Reverse Osmosis 101

Reverse osmosis is a process that is used to treat and purify water. It can be used for desalination, recycling, wastewater treatment and even producing energy. As contaminated water and other water issues become a global threat there is a need for sustainable and cost effective methods of water treatment. Reverse osmosis can help you clean the water in your house or business to have better water quality than buying bottled water; at a fraction of the price. You may or may not be aware of all of the chemicals that tap or even well water contains, but having a reverse osmosis systems that is installed where you live and work will give you the ability of treating your water to provide the healthiest water possible. Water treatment plants all over the world are adapting and utilizing reverse osmosis to address all of their various water concerns and purify the water for their customers.

It’s great to see that big industry is using this technology but how does reverse osmosis work?

First basic osmosis

Osmosis is the diffusion of a liquid through a semipermeable membrane that blocks the passage of dissolved solutes (anything that is larger than the membrane allows). This can be simplified by imagining that if you were to take a sugar water solution and put it into a tube that was separated by a semipermeable membrane with pure water on the other side of the membrane. Osmosis would then try to balance the osmotic pressure and the pure water would try to dilute the sugar solution. Because the sugar cannot pass through the membrane there would be an imbalance in volume but a balance in osmotic pressure. The main mechanism here is the liquid’s tendency to find an equilibrium point of osmotic pressure through a semipermeable membrane.

What is reverse osmosis?

As we have learned in the osmosis process, the lower-concentrate solution or pure water will try to balance the pressure and find an equilibrium point. In order to overcome the natural process of finding an equilibrium, reverse osmosis requires an application of pressure to the higher-concentrate solution that will force it back through the membrane; essentially filtering out the solute (sugar). By applying the pressure you are forcing the concentrate solution through the membrane and anything larger than a water molecule will be filtered out, which results in the purest drinking water available.

An example that is easy to grasp is the reverse osmosis of saltwater. There is a tank of saltwater and then a tank of pure water separated by a membrane. Once enough pressure is applied (to overcome the natural osmotic pressure) the water from the saltwater would pass through the membrane, and the salt would be stopped or filtered by the membrane. This is reverse osmosis in a nutshell: overcome the natural osmotic pressure with added pressure and the membrane filters any unwanted solutes.

What is removed through reverse osmosis?

A good reverse osmosis system will be able to remove anything that is molecularly larger than water, and for the solutes that are smaller such as chlorine there are carbon filters that are used within a good reverse osmosis system that will remove these molecules. Some of the harmful chemicals that it will remove include: arsenic, nitrates, copper, lead, fluoride, and some organic chemicals as well as bacteria. It is important to note that the reverse osmosis can’t distinguish the difference between the good or bad molecules. In other words, it also removes some of the beneficial minerals such as calcium, sodium and trace minerals. As a general health tip it is important to note if you are drinking reverse osmosis purified water exclusively, that you should also supplement minerals.

Household scale Applications of Reverse osmosis

Even though the process of reverse osmosis was developed for industrial and large-scale applications, there have been several adaptations that allow the average homeowner to take advantage of one of these water purification systems. From what we know about the process, it is understandable that you can’t just filter the water and you have to apply pressure for the reverse osmosis to be able to filter out all of the contaminants. By installing a system that allows you to use this purified water for cooking and drinking you will often be able to install a system that fits under the sink. These systems usually require the installation of a new facet and a water reservoir, but there are also countertop systems that would work well for renters or people without a lot of space. There are also larger systems that can be installed in the basement and attached directly to the water supply, so that all of the water in purified. The important thing to note is that there are systems and solutions available for every situation.

Cost Savings?

Once you have installed a reverse osmosis system you will have purified water that is available on demand and these systems can easily reduce the cost of buying purified water. Compared to bottled water or any other comparable source a good RO system will produce a cost savings of over 60%. This translates to clean drinking water on demand for you and more savings over the long run.

A reverse osmosis system can help you and your family be confident that the most harmful contaminants are removed from your drinking water. By installing a household reverse osmosis system you will be saving money over buying any other water treatment system, while getting the purest water you can get. Keep in mind that the good minerals that are essential are filtered out with the bad and that re-adding or supplementing with these minerals such as magnesium and calcium will give you the best results. There is a reverse osmosis system that can satisfy everyone’s needs, and you and your family deserve to be drinking the best water available.

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