Seawater Reverse osmosis (SWRO) pretreatment impact on microbial growth potential


Project Description

The desalination of seawater using reverse osmosis membranes (RO) is an attractive solution to global freshwater scarcity. However, membrane performance is reduced by (bio)fouling. Considering that (i) the global production of desalinated seawater by RO is at 65.5 million m3/d, (ii) a membrane single membrane production capacity of 12 m3/d, and (iii) an average membrane replacement rate of ~10% to 15% per year due to fouling, then about 825000 membranes go to waste every year worldwide. Among the fouling types, biofouling –membrane deposition of bacterial cells and subsequent microbial growth– is the most difficult to alleviate. The lifetime of RO membranes would be extended if seawater pretreatment units, prior to RO, efficiently removed the material causing biofouling. The problem with pretreatment in desalination plants is that we lack a robust biological-based method to assess their efficiency to remove biodegradable nutrients and microbial cells. Current methods to assess the quality of seawater entering the RO such as turbidity and silt density index do not inform the water’s microbial growth or biofouling potential; hence the performance of the receiving RO membrane is jeopardized.
Program - Environmental Science and Engineering
Division - Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Faculty Lab Link -
Center Affiliation - Water Desalination and Reuse Center
Field of Study - Environmental science and engineering

About the

Johannes Vrouwenvelder

Professor, Environmental Science and Engineering<br/>Director, Water Desalination and Reuse Center<br/>

Johannes Vrouwenvelder

Professor Vrouwenvelder studies microbiological and process technological aspects of water treatment and transport. This includes fouling control of membrane systems and cooling towers, and sensors and tools for biofouling/biofilm monitoring and rapid sensitive microbial water quality monitoring. Additionally, Professor Vrouwenvelder performs numerical modelling of fouling and water treatment system performance, and studies the dynamics of the microbial ecology of water distribution systems.

Desired Project Deliverables

This research will develop a biological-based monitoring system based on microbial and biofilm growth potential to determine the efficiency of filtration pretreatment processes. The idea is to develop and implement a sensitive method to assess the microbial and biofilm growth potential SWRO pretreatment units.