Experimental and numerical characterization of the water flow in spacer-filled channels of spiral-wound membranes

Szilard S. Bucs, Rodrigo Valladares Linares, Jeremy O. Marston, Andrea I. Radu, Johannes S. Vrouwenvelder, Cristian Picioreanu

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Micro-scale flow distribution in spacer-filled flow channels of spiral-wound membrane modules was determined with a particle image velocimetry system (PIV), aiming to elucidate the flow behaviour in spacer-filled flow channels. Two-dimensional water velocity fields were measured in a flow cell (representing the feed spacer-filled flow channel of a spiral wound reverse osmosis membrane module without permeate production) at several planes throughout the channel height. At linear flow velocities (volumetric flow rate per cross-section of the flow channel considering the channel porosity, also described as crossflow velocities) used in practice (0.074 and 0.163 m·s-1) the recorded flow was laminar with only slight unsteadiness in the upper velocity limit. At higher linear flow velocity (0.3 m·s-1) the flow was observed to be unsteady and with recirculation zones. Measurements made at different locations in the flow cell exhibited very similar flow patterns within all feed spacer mesh elements, thus revealing the same hydrodynamic conditions along the length of the flow channel. Three-dimensional (3-D) computational fluid dynamics simulations were performed using the same geometries and flow parameters as the experiments, based on steady laminar flow assumption. The numerical results were in good agreement (0.85-0.95 Bray-Curtis similarity) with the measured flow fields at linear velocities of 0.074 and 0.163 m·s-1, thus supporting the use of model-based studies in the optimization of feed spacer geometries and operational conditions of spiral wound membrane systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-310
Number of pages12
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - Dec 15 2015


  • Computational fluid dynamics (CFD)
  • Membrane filtration
  • Particle image velocimetry (PIV)
  • Spacer
  • Spiral-wound membrane module


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