A Guide to Reverse Osmosis Membranes

By AXEON Water Technologies | Technical Articles

Technical Articles

A Guide to Reverse Osmosis Membranes

A Guide to Reverse Osmosis Membranes

Reverse osmosis (RO) is a widely used water purification process that removes contaminants and dissolved solids from water by using pressure to force water molecules through a semipermeable membrane. This technology is essential in various industries, including commercial, industrial manufacturing, agricultural, food and beverage, healthcare, and more. In this guide, we'll explore the key aspects of reverse osmosis membranes, their installation, maintenance, troubleshooting, and the importance of pretreatment. By understanding these elements, you can ensure optimal performance and longevity of your RO systems.

Understanding Reverse Osmosis Membranes

A reverse osmosis membrane is the heart of a reverse osmosis system, filtering out impurities and allowing only pure water molecules to pass through. These membranes are made from thin-film composite (TFC) material, which provides high rejection rates for a wide range of contaminants, including dissolved salts, organic molecules, and microorganisms. AXEON Water Technologies, a leading provider of RO systems, has developed innovative membrane technologies to work on hard water and enhance performance and durability.

Key Innovations in RO Membranes

  1. Cross-Link Layering Technology: This technology involves a non-woven media and cross-link layering that increases membrane life and performance. It reduces fouling and improves hydrophilicity, leading to better water permeability and longer service life.
  2. Variety of Membrane Flat Sheets: AXEON offers a range of membrane flat sheets for different applications, including low-energy and extra low-energy brackish water membranes. These membranes are designed to meet the specific needs of various industries and water sources.

Installation and Disassembly of an RO Membrane

Proper installation and disassembly are crucial for the efficient operation of Reverse Osmosis systems. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:


  1. Prepare the Equipment: Ensure all equipment is clean and free from contaminants. Check the water quality to ensure it meets the required standards.
  2. Check the System Configuration: Verify that the system configuration matches the design specifications.
  3. Load the Membrane Elements: Carefully load the membrane elements into the pressure vessel, ensuring they are properly aligned.
  4. Connect the Pressure Vessel: Connect the pressure vessel to the system, making sure all connections are secure and leak-free.
  5. Initial System Start-Up: Follow the initial start-up procedures, including flushing the system with high-quality water to remove any air and contaminants.


  1. Shut Down the System: Properly shut down the system to prevent damage to the membranes.
  2. Depressurize the System: Slowly depressurize the system to avoid sudden pressure changes that could damage the membranes.
  3. Remove the Membrane Elements: Carefully remove the membrane elements from the pressure vessel.
  4. Inspect and Clean: Inspect the membrane elements for any signs of damage or fouling. Clean the membranes if necessary before storage or reinstallation.

System Operation and Shut-Down Procedures

System Operation

To ensure the RO system operates correctly, follow these guidelines:

  1. Monitor Water Quality: Regularly monitor the quality of the feed water, permeate, and concentrate to ensure the system is functioning correctly.
  2. Maintain Operating Pressure: Maintain the operating pressure within the recommended range to prevent membrane damage.
  3. Regular Maintenance: Perform regular maintenance checks to identify and address any issues promptly.

Shut-Down Procedures

Proper shut-down procedures are essential to maintain the quality of the membrane elements:

  1. Flush the System: Flush the system with high-quality water to remove any contaminants.
  2. Fill the Pressure Vessel with Permeate Water: Ensure the pressure vessel is filled with permeate water to prevent microbial growth and scaling.
  3. Depressurize Slowly: Slowly depressurize the system to avoid sudden pressure changes.

Pretreatment for RO Membrane Systems

Pretreatment is critical for ensuring the longevity and efficiency of RO membrane systems. Proper pretreatment helps remove contaminants that can cause fouling and scaling, which can reduce the performance and lifespan of the membranes.

Conventional Pre-Treatment Methods

  1. Sediment Filtration: Removes large particles and sediment from the feed water.
  2. Activated Carbon Filtration: Removes chlorine and other organic contaminants that can damage the membranes.
  3. Water Softening: Reduces hardness by removing calcium and magnesium ions, which can cause scaling.

Scale Prevention and Microorganisms Fouling Control

  1. Antiscalant Chemicals: Use antiscalant chemicals to prevent scale formation on the membranes.
  2. Biocides: Use biocides to control microbial growth and prevent biofouling.

Prevention of Organic and Inorganic Pollution

  1. Organic Matter Removal: Use activated carbon RO filter or advanced oxidation processes to remove organic matter.
  2. Iron and Manganese Removal: Use oxidation and filtration methods to remove iron and manganese, which can cause fouling and staining.

Cleaning and Disinfection of RO Membranes

Regular cleaning and disinfection are essential to maintain the performance and extend the life of RO membranes. Here’s a guide to cleaning and disinfecting RO membrane systems:

Membrane System Cleaning

  1. Identify Cleaning Needs: Regularly monitor system performance to identify when cleaning is necessary.
  2. Prepare Cleaning Solution: Prepare a cleaning solution appropriate for the type of fouling (e.g., acid for scaling, alkaline for organic fouling).
  3. Circulate Cleaning Solution: Circulate the cleaning solution through the membrane system according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  4. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse the system thoroughly with high-quality water to remove any residual cleaning solution.

Membrane System Disinfection

  1. Prepare Disinfectant Solution: Use a disinfectant solution appropriate for the system and the type of microorganisms present.
  2. Circulate Disinfectant Solution: Circulate the disinfectant solution through the system to ensure all components are adequately disinfected.
  3. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse the system thoroughly with high-quality water to remove any residual disinfectant.

Troubleshooting RO Membrane Systems

Despite proper installation, operation, and maintenance, issues can still arise in RO membrane systems. Here’s a guide to troubleshooting common problems:

Common Issues and Solutions

  1. Temperature Effects: High or low temperatures can affect membrane performance. Adjust system settings to compensate for temperature variations.
  2. Suspended Particulate Contamination: Use pre-filters to remove suspended particulates from the feed water.
  3. Organic and Colloidal Contamination: Use appropriate pretreatment methods, such as activated carbon ro filters, to remove organic and colloidal contaminants.
  4. Microbial Contamination: Use biocides and maintain proper disinfection procedures to control microbial growth.
  5. Metal Oxide Fouling: Remove metals like iron and manganese from the feed water to prevent metal oxide fouling.
  6. Inorganic Salt Scaling: Use antiscalant chemicals and maintain proper water softening procedures to prevent scaling.

Membrane Element Selection and System Design Errors

  1. Select the Right Membrane: Choose membrane elements that match the specific needs of your application, including water quality and system requirements.
  2. Avoid Design Errors: Ensure the system design meets the required specifications, including flow rates, pressure settings, and pretreatment requirements.

Feed Water Quality Requirements

Maintaining the quality of the feed water is essential for the performance and longevity of RO membrane systems. Here are some key considerations:

Temperature Correction Factor for Permeate Flow

Adjust for temperature variations affecting permeate flow using the temperature correction factor provided in the manual.

Commonly Used Units and Conversion Relationships

Familiarize yourself with the standard units and conversion factors used in the membrane industry to ensure accurate measurements and calculations.

Industries Served by RO Membranes

A reverse osmosis membrane is used in various industries due to their ability to provide high-quality clean water. Some of the industries that benefit from RO technology include:

  • Commercial: RO systems provide purified water for commercial applications such as restaurants, hotels, and office buildings.
  • Agriculture: RO technology is used in agriculture for irrigation and livestock watering, providing high-quality water to ensure healthy crops and animals.
  • Food & Beverage: RO systems are essential in the food and beverage industry for processes such as brewing, bottling, and food processing.
  • Healthcare & Bioprocessing: RO technology provides high-purity water for medical and bioprocessing applications, ensuring the safety and effectiveness of healthcare products.
  • Desalination: RO systems are used in desalination plants to convert seawater into potable water, addressing water scarcity issues in coastal regions.
  • Life Sciences: RO technology provides purified water for research and development in the life sciences industry.
  • HVAC / Plumbing: RO systems provide high-quality water for HVAC systems and plumbing applications, preventing scaling and corrosion.
  • Microelectronics: RO technology provides ultrapure water for the manufacturing of microelectronics, ensuring the quality and reliability of electronic components.
  • Municipal: RO systems are used in municipal water treatment plants to provide safe drinking water to communities.
  • Mining & Metals: RO technology provides purified water for mining and metal processing, ensuring the quality and safety of these operations.
  • Oil & Gas: RO systems provide high-quality water for oil and gas exploration and production, ensuring the efficiency and safety of these operations.
  • Pulp & Paper: RO technology provides purified water for pulp and paper manufacturing, ensuring the quality of the final products.
  • Power Generation: RO systems provide high-purity water for power generation, ensuring the efficiency and reliability of power plants.
  • Residential: RO systems provide safe and clean drinking water from tap water for residential use, ensuring the health and well-being of families.

Key Takeaways

Reverse osmosis membranes are a vital component of water purification systems across various industries. By understanding the installation, operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting of an RO membrane, you can ensure optimal performance and longevity of your systems. Proper pretreatment, regular cleaning and disinfection, and addressing common issues promptly are essential for maintaining the efficiency of semipermeable membrane and reverse osmosis membrane systems. AXEON Water Technologies' innovative membrane solutions offer enhanced performance and durability, making them a reliable choice for all your water purification needs.


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