Reverse osmosis (RO) elements operating at a low pressure (LP) or a low energy (LE) are generally called “LPRO” or “LERO”, and the nomenclature “LP” and “LE” are convertible due to the interrelated features of the pressure and the energy in the RO process. Not only can LPRO be operated at lower pressures, which enables energy saving, but also at the standard operating pressure with an enhanced permeate flux. In this study, the feasibility of the LPRO element was evaluated in the face of high fouling potential feed water. The commercially available standard RO and LPRO were chosen, and the membrane properties including the fouling susceptibility and the surface characteristics were thoroughly evaluated. The variations of various performance parameters were monitored during an 872 h operation in a pilot system, which was operated in a constant flux mode. Then, the used membranes were analyzed to further verify the fouling load localization and the fouling intensities. The average flux variation of the individual RO elements in a vessel and the economic feasibility of LPRO were also evaluated through a simulation study using an RO system design software. This study showed that the localization of fouling load within a pressure vessel of an LPRO system caused about 20% higher flux decline and almost 2-times higher salt passage than those of a standard RO membrane system. Furthermore, the simulation study predicted that average operating pressure difference ratio (%) between two RO membranes decreased from 24.4% to 17.8% and a substantial quantity of LPRO elements (83.3%) must be replaced to meet the designated water criteria only after 2 years’ operation.
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