Characterisation and removal of recalcitrants in reverse osmosis concentrates from water reclamation plants

Arseto Y. Bagastyo, Jurg Keller, Yvan Poussade, Damien J. Batstone*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)


Water reclamation plants frequently utilise reverse osmosis (RO), generating a concentrated reject stream as a by-product. The concentrate stream contains salts, and dissolved organic compounds, which are recalcitrant to biological treatment, and may have an environmental impact due to colour and embedded nitrogen. In this study, we characterise organic compounds in RO concentrates (ROC) and treated ROC (by coagulation, adsorption, and advanced oxidation) from two full-scale plants, assessing the diversity and treatability of colour and organic compounds containing nitrogen. One of the plants was from a coastal catchment, while the other was inland. Stirred cell membrane fractionation was applied to fractionate the treated ROC, and untreated ROC along with chemical analysis (DOC, DON, COD), colour, and fluorescence excitation-emission matrix (EEM) scans to characterise changes within each fraction. In both streams, the largest fraction contained <1 kDa molecules which were small humic substances, fulvic acids and soluble microbial products (SMPs), as indicated by EEM. Under optimal treatment conditions, alum preferentially removed >10 kDa molecules, with 17-34% of organic compounds as COD. Iron coagulation affected a wider size range, with better removal of organics (41-49% as COD) at the same molar dosage. As with iron, adsorption reduced organics of a broader size range, including organic nitrogen (26-47%). Advanced oxidation (UV/H2O2) was superior for complete decolourisation and provided superior organics removal (50-55% as COD).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2415-2427
Number of pages13
JournalWater Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Coagulation
  • Organic fractionation
  • Reverse osmosis concentrates


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