15 December 2015

Nuria’s latest autopsy paper

Ultrafiltration (UF) membranes were invented in the 1930s, but it’s only in the last ten years that there has been rapid growth and general adoption.

UF membranes have a molecular weight cut-off from 200 to 500,000 Daltons, enabling them to retain polymers, sugars and viruses. There are many applications in the food, medical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, including concentration, purification and fractionation. UF is also increasingly used as a pre-treatment for surface water and seawater prior to reverse osmosis.

The majority of UF membranes in service are polymer-based, but different chemistries and hydrophilicities give them different treatment characteristics. Over the last five years our membrane autopsy lab in Madrid has received numerous requests for deposit identification and autopsy work on various types of UF membranes, though most have been of hollow fibre construction.

Nuria Peña took responsibility for developing new techniques for cleaning tests and autopsies on hollow fibre membranes, including deposit analysis, thermogravimetric analysis and tensile strength measurement. This experience culminated in a paper entitled ‘UF membrane autopsies: an approach to hollow fibre membrane surfaces’, which she presented at IDA San Diego.

Nuria’s research showed that 88% of membranes failed due to irreparable fouling, just 11% due to physical damage and 1% due to chemical damage. Surprisingly she frequently identified the presence of calcium carbonate due to poor cleaning protocols, resulting in scale formation.

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