Reverse Osmosis Purification Problems
Reverse osmosis was earlier used to desalinate seawater and make it drinkable. To understand how reverse osmosis works, let us look at its parent principle; osmosis.
Osmosis refers to a phenomenon whereby a solution moves from a region of weaker concentration to a region of stronger concentration through a semipermeable membrane. In this case, when a semipermeable membrane separates two salts of different concentration, water will move from the weaker solution through the membrane to the stronger solution until the solutions are of the same salt concentration. The term is “reverse osmosis” so we have to revert this process. In this case, the natural flow of water is reversed by applying pressure, forcing the water to move from the concentrated solution to the weaker solution. The semipermeable membrane is porous, only enough to allow water molecules to pass through and preventing passage of larger salt molecules. So on one side of the membrane, you have clean water and on the other side you have salt molecules. The semipermeable membranes used in reverse osmosis water purifiers are made from polyamide-based materials which are resistant to biological degradations but susceptible to chemical attacks from chlorine.
In recent times, reverse osmosis has been used for purification of ground water, surface water and tap water for home use. Purifying water from these sources can pose a problem for the membrane because of its small pore sizes. Ground water and surface water has to be pre-filtered before allowed to pass through the semipermeable membrane. This is the reason why most reverse osmosis water purifiers come equipped with pre-filters and activated carbon to help trap some impurities before it gets to the membrane. This is to prevent scaling of the membrane, reducing its effectiveness. Hard water contains calcium and magnesium, if these chemicals are in high concentration, it is likely to create a hard material inside of the membrane, reducing its effectiveness and likely rendering it useless.
Reverse osmosis will generally remove any molecular compounds smaller in size than water molecules. Such compounds include salt, manganese, iron, fluoride, lead, and calcium. Reverse osmosis is extremely efficient at stripping minerals from water, and it is highly valued as a water purification process in the printing industry, in which mineral-free water must be used.
Reverse osmosis remove particles in water based on size so it is non-selective of the beneficial and harmful chemicals, it just strips them all out. Mineral contaminants such as salt, fluoride, lead should be removed from water because they are harmful to the body but minerals such as iron and manganese should remain because they are beneficial to the body. Reverse osmosis water purifiers need to be paired with another purification technology to make it more efficient. Water supplements could also be used to circumvent this problem.
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