Organic fouling and its effects on trace organic retention by three nanofiltration (NF) membranes were investigated in this study. An accelerated fouling condition was achieved with foulant cocktail containing humic acids in background electrolyte solution. The effects of membrane fouling on the separation process was delineated by comparing the
retention values of clean and fouled membranes and relate them to the membrane pore size as well as physicochemical characteristics of the trace organics. Fouling was more severe for the more open pore size TFC-SR2 and NF 270 membranes as compared to the tighter NF 90
membrane. Results reported here indicate that retention of trace organics by NF membranes was governed by steric hindrance, electrostatic, and hydrophobic interactions. However, steric hindrance (or size exclusion) appears to be the most prevalent mechanism controlling not only trace organic retention but also the membrane fouling process as well as the effects of fouling on retention. Pore blocking was a major reason for the more severe fouling by the loose nanofiltration TFC-SR2 membrane as compared to the NF-270 and NF-90 membranes which had smaller membrane pore size. Considerable increase in retention of trace organics
by the TFC-SR2 membrane under fouled conditions was probably attributed to pore blocking, which was a dominating fouling mechanism for this loose NF membrane. While retention increase due to pore blocking was probably limited to only the TFC-SR2 membrane, retention of hydrophobic trace organics was enhanced under fouled conditions by all three
membranes. This enhancement in retention of the hydrophobic trace organics could be explained by the formation of a fouling layer which reduced hydrophobic interaction between the hydrophobic trace organics and the membrane surface, hence reducing diffusional transport across the membrane.