Cross-flow filtration

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Cross-flow filtration (also known as tangential flow filtration) is a filtration process where the feed stream flows tangentially across the filter membrane, rather than perpendicularly. This method of filtration is widely used in various industries, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and water treatment. The primary advantage of cross-flow filtration over conventional dead-end filtration is the continuous sweeping action of the feed stream across the membrane surface, which helps to minimize the build-up of a filter cake and allows for longer filtration cycles.

Principle[edit | edit source]

In cross-flow filtration, the feed solution flows parallel to the filtration membrane surface. A portion of the feed passes through the membrane as the permeate or filtrate, while the rest continues to flow tangentially, sweeping away the retained particles or molecules. This process significantly reduces the accumulation of retained species on the membrane surface, a phenomenon known as concentration polarization, thereby maintaining a higher flux (rate of permeation per unit area of membrane) compared to dead-end filtration.

Applications[edit | edit source]

Cross-flow filtration is utilized in several key industries:

  • In the Biotechnology industry, it is used for the clarification of cell cultures and the purification of proteins and other biomolecules.
  • In the Pharmaceutical industry, cross-flow filtration aids in drug formulation and sterile filtration.
  • In Water Treatment, it is employed for desalination, wastewater treatment, and the removal of particulates and microorganisms from drinking water.

Types of Membranes[edit | edit source]

The membranes used in cross-flow filtration can be categorized based on their material or their pore size:

  • Ultrafiltration membranes have pore sizes that can retain macromolecules and particles in the range of 0.001 to 0.1 micrometers.
  • Microfiltration membranes are used to separate larger particles and cells, with pore sizes typically between 0.1 to 10 micrometers.
  • Nanofiltration and Reverse Osmosis membranes are used for the removal of small molecules and ions, with nanofiltration membranes having slightly larger pores than reverse osmosis membranes.

Advantages and Disadvantages[edit | edit source]


  • Reduced membrane fouling due to the continuous flow of the feed stream.
  • Higher filtration efficiency and longer operation times.
  • Suitable for processing heat-sensitive materials due to the possibility of operating at lower temperatures.


  • Higher energy consumption due to the need for pumps to maintain the tangential flow.
  • Potential for shear stress on sensitive biological materials.
  • Typically higher initial setup and operational costs compared to dead-end filtration.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Cross-flow filtration is a versatile and efficient filtration method that offers significant advantages over traditional filtration techniques, especially in applications requiring the processing of sensitive materials or where high throughput is essential. Its ability to minimize fouling and maintain high filtration rates makes it a preferred choice in many industrial applications.

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD