True driving force and characteristics of water transport in osmotic membranes

LF Song and M Heiranian and M Elimelech, DESALINATION, 520, 115360 (2021).

DOI: 10.1016/j.desal.2021.115360

Diffusion cannot be a major water transport mechanism in osmotic membranes because of the lack of true water concentration gradient within the membrane. Due to the semipermeable property of osmotic membranes, water concentration in the membrane is virtually constant because of the absence of salts. The recently confirmed porous structure of the skin layer of osmotic membranes cannot support the basis to exclude bulk water flow in the membrane as assumed in the classic solution-diffusion model. Herein we demonstrate that the concentration difference of water at the membrane-solution interface manifests itself as a negative hydraulic pressure in the membrane. Hence, the only possible driving force for water movement in osmotic membranes is hydraulic pressure gradient. Osmotically driven membrane processes are characterized with negative pressure within the membrane below the water vapor pressure, inevitable leading to the formation of vapor or small bubbles within the membrane matrix. This phenomenon is expected to markedly reduce the effectiveness of osmotic pressure as a driving force for water transport. Delineation of the breakdown and possible restoration of water continuity under negative pressure is essential for proper understanding of the principles governing water transport in osmotic membranes.

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