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Cleaning Agents for Produced Water Membrane Filters
Project Number
FEW 49237

The overall goal is to develop innovative and novel cleaning agents for water treatment facilities and new practices to remove plugging materials and restore micro-filter and reverse osmosis (RO) membrane performance. ANL's specific project role is to evaluate regulatory issues pertinent to development of these materials and processes and to ensure that any technologies developed through this project will meet current water laws, regulations, and other standards.



Argonne National Laboratory-IL (ANL)
Washington, DC


This project provides research to support a multi-year effort undertaken by the Texas Engineering Experiment Station as Texas A&M University to develop cost-effective technologies to treat produced water and saline groundwater so it can be reused in water-poor regions. One of the limiting factors in the performance of the membrane filters is the length of time they remain in service before becoming fouled. This project will investigate different types of cleaning agents that can allow membranes to remain in service for longer periods of time, thereby improving costs. Any cleaning products that are selected must be evaluated for their toxicity to humans and to the environment, in addition to having effective operational characteristics.

Project Results
This project is coordinated with several other research efforts at Texas A&M relating to development of a trailer-mounted water treatment system. As of June 2006, little specific work has occurred on evaluating cleaning agents. Team meetings were held in August 2005 and April 2006 at College Station, TX, and in November 2005 in Houston. ANL participated in a meeting with two Texas agencies to coordinate permits for disposal of the concentrated byproduct stream resulting from treatment. The agencies came to a verbal agreement that would allow injection of treated produced water to be regulated by the Railroad Commission. We are waiting for the agencies to formalize the verbal agreement through a written document.

Before oilfield brine can be used for any beneficial purpose, it must be processed to remove residual petroleum material, typically through membrane filtration. The researchers' overarching goal is to improve the lifetime and operating efficiency of membrane-based filters used in oil and gas production facilities for wastewater treatment (including desalination). Experience has shown that filter fouling is a major reason for the high cost of water desalination and wastewater treatment in general. If the water treatment process can be made more efficient, costs will decrease and more produced water can be reused.

Project Summary
The following tasks are planned for the overall project:

  • Phase 1
    • Task 1. Identify and document the need to improve water treatment facility operating efficiency.
    • Task 2. Design membrane cleanup process; test agents in small-scale systems.
  • Phase 2
    • Task 1. Test chemical agents on full-size membranes in controlled field environment.
    • Task 2. Test chemicals on field demonstration.
    • Task 3. Develop opportunities for commercialization.

Argonne will evaluate the different chemicals proposed by the team chemist to ensure they do not pose unacceptable impacts and can comply with the relevant regulations. Argonne has worked with Texas A&M and the Texas agencies that regulate underground injection to determine the relevant and appropriate permitting requirements for injection of the concentrated byproduct stream resulting from the treatment process. This is an ongoing national issue, but is particularly relevant in Texas.

Current Status

(June 2006)
As of June 2006, minimal work had occurred on evaluating cleaning agents. Therefore, there has been little for ANL to review and analyze to date. ANL participated in a January 2006 meeting with the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to discuss permitting of injection wells for disposal of the concentrated byproduct stream resulting from the treatment process. ANL will continue to work on the concentrate disposal issue and on other regulatory matters that arise through the project. ANL presented information on the regulatory standards governing concentrate disposal at an April 2006 project team meeting.

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL -Jesse Garcia ( or 918-699-2036)
ANL - John Veil ( or 202-488-2450)

Additional Information

Veil, J.A., Environmental, Safety, and Health Information for Several Alcohols, internal report to Texas A&M produced-water project team, November 2004.

Veil, J.A., Different Acceptability Standards for Water Concentrate Samples, Desalination Project Team Meeting, College Station, TX, April 7, 2006.

Texas A&M produced-water research facilities. Photo by John Veil.
Texas A&M produced-water research facilities. Photo by John Veil.