This paper reports on the use of forward osmosis (FO) with polyelectrolyte draw solutions to recover water from bioreactor mixed liquors. The work was motivated by the need for new regenerative water purification technologies to enable long-duration space missions. Osmotic membrane bioreactors may be an option for water and nutrient recovery in space if they can attain high water flux and reverse solute flux selectivity (RSFS), which quantifies the mass of permeated water per mass of draw solute that has diffused from the draw solution into a bioreactor. Water flux was measured in a direct flow system using wastewater from a municipal wastewater treatment plant and draw solutions prepared with two polyelectrolytes at different concentrations. The direct flow tests displayed a high initial flux (>10 L/m2
/h) that decreased rapidly as solids accumulated on the feed side of the membrane. A test with deionized water as the feed revealed a small mass of polyelectrolyte crossover from the draw solution to the feed, yielding an RSFS of 80. Crossflow filtration experiments demonstrated that steady state flux above 2 L/m2
·h could be maintained for 70 h following an initial flux decline due to the formation of a foulant cake layer. This study established that FO could be feasible for regenerative water purification from bioreactors. By utilizing a polyelectrolyte draw solute with high RSFS, we expect to overcome the need for draw solute replenishment. This would be a major step towards sustainable operation in long-duration space missions.
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