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Review of forward osmosis niches in seawater desalination and wastewater reuse


Steve Barrett

This review focuses on the present status of forward osmosis (FO) niches in two main areas: seawater desalination and wastewater reuse. Energy, economics, and major challenges of FO systems are assessed, and a novel classification is provided for FO processes in the water industry.

This review by an international team focuses on the present status of forward osmosis (FO) niches in two main areas: seawater desalination and wastewater reuse.

Specific applications for desalination and impaired-quality water treatment and reuse are described, and the benefits, advantages, challenges, costs, and knowledge gaps on FO hybrid systems are discussed.

FO can play a role as a bridge to integrate upstream and downstream water treatment processes, to reduce the energy consumption of the entire desalination or water recovery and reuse processes, thus achieving a sustainable solution for the water-energy nexus.

FO hybrid membrane systems are shown to have advantages over traditional membrane process like high-pressure reverse osmosis (RO) and nanofiltration (NF) for desalination and wastewater treatment:

  • Chemical storage and feed water systems may be reduced for capital, operational and maintenance cost.
  • Water quality is improved.
  • Reduced process piping costs.
  • More flexible treatment units.
  • Higher overall sustainability of the desalination and wastewater treatment process.

Nevertheless, there are still major challenges to making FO systems into a commercially viable technology.

The most critical is the development of a high-flux membrane, capable of maintaining an elevated salt rejection and a reduced internal concentration polarisation effect. Another is the availability of appropriate draw solutions that are cost-effective and nontoxic, and which can be recirculated via an efficient recovery process.

This review article highlights the features of hybrid FO systems, and specifically provides the state-of-the-art on applications in the water industry in terms of a novel classification, based on the latest developments towards scaling up these systems.

Water Research, Volume 66, 1 December 2014, Pages 122–139.

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