College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Breaking barriers in filtration: CoMFRE researchers developing new approach to maintaining colloidal filtration systems

CoMFRE faculty Jaime Juarez, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Michael Olsen, professor of mechanical engineering, have secured an NSF award to study an innovative approach to maintaining colloidal filtration systems.

Much like a filter sifting larger rocks from more fine sand particles, colloidal filtration involves the removal of colloid particles (such as inorganic materials, bacteria, and aggregates in drinking water sources and wastewater) from a fluid by applying pressure to “push” the fluid through a membrane, leaving the colloid behind. While effective, the microfiltration membrane grows expensive and difficult to maintain as a buildup of colloids into a “cake layer” clogs the membrane, requiring more pressure to filter until eventual membrane replacement is necessary.

Used with drinking water and wastewater systems, these colloidal filtration membranes constitute a large percentage of overall filter maintenance costs. The problem becomes particularly challenging in rural and low socioeconomic areas, where funds to repair or replace the membrane are strained.

To take on this challenge, Juarez and Olsen are exploring a cutting-edge strategy of using acoustic waves to break apart colloid buildup and even prevent the cake layer from developing. Their project seeks to model cake layer formation and track acoustic wave break-up patterns to uncover the optimal approach to implementing the technology.

Juarez and Olsen envision longer lifespans for colloidal filtration systems and improved access to well-functioning systems in communities with inadequate infrastructure.

Funding for this project comes from the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2050105.