Analysis of forward osmosis desalination via two-dimensional FEM model

Abraham Sagiv, Aihua Zhu, Panagiotis D. Christofides, Yoram Cohen, Raphael Semiat*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Forward osmosis (FO) desalination was investigated via 2-D numerical model of the fully coupled hydrodynamics and mass transfer equations. The model was formulated for a detailed composite channel structure (feed and draw channels, membrane skin layer and porous support) being capable of describing co-current or counter current cross operation where the membrane skin faces the salt feed solution (SFF) or where the membrane skin faces the draw solution (SFD). Simulations based on existing experimental FO data confirmed that FO operation in a counter-current/SFD mode provides slight improvement with respect to water flux, and reduced cross migration of feed and draw solutes relative to the co-current mode of operation. Analysis of existing FO data also revealed the dependence of the intrinsic membrane water permeability and solute transport coefficients on draw solute concentration. Simulation results indicated significant cross membrane migration of feed and draw solutes for long (~1. m) relative to short (~10. cm) FO channels. Moreover, up to an order of magnitude decline of draw solute concentration difference (along the membrane) can be encountered at the draw channel exit region. Simulation results suggest that accurate assessment of FO performance in long channels is critical for full-scale plant design in order to minimize salt leakage, optimize recovery, and setting accurate inlet/outlet conditions to enable simulations of membrane elements in series.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-172
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Membrane Science
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Concentration polarization
  • Desalination
  • FEM modeling
  • Forward osmosis
  • Mass transfer


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