FUNDAMENTALS OF REVERSE OSMOSIS
Osmosis is a natural phenomenon in which a liquid - water, in this case - passes through a semi-permeable membrane from a relatively dilute solution toward a more concentrated solution. This flow produces a measurable pressure, called osmotic pressure. If pressure is applied to the more concentrated solution, and if that pressure exceeds the osmotic pressure, water flows through the membrane from the more concentrated solution toward the dilute solution. This process, called reverse osmosis, or RO, removes up to 98% of dissolved minerals, and virtually 100% of colloidal and suspended matter. RO produces high quality water at low cost compared to other purifications processes.
The membrane must be physically strong to stand up to high osmotic pressure - in the case of sea water, 2500 kg/m . Most membranes are made of cellulose acetate or polyamid composites cast into a thin film, either as a sheet or fine hollow fibers. The membrane is constructed into a cartridge called a reverse osmosis module.
After filtration to remove suspended particles, incoming water is pressurized with a pump to 200 - 400 psi (1380 - 2760 kPa) depending on the RO system model. This exceeds the water's osmotic pressure. A portion of the water (permeate) diffuses through the membrane leaving dissolved salts and other contaminants behind with the remaining water where they are sent to drain as waste (concentrate).
Pretreatment is important because it influences permeate quality and quantity. It also affects the module's life because many water-borne contaminants can deposit on the membrane and foul it. Generally, the need for pretreatment increases as systems become larger and operate at higher pressures, and as permeate quality requirements become more demanding.