Biofouling in spiral wound membrane systems: Three-dimensional CFD model based evaluation of experimental data

J. S. Vrouwenvelder*, C. Picioreanu, J. C. Kruithof, M. C.M. van Loosdrecht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


A three-dimensional (3D) computational model describing fluid dynamics and biofouling of feed channels of spiral wound reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membrane systems was developed based on results from practice and experimental studies. In the model simulations the same feed spacer geometry as applied in practice and the experimental studies was used. The 3D mathematical model showed the same trends for (i) feed channel pressure drop, (ii) biomass accumulation, (iii) velocity distribution profile, resulting in regions of low and high liquid flow velocity also named channeling. The numerical model predicted a dominant biomass growth on the feed spacer, consistent with direct in situ observations on biofouling of spiral wound membrane modules and monitors using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The model confirms experimental results that feed spacer fouling is more important than membrane fouling. The paper shows that mathematical modeling techniques have evolved to a stage that they can be used hand-in-hand with experiments to understand the processes involved in membrane fouling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-85
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Membrane Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D CFD model
  • Biofilm
  • Biofouling
  • Concentration polarization
  • Feed spacer channel pressure drop
  • Flux
  • MRI
  • Membrane
  • NF
  • NMR
  • Nanofiltration
  • RO
  • Reverse osmosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Filtration and Separation


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