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


Forward osmosis (FO) is an emerging technology for water treatment due to their ability to draw freshwater using an osmotic pressure gradient across a semi-permeable membrane. However, the lack of draw agents that could both produce reasonable flux and be separated from the draw solution at a low cost stand in the way of widespread implementation. This study had two objectives: evaluate the performance of three materials — peptone, carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), and magnetite nanoparticles (Fe3O4 NPs) — as potential draw agents, and to use multi-criteria decision matrices to systematically prioritize known draw agents from literature for research investigation. Peptone showed water flux and reverse solute flux values comparable to other organic draw agents. CMC’s high viscosity made it impractical to use and is not recommended as a draw agent. Fe3O4 NPs showed average low fluxes (e.g., 2.14 LMH) but discrete occurrences of high flux values (e.g., 14 LMH) were observed during FO tests. This result indicates that these nanoparticles have potential as draw agents but further work is needed to optimize the characteristics of the nanoparticle suspension. Separation of the nanoparticles from the product water using coagulation was shown to be theoretically possible if only electrostatic and van der Waals forces are taken into account, not steric repulsion. If coagulation is to be considered for separation, research efforts on development of nanoparticle suspensions as FO draw agents should focus on development of electrostatically stabilized nanoparticles. A combination of Fe3O4 NP and peptone showed a higher flux than Fe3O4 NPs alone, but did not produce additive or synergistic flux. This warrants further research to investigate more combinations of draw agents to achieve higher flux than that obtained by individual draw agents.

Potential draw agents were prioritized by conducting a literature review of draw agents, extracting data on evaluation criteria for draw agents developed over the past five years, using these data to rank the draw agents using the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) and Technique for Order of Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solutions (TOPSIS). The evaluation criteria used in the ranking matrices were water flux, reverse solute flux, replenishment cost, regeneration cost, and regeneration efficacy. The results showed that the top five ranked draw agents were P-2SO3-2Na, TPHMP-Na, PEI-600P-Na, NaCl, and NH4-CO2. The impact of the assumption made during the multi-criteria decision analysis process was evaluated through sensitivity analyses altering criterion weighting and including more criteria. This ranking system provided recommendations for future research and development on draw agents by highlighting research gaps.