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Whey recovery using forward osmosis – Evaluating the factors limiting the flux performance

Wang, Yi-Ning, Wang, Rong, Li, Weiyi, Tang, Chuyang Y.
Journal of membrane science 2017 v.533 pp. 179-189
artificial membranes, cleaning, energy, foods, gels, reverse osmosis, waste treatment, whey, whey protein
The focus of whey processing has been changed from waste treatment to the production of valuable products owing to the advancement of membrane technology. Producing high quality whey products at low energy consumption entails novel techniques for whey concentration. This study proposes forward osmosis (FO) as a potential approach to concentrate whey protein solutions, which is superior to the concentration via reverse osmosis (RO), mainly owing to the low hydraulic pressure during FO process. In particular, this work validated the feasibility of FO-based whey concentration using high-performance hollow fiber membranes that were fabricated in-house. The investigation focused on the effects of various operating conditions on the concentration performance. The experimental results reveal that optimal concentration efficiency would be achieved by appropriately choosing the cross-flow velocity, draw solution concentration and the maximum attainable concentration of whey protein solution. Especially, the flux decline behaviour as a function of the whey protein concentration in the feed solution indicated rapid formation of a polarized or gel foulant layer at the membrane surface. The proposed mechanism was supported by the investigation of physical cleaning with water, showing that the post-process cleaning after the concentration cycle was able to recover the membrane performance, whereas the intermediate cleaning during one concentration cycle had little impact on the concentration efficiency enhancement. This study has practical significance for the application of FO in the concentration of dairy streams and other liquid foods.