Wastewater treatment is a major challenge for Australia’s food industry. Many manufacturers rely on ultrafiltration systems to filter their wastewater before allowing it to enter the ecosystem. Ultrafiltration systems utilise specially-designed membranes that allow certain molecules to pass through, separating the water from contaminants. The problem with these systems is the effects of ‘membrane fouling’, where particles begin to build up on the membrane wall and reduce the system’s ability to effectively filter the fluids passing through.
At the ARC Training Centre for the Australian Food Processing Industry, Mahshid Farzanehsa, a PhD candidate in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is working on solutions to the problem of membrane fouling. Traditionally, fouling is addressed with a washing procedure to recover the flow of the fluid passing through the membrane to its initial state. Mahshid is developing ‘fouling-resistant’ membranes to maintain a constant flow.
“Membrane fouling seems to be the ‘Achilles heel’ of membrane filtration technology. Apart from fouling, membrane technology provides a great wastewater treatment solution. They have effective separation rates, whilst taking up very little space. They can also be used to process heat sensitive products such as juice and dairy products”, says Mahshid. If Mahshid can enhance membrane process efficiency, she could save Australia’s food processing industry a significant amount of time, energy and financial resources. It could also mean better access to clean drinking water in rural communities.
Mahshid recently received an Endeavour scholarship which will enable her to take her research in membrane fouling to the University of British Columbia. There she will expand on her knowledge and experience gained at the University of Sydney to learn novel techniques in fouling elimination being developed in Vancouver.
“At the University of British Colombia, I will focus on membrane surface characteristics such as hydrophobicity and surface charge to reduce fouling rate during the filtration of drinkable water. This research will hopefully facilitate and enhance the water filtration process”, says Mahshid. The inspired PhD candidate is set to head to Vancouver, Canada in September this year to continue her search for an answer to Australia’s water shortage.