Roles of surfactants in pressure-driven membrane separation processes: a review

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2019 Oct;26(30):30731-30754. doi: 10.1007/s11356-019-06345-x. Epub 2019 Sep 7.


Surfactants widely exist in various kinds of wastewaters which could be treated by pressure-driven membrane separation (PDMS) techniques. Due to the special characteristics of surfactants, they may affect the performance of membrane filtration. Over the last two decades, there are a number of studies on treating wastewaters containing surfactants by PDMS. The current paper gives a review of the roles of surfactants in PDMS processes. The effects of surfactants on membrane performance were discussed via two aspects: influence of surfactants on membrane fouling and enhanced removal of pollutants by surfactants. The characteristics of surfactants in solution and at solid-liquid interface were summarized. Surfactants in membrane filtration processes cause membrane fouling mainly through adsorption, concentration polarization, pore blocking, and cake formation, and fouling degree may be influenced by various factors (feed water composition, membrane properties, and operation conditions). Furthermore, surfactants may also have a positive effect on membrane performance. Enhanced removal of various kinds of pollutants by PDMS in the presence of surfactants has been summarized, and the removal mechanism has been revealed. Based on the current reports, further studies on membrane fouling caused by surfactants and enhanced removal of pollutants by surfactant-aided membrane filtration were also proposed.

Keywords: Concentration polarization; Membrane fouling; Pollutant removal; Pressure-driven membrane filtration; Surfactant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Biofouling
  • Filtration / instrumentation
  • Filtration / methods*
  • Membranes, Artificial*
  • Surface-Active Agents / chemistry*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid / instrumentation*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid / methods*
  • Waste Water / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry
  • Water Purification / methods


  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical