Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering


College of Engineering


Amro El Badawy

Advisor Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Advisor College

College of Engineering


Reverse osmosis (RO) is widely used for water reuse and desalination. Although RO membranes are known for their high salt rejection and practical permeate flux, their performance can be impaired by fouling, and their removal of some disinfection byproducts and their precursors (e.g., bromide, N-Nitrosodimethylamine [NDMA]) does not meet drinking water standards. RO membrane modifications have been widely studied to overcome these limitations. In this research, RO membranes were grafted with cationic polymers to induce a positive charge on the RO membrane surface. This modification aimed at enhancing the rejection of negatively charged bromide ions by removing them from solution by binding them to the membrane surface. The results showed that the modified (positively charged) RO membranes achieved lower rejection (82% rejection) for bromide ions compared to the unmodified ones (94.5% rejection). This behavior was likely a result of increased concentration polarization of the bromide ions at the membrane surface and/or increase in porosity of the modified membranes. Calculations based on the film theory indicate that the concentration of bromide ions at the surface of the modified membrane was 1371 ppm compared to 1307 ppm at the surface of the unmodified membrane. Evidently, the polymer attraction energy was not sufficient to keep the bromide ions attached to the membrane surface and prevent their diffusion across the membrane. Although the goal of the modification in the current study (i.e., enhancing removal of bromide ions) was not met, the permeate flux of the modified membrane was improved compared to the unmodified one. The literature suggests that increasing flux after modification is likely a result of increase in membrane pore size and hydrophilicity.

In addition to the experimental work conducted in this study, a multi-criteria decision analysis was performed to prioritize research on surface modifications of reverse osmosis membranes. It was found that surface modifications have been mainly focused on reducing membrane fouling and to a much lower extent on removal of disinfection byproducts and their precursors. The RO membrane modification alternatives for fouling reduction and N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) removal were ranked based on multiple criteria using the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) and the Technique for Order Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solution (TOPSIS). This multi-criteria decision analysis process resulted in the identification of the top five promising modifications to reduce fouling and improve NDMA rejection. Grafting and coating the RO membranes with complex polymeric salts were the highest ranked modification approaches to reduce fouling. Heat-treatment of RO membranes achieved the highest NDMA rejection (98%); however, this technique was the second highest ranked modification approach for NDMA removal because it scored lower for other evaluation criteria.