Deakin University

File(s) under permanent embargo

Chemistry of silica scale mitigation for RO desalination with particular reference to remote operations

journal contribution
posted on 2014-11-15, 00:00 authored by Nick MilneNick Milne, Tom O'Reilly, Peter Sanciolo, Eddy Ostarcevic, Mark Beighton, Kelvin Taylor, Mark Mullett, Anthony J Tarquin, Stephen R Gray
Silica scaling in reverse osmosis of groundwater is a significant issue in water stressed areas due to the limitations that scaling imposes on water recovery. While calcium and magnesium scaling potential can be significantly reduced by the use of ion exchange or other softening processes, the silica scaling potential typically remains. Improving the recovery of reverse osmosis by limiting the potential for silica scale is important in ensuring maximum water recovery. This is particularly important for mining and natural gas industries that are located in remote regions. The remote nature of these sites imposes three major restrictions on the silica scale mitigation process. Firstly, the generation of poorly dewaterable sludges must be avoided. Also, the quality of any reverse osmosis (RO) permeate must be able to meet the end use requirements, particularly for boilers. Finally, silica removal should not impact upon other potentially useful or valuable components within the brine, and should not make the disposal of the unusable waste brine components more difficult. Reduction of scaling potential can be achieved in three main ways: operating RO at high pH after hardness has been removed, operating at low pH, and reducing the silica concentration either in pretreatment or by using an interstage technique. Operating at high pH has the initial requirement of hardness removal to prevent scaling and this could be an issue on some sites. Hardness removal operations that use ion exchange resins may be challenged by water chemistry and the operational costs associated with high chemical regeneration costs. Operating at low pH may be more desirable than high pH operation as this can help to reduce the risk of scale formation from calcium or magnesium salts. The drawback comes from the cost of acid, particularly for high-alkalinity waters. There are numerous silica removal techniques including chemical dosing of lime, or aluminium or iron salts, electrocoagulation, adsorption, ion exchange and seeded precipitation. Of these, adsorption onto aluminium compounds appears to give the best results and have received the most attention where restrictions on sludge production and brine disposal common to operations in remote locations are in place. Adsorption onto iron compounds appears to occur more quickly, but leads to the formation of a hard, glass-like scale that may be more difficult to remove, making this process unattractive from the point of view of sorbent regeneration.



Water research






Amsterdam, The Netherlands







Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2014, Elsevier Ltd.



Usage metrics

    Research Publications


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager