Innovative Technologies for Environmental Sustainability

Title of the research project

FLOWING - Advanced Membrane Processes to Reuse Produced Water in the Oil & Gas industry

Scientific area

Environmental Engineering; Chemical Engineering; Wastewater Treatment and Reuse

Project coordinator

Alberto Tiraferri

Project abstract

The project FLOWING aimed at evaluating and advancing innovative membrane separation technologies for the purification and reuse of highly contaminated produced waters. Specifically, the research activities focused on "forward osmosis, FO" and "membrane distillation, MD".

Description of the research project 

Forward osmosis (FO) and membrane distillation (MD) are emerging water and wastewater treatment processes, capable of producing water of very high quality, and with potential advantages over traditional treatment technologies. The main advantages are related to the ability to maintain high performance for a longer period during operation and to the ability to power systems using renewable energy. The goal of this project was to develop FO and MD technologies for the treatment of produced water in the oil & gas sector through both laboratory and pilot experimental tests. Produced water is extracted together with hydrocarbons during drilling and harvesting operations and it typically contains high concentrations of contaminants including salts, metals, suspended solids, oils, and other organic substances. The two innovative membrane processes were studied both individually and in combination and will prove their effectiveness in the treatment of polluted water with the purpose of its reuse in situ. The main objectives were to identify the best operating procedure to maximize the productivity and the quality of the water to be reused, as well as the creation of membranes specifically designed for this application. The membranes will be resistant to fouling and will have optimized transport properties. Different solutions for the energy supply were evaluated, including the use of thermal waste streams and the exploitation of solar thermal systems.

Impact on society 

The application of project results will reduce the use of noble water in the oil & gas sector, will diminish the amount of wastewater that needs disposal, often with high energy, environmental, and economic costs. Therefore, this research may help to increase the environmental sustainability of oil and gas extractive activities. Effective integration of membrane systems directly in situ will allow beneficial uses of purified water, such as re-use within the same extraction process, re-injection, irrigation, or artificial replenishment of aquifers.

Research results

The project activities enabled the progress of FO and MD innovative technologies, highlighting their advantages with respect to traditional technologies and their current limitations that need further research efforts. Results showed that FO process is promising to treat polluted water with low salinity and high organic content. On the contrary, MD process is useful, to treat water effluents with high salinity after suitable pre-treatment.

We highlight, among the research results:

  • 5 papers published in international scientific journals
  • Project presentations at MontanaTech, USA and University of California, Davis, US

2 new scientific collaborations with University of Guilan, Iran and Sichuan University, China

Short CV of project coordinator 

Alberto Tiraferri is Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the Department of Environment, Land and Infrastructure Engineering (DIATI). He is the scientific manager of the CleanWaterCenter@PoliTo, an Interdepartmental Center focusing on technology transfer of innovative processes for the treatment of contaminated water, and he is the principal investigator of the en.sur.e water lab. His research interests are (i) membrane processes for water purification, (ii) nanomaterials for environmental remediation, (iii) transport and adsorption phenomena in aqueous environments, (iv) advanced oxidation processes for the degradation of micropollutants. More information is available at the group web site.

Working group @Polito

Mattia Giagnorio, PhD student, DIATI

Francesco Ricceri, Post-doc researcher, DIATI.


Academic Partner 

Institut Européen des Membranes, Montpellier (France)

Non Academic Partner 

Cannon – Artes Ingegneria SpA

  • Budget: 144.301
  • Start date: 15/09/2017
  • End date: 14/09/2019