Membrane fouling has been a major issue in the development of more efficient water treatment processes. Specifically in surface waters filtration, organic matter, such as humic-like substances, can cause irreversible fouling. Therefore, this study evaluates the activity of a photocatalytic layer composed of Ce-doped zirconia nanoparticles in improving the fouling resistance during filtration of an aqueous solution of humic acid (HA). These nanoparticles were prepared by hydrothermal and sol–gel processes and then characterized. Before the filtration experiments, the photodegradation of HA catalyzed by Ce-doped zirconia nanoparticles in dispersion was studied. It was observed that the sol–gel prepared Ce-ZrO2
exhibited higher HA removal in practically neutral pH, achieving 93% efficiency in 180 min of adsorption in the dark followed by 180 min under visible-light irradiation using light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Changes in spectral properties and in total organic carbon confirmed HA degradation and contributed to the proposal of a mechanism for HA photodegradation. Finally, in HA filtration tests, Ce-ZrO2
photocatalytic membranes were able to recover the flux in a fouled membrane using visible-light by degrading HA. The present findings point to the further development of anti-fouling membranes, in which solar light can be used to degrade fouling compounds and possibly contaminants of emerging concern, which will have important environmental implications.
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