Abstract The study of forward osmosis (FO) membranes has increased due to the already demonstrated advantages compared to high-energy membrane processes such as reverse osmosis (RO). This research focuses on characterization of the natural organic matter (NOM) fraction causing fouling on the active layer (AL) of a FO membrane in a novel plate and frame module configuration, facing secondary wastewater effluent as a feed solution (FS) and seawater used as a draw solution (DS). In addition, transparent exopolymer particles (TEP) were observed on the support layer (SL) of the membrane in contact with the DS. The NOM fouling layer, after characterizing the water samples and membranes used, was found to be composed of biopolymers and protein-like substances, which adversely affect the flux of water through the FO membrane. However, NOM fouling showed high reversibility, up to 90% when air scouring for 15 min is used as a cleaning technique. The irreversible fouling in this work was found to be 8.2% after chemical cleaning. On the support layer of the membrane, TEP formed clusters clearly identifiable with an optical microscope and a TEP-specific dye. Chemical cleaning with 1% NaOCl for 10 min proved to be the most effective method to remove TEP.

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