Inorganic Membranes

Master assignment: The fouling mechanism of silicon carbide membranes in produced water treatment

During the production of oil and natural gas an enormous amount of water is co-produced. This produced water requires extensive treatment before disposal. Membrane technology is identified as a promising technique to lower the amount of dispersed oil in water to acceptable levels. A major factor impeding wide scale application of membranes for produced water treatment is fouling of the membrane surface.

Silicon carbide membrane have been identified as promising membranes for the separation of produced water due to their high fouling resistance and exceptionally high water fluxes. The major factors playing a role in this separation mechanism are not fully understood. We recently found that the separation mechanism is based on affinity rather than size, and that the specific composition of the produced water is of strong influence on the membrane’ performance. Recent work suggests that surfactant charge, salt concentration and composition, and surfactant concentration are determining the specific surface concentration.

In this assignment the student will systematically investigate the separation and fouling behavior of silicon carbide membranes, using the fundamental knowledge about the membrane’ surface charge and composition. Utilizing a model produced water emulsion, the membrane performance is investigated. To confirm the current hypothesis about the separation mechanism, variations in the produced water emulsion are introduced and the effect on the separation performance is studied.

The assignment is on the border of both process engineering and materials science and will be partially carried out at one of our industrial partners in Copenhagen, Denmark.

For further details contact Patrick de Wit ( or prof. Nieck Benes (