Characterization and effect of biofouling on polyamide reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membrane surfaces


Biofouling is a major reason for flux decline in the performance of membrane-based water and wastewater treatment plants. Initial biochemical characterization of biofilm formation potential and biofouling on two commercially available membrane surfaces from FilmTec Corporation were investigated without filtration in laboratory rotating disc reactor systems. These surfaces were polyamide aromatic thin-film reverse osmosis (RO) (BW30) and semi-aromatic nanofiltration (NF270) membranes. Membrane swatches were fixed on removable coupons and exposed to water with indigenous microorganisms supplemented with 1.5 mg l−1 organic carbon under continuous flow. After biofilms formed, the membrane swatches were removed for analyses. Staining and epifluorescence microscopy revealed more cells on the RO than on the NF surface. Based on image analyses of 5-μm thick cryo-sections, the accumulation of hydrated biofoulants on the RO and NF surfaces exceeded 0.74 and 0.64 μm day−1, respectively. As determined by contact angle the biofoulants increased the hydrophobicity up to 30° for RO and 4° for NF surfaces. The initial difference between virgin RO and NO hydrophobicities was ∼5°, which increased up to 25° after biofoulant formation. The initial roughness of RO and NF virgin surfaces (75.3 nm and 8.2 nm, respectively) increased to 48 nm and 39 nm after fouling. A wide range of changes of the chemical element mass percentages on membrane surfaces was observed with X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. The initial chemical signature on the NF surface was better restored after cleaning than the RO membrane. All the data suggest that the semi-aromatic NF surface was more biofilm resistant than the aromatic RO surface. The morphology of the biofilm and the location of active and dead cell zones could be related to the membrane surface properties and general biofouling accumulation was associated with changes in the surface chemistry of the membranes, suggesting the validity of the combination of these novel approaches for initial assessment of membrane performance.




Khan MT, Stewart PS, Moll DJ, Mickols WE, Nelson SE, Camper AK, "Characterization and effect of biofouling on polyamide reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membrane surfaces," Biofouling 2011 27(2):173-183
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