Influences and impacts of biofouling in SWRO desalination plants

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The ability to produce fresh potable water is an ever-growing challenge, especially with an increase in drought conditions worldwide. Due to its capacity to treat different types of water, reverse osmosis (RO) technology is an increasingly popular solution to the water shortage problem. The major restriction associated with the treatment of water by RO technology is the fouling of the RO membrane, in particular through biofouling. Membrane fouling is a multifaceted problem that causes an increase in operating pressure, frequent cleaning and limited membrane lifespan. The current paper summarizes the impact of biofouling of RO membranes used in seawater desalination plants. Following a brief introduction, the elements that contribute to biofouling are discussed: biofilm formation, role of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), marine environment, developmental phases of biofouling. Following this, is a section on the implications of membrane biofouling especially permeate flux and salt rejection. The final section focuses on the new phenomenon of compression and hydraulic resistance of biofilms. Lastly, considerations on future research requirements on biofouling and its control in seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) membrane systems are presented at the end of the article. (Figure presented.).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1281-1301
Number of pages21
Issue number12
Early online date12 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Aggregates
  • biofilm
  • transparent exopolymer particles (TEP)


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