Forward osmosis: Where are we now?

Devin L. Shaffer, Jay Werber, Humberto Jaramillo, Shihong Lin, Menachem Elimelech

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

709 Scopus citations


Forward osmosis (FO) has been extensively investigated in the past decade. Despite significant advancements in our understanding of the FO process, questions and challenges remain regarding the energy efficiency and current state of the technology. Here, we critically review several key aspects of the FO process, focusing on energy efficiency, membrane properties, draw solutes, fouling reversibility, and effective applications of this emerging technology. We analyze the energy efficiency of the process, disprove the common misguided notion that FO is a low energy process, and highlight the potential use of low-cost energy sources. We address the key necessary membrane properties for FO, stressing the importance of the structural parameter, reverse solute flux selectivity, and the constraints imposed by the permeability-selectivity tradeoff. We then dispel the notion that draw solution regeneration can use negligible energy, highlighting the beneficial qualities of small inorganic and thermolytic salts as draw solutes. We further discuss the fouling propensity of FO, emphasizing the fouling reversibility of FO compared to reverse osmosis (RO) and the prospects of FO in treating high fouling potential feed waters. Lastly, we discuss applications where FO outperforms other desalination technologies and emphasize that the FO process is not intended to replace RO, but rather is to be used to process feed waters that cannot be treated by RO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-284
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Jan 5 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier B.V.


  • Desalination
  • Energy consumption
  • Forward osmosis
  • Fouling
  • High-salinity brines
  • Thin-film composite


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