Control strategies against algal fouling in membrane processes applied for microalgae biomass harvesting

Marco Malaguti, Andres F. Novoa, Francesco Ricceri, Mattia Giagnorio, Johannes S. Vrouwenvelder, Alberto Tiraferri*, Luca Fortunato

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Microalgae biomass is increasingly applied in a variety of high-end applications, such as biofuel production, CO2 fixation, food, and cosmetics. As the demand for microalgae increases, improvements in biomass harvesting techniques are required since dewatering represents a significant fraction of the total algae production cost. While membrane technology is growing as a means to achieve effective biomass harvesting, fouling from microalgae suspensions is a major drawback, since these streams are rich in organic compounds, nutrients, and biological materials. The aim of this paper is to present the state-of-the-art of the control strategies to manage algal fouling. The control strategies are divided into: (i) mitigation strategies, including pre-treatment options, modified membrane surfaces, and hydrodynamic approaches; and (ii) adaptation strategies, which include physical, mechanical, and chemical cleaning. Fouling mitigation strategies are implemented in membrane separation processes seeking to maintain high productivity without compromising biomass quality, while minimizing the energy cost related to fouling control. Adaptation techniques include optimization of the cleaning time and effective removal of the irreversible foulants. Further, minimization in the use of chemicals and of the backflush permeate must be achieved to ensure an efficient performance in chemical cleaning and backwash approaches, respectively. Finally, the article discusses future research perspectives in membrane-based microalgae harvesting with a focus on zero liquid discharge and effective fouling control strategies within the water-energy nexus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102787
JournalJournal of Water Process Engineering
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported in this paper was supported by funding from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia and by Politecnico di Torino , Italy. Francesco Ricceri acknowledges funding from the CleanWaterCenter@PoliTo for his Ph.D. scholarship ( 01_TRIN_CI_CWC ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


  • Fouling control
  • Membrane filtration
  • Membrane photobioreactor
  • Microalgae cultivation
  • Microalgae dewatering
  • Wastewater treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Process Chemistry and Technology


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