Managing the wastewater discharged from oil and shale gas fields is a big challenge, because this kind of wastewater is normally polluted by high contents of both oils and salts. Conventional pressure-driven membranes experience little success for treating this wastewater because of either severe membrane fouling or incapability of desalination. In this study, we designed a new nanocomposite forward osmosis (FO) membrane for accomplishing simultaneous oil/water separation and desalination. This nanocomposite FO membrane is composed of an oil-repelling and salt-rejecting hydrogel selective layer on top of a graphene oxide (GO) nanosheets infused polymeric support layer. The hydrogel selective layer demonstrates strong underwater oleophobicity that leads to superior anti-fouling capability under various oil/water emulsions, and the infused GO in support layer can significantly mitigate internal concentration polarization (ICP) through reducing FO membrane structural parameter by as much as 20%. Compared with commercial FO membrane, this new FO membrane demonstrates more than three times higher water flux, higher removals for oil and salts (>99.9% for oil and >99.7% for multivalent ions) and significantly lower fouling tendency when investigated with simulated shale gas wastewater. These combined merits will endorse this new FO membrane with wide applications in treating highly saline and oily wastewaters.
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