Nitrate removal with reverse osmosis in a rural area in South Africa

Academic Article


  • The nitrate-nitrogen concentration (>6 mg/1) and the salinity (>1000 mg/1 TDS) of many borehole waters in rural areas in South Africa are too high for human consumption. Therefore, an urgent need for water denitrification and water desalination exists in these areas. Reverse osmosis (RO), electrodialysis (ED), ion-exchange (IX) and certain biological technologies can be very effectively applied for water denitrification. Each of these technologies, however, has its own advantages and disadvantages. Reverse osmosis technology, however, has been selected for this study because the technology is well known in South Africa and because it can be very effectively applied for water desalination. The objectives of this study were: (a) to transfer RO technology through process demonstration performance for water denitrification and water desalination to people living in rural areas; (b) to build capacity regarding the operation and maintenance of an RO application in a rural area; (c) to produce a preliminary operational and maintenance manual for the operation of an RO unit in a rural environment; (d) to train local operators to operate and maintain an RO plant in a rural environment; (e) to evaluate stock watering as brine disposal option; and (f) to determine the preliminary economics of the process. The following conclusions were drawn. It was demonstrated that the RO process could be very effectively applied for water denitrification and water desalination in a rural area. Nitrate-nitrogen was reduced from 42.5 mg/1 in the RO feed to only 0.9 mg/1 in the RO product water. The TDS of the RO feed was reduced from 1292 mg/1 to 24 mg/1 in the RO permeate. Therefore, an excellent quality water could be produced for potable purposes. The RO brine at approximately 50% water recovery should be suitable for stock watering if the conditions for stock watering are met in terms of nitrate-nitrogen concentration, TDS and other constituent concentrations. The capital cost for an approximately 50 m /d output RO plant is approximately US $29,900. Preliminary cost estimates have shown that the operational cost for water denitrification is approximately US $0.50/m . This cost, however, should be significantly reduced by optimisation of the chemical dosing and by blending borehole water with RO product water. 3 3
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Desalination  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Schoeman JJ; Steyn A
  • Start Page

  • 15
  • End Page

  • 26
  • Volume

  • 155
  • Issue

  • 1