Microfluidics-based fundamental characterization of external concentration polarization in forward osmosis

  • Yanmei Jiao
  • Cunlu ZhaoEmail author
  • Yuejun Kang
  • Chun YangEmail author
Research Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. 2018 International Conference of Microfluidics, Nanofluidics and Lab-on-a-Chip, Beijing, China


External concentration polarization (ECP) refers to the local variation of solution concentration near a membrane surface in forward osmosis (FO). The existence of ECP leads to much lower solvent permeating flux, and hence ECP is a major factor deteriorating FO membrane performance. Therefore, understanding ECP is of practical importance to the control and optimization of FO processes. Previous characterizations of ECP, however, are largely based on indirect experiments by measuring FO permeating flux which together with a certain analytical model is used to infer the ECP characteristics. Here, we report a microfluidics-based characterization of ECP, allowing for directly visualizing the ECP layer under well-controlled conditions. The thickness of the ECP layer and the FO permeating flux are obtained under various rates of tangential flow along the FO membrane surface, which establish a direct evidence of ECP characteristics in the FO process. To interpret the experimental results, a numerical model based on convection–diffusion theory is formulated, and a reasonable agreement between the experiments and the numerical simulations is found. Expectedly, our microfluidics-based approach provides a viable and efficient way of characterizing concentration polarization in membrane systems.


Forward osmosis Microfluidics External concentration polarization Visualization 



This work was supported financially by the National 1000 Youth Talent Program of China and the Scientific Research Staring Foundation from Nanjing Tech University (Grant numbers 3827401772). In addition, we thank Hydration Technology Inc. (Albany, OR, USA) for providing us with FO membranes used in this academic study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Physical and Mathematical SciencesNanjing Tech UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Thermo-Fluid Science and Engineering of MOEXi’an Jiaotong UniversityXi’anChina
  3. 3.Institute for Clean Energy and Advanced MaterialsSouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  4. 4.School of Mechanical and Aerospace EngineeringNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

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