Impact of spacer thickness on biofouling in forward osmosis

Rodrigo Valladares Linares, Szilard Bucs, Z. Li, M. AbuGhdeeb, Gary L. Amy, Johannes S. Vrouwenvelder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Forward osmosis (FO) indirect desalination systems integrate wastewater recovery with seawater desalination. Niche applications for FO systems have been reported recently, due to the demonstrated advantages compared to conventional high-pressure membrane processes such as nanofiltration (NF) and reverse osmosis (RO). Among them, wastewater recovery has been identified to be particularly suitable for practical applications. However, biofouling in FO membranes has rarely been studied in applications involving wastewater effluents. Feed spacers separating the membrane sheets in cross-flow systems play an important role in biofilm formation. The objective of this study was to determine the influence of feed spacer thickness (28, 31 and 46mil) on biofouling development and membrane performance in a FO system, using identical cross-flow cells in parallel studies. Flux development, biomass accumulation, fouling localization and composition were determined and analyzed. For all spacer thicknesses, operated at the same feed flow and the same run time, the same amount of biomass was found, while the flux reduction decreased with thicker spacers. These observations are in good agreement with biofouling studies for RO systems, considering the key differences between FO and RO. Our findings contradict previous cross-flow studies on particulate/colloidal fouling, where higher cross-flow velocities improved system performance. Thicker spacers reduced the impact of biofouling on FO membrane flux. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-233
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - Jun 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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