What Is Ultrafiltration in Water Treatment?

Wastewater ultrafiltration is becoming an increasingly important process in water treatment today. This filtration method involves using a membrane to remove particles, bacteria, and other contaminants from water. Unlike other brackish water purification systems, ultrafiltration systems can remove particles as small as .01 microns in size. This makes it a highly effective process for producing high-quality water.

In addition to improving the quality of drinking water, ultrafiltration in water treatment may also be utilized to treat wastewater and filter out contaminants before it’s released into rivers and other bodies of water. With the increasing demand for clean water, ultrafiltration system is quickly becoming a necessity in the field of water treatment.

➣ Ultrafiltration Process: It’s Definition

Ultrafiltration, as defined, is a method for purifying water by eliminating contaminants such as dissolved solids, bacteria, and proteins. Typically, this method is employed in the food industry for clarifying liquids, recovering protein-rich solutions, or purifying water.

➣How Does Ultrafiltration Work?

The ultrafiltration process works by passing the liquid through a membrane with tiny pores that are too small for the particles to pass through. The suspended solids, bacteria, and other matter are separated from the liquid which is then collected on the other side of the membrane.

Figure 2 Ultrafiltration process

Ultrafiltration process steps

➣Types of Membranes Used in Ultrafiltration

Figure 3 UF membrane

Ultrafiltration is one of the most widely used technologies in water treatment and purification. It is a process that involves the use of a UF membrane to filter out impurities and contaminants from water. The success of an ultrafiltration system largely depends on membrane bioreactor modules and the type of UF membrane used. Different types of ultrafiltration membranes are used, each with its unique characteristics and advantages.

1. Polyethersulfone Membrane

Polyethersulfone (PES) membranes are manufactured by using a polymeric membrane material that has a distinct molecular structure. These membranes are commonly used in ultrafiltration processes due to their excellent chemical resistance and durability. PES membranes are capable of separating particles with sizes ranging between 0.01 and 0.1 microns. They are particularly useful in applications that require high levels of filtration efficiency, such as the purification of pharmaceuticals and food products.

2. Polyvinylidene Fluoride Membrane

Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) membranes are widely used in ultrafiltration processes due to their excellent mechanical strength, chemical resistance, and high-temperature tolerance. PVDF membranes are capable of separating particles with sizes ranging between 0.01 and 0.2 microns. PVDF membranes are particularly useful in applications that require high levels of filtration efficiency, such as the treatment of wastewater, especially biological wastewater.

3. Cellulose Acetate (CA) Membrane

Since cellulose acetate (CA) membranes are high porosity, biocompatible, and mechanically strong, they are frequently utilized in ultrafiltration procedures. CA membranes have good resistance to organic solvents and high-temperature tolerance. CA membranes are particularly useful in applications that require high levels of filtration efficiency, such as the purification of pharmaceuticals, desalination, and macromolecular separation.

4. Ceramic Membrane

Ceramic membranes are made of inorganic materials that have high mechanical strength, high temperature tolerance, and chemical resistance. They are particularly useful in applications that require high levels of durability and reliability, such as industrial water treatment, food processing, and wastewater treatment. Ceramic membranes are capable of separating particles with sizes ranging between 0.01 and 0.2 microns.

Figure 4 Ceramic Membrane

5. Hollow Fiber Membrane

Hollow fiber membranes are primarily used in ultrafiltration systems where it is necessary to separate a high volume of water to a very high level of purity. These membranes have high surface areas, which enable them to process a high volume of water in a compact system. Hollow fiber membranes are particularly useful in applications that require high levels of filtration efficiency, such as the purification of drinking water, wastewater treatment, and industrial water treatment.

➣Ultrafiltration vs Reverse Osmosis: What’s the Difference?

Figure 5 Ultrafiltration vs Reverse Osmosis

Water treatment is crucial to ensuring that the water we drink is clean, safe, and free of harmful microorganisms. Among the common drinking water filtration systems are ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis. While both of these technologies use membrane filtration to remove contaminants from water, they are quite different in their application, efficiency, and effectiveness.

1. Mechanism of Action

Ultrafiltration and Reverse Osmosis (RO) both rely on a membrane to filter water, but they differ in their mechanism of action.

Ultrafiltration, as the name suggests, involves the use of a permeable UF membrane that allows water to pass through while removing larger particles such as bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants.

Commercial reverse osmosis systems, on the other hand, use a semi-permeable membrane that removes dissolved minerals, salts, and ions by applying pressure to the water molecule. In other words, RO water treatment selectively allows water molecules (H2O) to pass through but blocks the contaminants on the other side.

2. Filtration Efficiency

Because of how they work, ultrafiltration and RO have different filtration rates and efficiencies.

Ultrafiltration can typically remove 99 percent of bacteria, viruses, and suspended solids in the water, while RO can remove up to 99 percent of dissolved minerals, salts, and ions.

Since the reverse osmosis membrane removes dissolved ions, it can also remove beneficial minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which may impact the taste and quality of the water.

3. Maintenance and Operating Costs

When it comes to maintenance costs, ultrafiltration is cheaper than RO.

Ultrafiltration requires lower pressure to operate, it saves energy and, as a result, costs less to maintain.

RO, on the other hand, operates under high pressure, which results in higher energy consumption, maintenance, and operating costs.

4. Applications

Ultrafiltration and RO have different applications based on their level of filtration and efficiency.

Ultrafiltration is effective in filtering feed water for boiler systems, treating groundwater, and removing bacteria and microorganisms from drinking water. It is also commonly used in food and beverage industries to remove particles, bacteria, and other contaminants from liquid products.

Figure 6 UF membrane system in food industry

On the other hand, RO is more effective in removing dissolved minerals, salts, and ions from seawater or brackish water, generating pure water for medical or laboratory use, and producing demineralized water for industrial purposes.

5. Environmental Impact

Since ultrafiltration uses a fairly basic filtration mechanism, it is less harmful to the environment compared to RO.

Ultrafiltration requires lower energy consumption, and fewer chemicals, and is more sustainable in the long term.

On the other hand, RO, as a high-pressure reverse osmosis process, requires higher energy consumption and chemical usage, while producing more wastewater and potential environmental damage.


1. What is selective reabsorption?

Selective reabsorption is a biological process in which the kidneys filter and then selectively transport certain substances, such as glucose, ions, and water, from the renal filtrate back into the bloodstream, while leaving waste products to be excreted in urine. This process helps regulate the body’s electrolyte balance and maintain appropriate levels of essential substances in the blood.

2. What is diafiltration?

Diafiltration is a process used in filtration and purification where a solution is repeatedly diluted and concentrated to effectively remove smaller molecules like salts or contaminants from a target molecule, such as proteins. It helps enhance purity and is commonly used in biopharmaceutical and protein purification processes.

3. What is nanofiltration?

Fluids can be separated by molecule size using a membrane method called nanofiltration. It uses a specialized membrane with smaller pores than ultrafiltration, allowing selective passage of molecules based on size and charge. Nanofiltration systems are widely used for liquid concentration and purification in the fields of water treatment, and food processing.

4. Microfiltration: What is it?

Microfiltration is a filtration method that removes bacteria and other microbes from liquids by passing through a membrane with much bigger pores. It’s commonly used for clarifying and sterilizing fluids in various industries, including water treatment, food and beverage, and pharmaceuticals.

5. Does ultrafiltration remove fluoride?

Yes, ultrafiltration can effectively remove fluoride from water. Fluoride ions are relatively small, with a molecular size that falls within the range that can be filtered out by ultrafiltration membranes. Hence, ultrafiltration can be employed as a water treatment method for the reduction of fluoride concentrations in drinking water sources.

Bottom Line

Ultrafiltration, in which specialized membranes in filters are used to remove suspended solids, bacteria, and other particles with a particle size reduction of up to 0.01 microns, is a key approach for treating water. This makes it more effective than reverse osmosis as it removes larger particles with fewer steps in the filtration process. Depending on your level of water contamination and desired end product, there is a range of membranes available for ultrafiltration including polyethersulfone (PES) and polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF).

Understanding the factors in ultrafiltration helps you choose better home or workplace water filters. If you live in a nation with safe drinking water, think about NEWater products. They offer economical and eco-friendly choices for ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis. In every liquid filtration application, ultrafiltration remains a powerful tool.

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