Theory of oil fouling for microfiltration and ultrafiltration membranes in produced water treatment

Ettore Virga, Robert W. Field, P.M. Biesheuvel, Wiebe M. de Vos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


Due to the complexity of oil-in-water emulsions, the existing literature is still missing a mathematical tool that can describe membrane fouling in a fully quantitative manner on the basis of relevant fouling mechanisms.

In this work, a quantitative model that successfully describes cake layer formation and pore blocking is presented. We propose that the degree of pore blocking is determined by the membrane contact angle and the resulting surface coverage, while the cake layer is described by a mass balance and a cake erosion flux.

The model is validated by comparison to experimental data from previous works (Dickhout et al. 2019; Virga et al., 2020) where membrane type, surfactant type and salinity were varied. Most input parameters could be directly taken from the experimental conditions, while four fitting parameters were required.

The experimental data can be well described by the model which was developed to provide insight into the dominant fouling mechanisms. Moreover, where existing models usually assume that pore blocking precedes cake layer formation, here we find that cake layer formation can start and occur while the degree of pore blocking is still increasing, in line with the more dynamic nature of oil droplets filtration. These new conceptual advances in the field of colloid and interface science open up new pathways for membrane fouling understanding, prevention and control.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-439
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
Early online date25 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022


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