Mini-review: novel non-destructive in situ biofilm characterization techniques in membrane systems

R. Valladares Linares, L. Fortunato, N. M. Farhat, S. S. Bucs, M. Staal, E. O. Fridjonsson, M. L. Johns, J. S. Vrouwenvelder, T. Leiknes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Membrane systems are commonly used in the water industry to produce potable water and for advanced wastewater treatment. One of the major drawbacks of membrane systems is biofilm formation (biofouling), which results in an unacceptable decline in membrane performance. Three novel in situ biofouling characterization techniques were assessed: (i) optical coherence tomography (OCT), (ii) planar optodes, and (iii) nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). The first two techniques were assessed using a biofilm grown on the surface of nanofiltration (NF) membranes using a transparent membrane fouling simulator that accurately simulates spiral wound modules, modified for in situ biofilm imaging. For the NMR study, a spiral wound reverse osmosis membrane module was used. Results show that these techniques can provide information to reconstruct the biofilm accurately, either with 2-D (OCT, planar optodes and NMR), or 3-D (OCT and NMR) scans. These non-destructive tools can elucidate the interaction of hydrodynamics and mass transport on biofilm accumulation in membrane systems. Oxygen distribution in the biofilm can be mapped and linked to water flow and substrate characteristics; insights on the effect of crossflow velocity, flow stagnation, and feed spacer presence can be obtained, and in situ information on biofilm structure, thickness, and spatial distribution can be quantitatively assessed. The combination of these novel non-destructive in situ biofilm characterization techniques can provide real-time observation of biofilm formation at the mesoscale. The information obtained with these tools could potentially be used for further improvement in the design of membrane systems and operational parameters to reduce impact of biofouling on membrane performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22894-22901
Number of pages8
JournalDesalination and Water Treatment
Issue number48-49
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2016


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