. Study of influent parameters. Rev. Sci. Eau 14 (4) : 511-523. [article in French]

Original title: Nanofiltration de solutions de nitrate d'ammonium. Etude des paramètres influents.

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Many water sources deal with the problem of increasing nitrate concentrations above authorised levels for drinking water. In order to minimise this amount of pollution and to achieve high quality of water and reused water in the distribution system, membrane processes are becoming a promising technology. Indeed, they present the major advantages of a small land area requirement, low temperature operation, continuous separation, better effluent quality, little or no sludge production and a large reduction in the quantities of chemical additives. Reverse osmosis has already been used to remove most of the nitrates together with the other solutes, but the disadvantage is that this technique induces a total demineralisation of the treated water. Another possible filtration process, nanofiltration, has been investigated in this study while no extensive research has been carried out on its nitrate removal potential. Theories cannot adequately predict the influence of operating parameters on membrane performance. Consequently, new membranes and modules must be experimentally evaluated for each new application. The main objective of this study was to provide fundamental data for designing an operation of nanofiltration under various operating conditions such as transmembrane pressure, cross-flow velocity and initial feed concentration for drinking water and water reuse purposes.

The retention rate rises with an increase of the applied pressure, reaches a maximum and then decreases. Such a result is quite different from those usually mentioned in the literature where the retention increases and reaches a plateau when the pressure grows. The singular decrease of the retention rate observed in this study could be explained in terms of a concentration polarization phenomenon. However, since the volumetric flux increased linearly with the pressure and remained close to the pure water flux, it might be thought that such an assumption is not valid in the case of this work. Therefore, another hypothesis has to be provided to explain the variation of the retention with transmembrane pressure. As the size of NH4+ ion (ionic radius=0.148 nm) is lower than that of the pore of membrane (diameter=1 nm), cations can enter the pores where they are partially retained due to surface forces (electrostatic and friction forces). When the pressure increases, these forces remain constant while drag forces increase due to the flux in the pore. At low pressure (P < 5 bars), the surface forces are stronger than the drag forces. Therefore, the solute flux remains low while the solvent flux increases with the pressure, leading to an increase in the solute retention. Above a given pressure ( 5 bars), the drag forces become higher than the surface forces. Consequently, the retention rate decreases.

As can be observed in the obtained results, the retention rate decreased when the feed concentration was increased regardless of the operating pressure. This effect is mainly attributed to the cation shielding of the effective charge of the membrane. This characteristic can be explained by the fact that the electric repulsion becomes less efficient at higher concentration. It has been recognized that the effective charge density of the membrane decreases with an increase in the feed concentration of an ionic solution. Consequently, the retention rate of the co-ion due to charge effect is reduced. It follows that a greater amount of nitrate ions could permeate when feed solutions of higher concentration are applied.

The effect of cross-flow velocity on the fluxes is insignificant since the permeate flux depends only on transmembrane pressure. However, the retention performance increases with velocity. The lower the cross-flow velocity, the higher the interaction between the solute and the membrane. Therefore, at low cross-flow rate, the solute amount that enters the membrane pores is high. When the drag forces become stronger than the surface forces, as explained above, the retention sharply decreases. At high cross-flow velocity, the feed circulation transports a large solute amount and therefore, the solute amount that enters the pores is reduced and is less sensitive to operating pressure. In consequence, the sensitivity of the retention to transmembrane pressure is not so marked. It might be thought that for a very high cross-flow velocity, the retention increases and then remains constant.

It was demonstrated in this work that nanofiltration can be successfully used to remove nitrates from water. The retention was shown to depend strongly on operating parameters such as feed solution concentration, applied pressure and circulation cross-flow rate. In fact, the retention is mainly determined by the intensity of the solute / membrane interaction. This interaction comes from two main forces: a tangential one due to the feed solute flow (illustrated by the cross-flow velocity effect) and a radial one in the pores due to drag forces (illustrated by the transmembrane pressure effect). Moreover, it was observed that the valence of the associated ions is an important factor that can affect nitrate retention. It can be expected that the optimization of the separation performance will result of the best combination of all these parameters. Therefore, with a view to a future industrial application, it will be necessary to take into consideration the chemical composition of the resource and to adapt the operating conditions to the desired objectives.


Nanofiltration, Ammonium nitrate, Operating parameters, Nitrate removal, Surface forces, Radial and tangential forces, Cross-flow velocity, Water treatment.

Corresponding author

Lydie Paugham, Département Procédés et Analyses pour l'Environnement, Laboratoire de Chimie des Eaux et de l'Environnement ENSCR, Avenue du Général Leclerc, 35700, Rennes, FRANCE

Email : lydiepaugam@yahoo.com
Telephone : 33 / Fax : 33

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Update: 2006-12-21
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