Phosphate limitation to control biofouling

J. S. Vrouwenvelder*, F. Beyer, K. Dahmani, N. Hasan, G. Galjaard, J. C. Kruithof, M. C.M. Van Loosdrecht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Phosphate limitation as a method to control biofouling of spiral wound reverse osmosis (RO) membranes was studied at a full-scale installation fed with extensively pretreated water. The RO installation is characterized by (i) a low feed channel pressure drop increase and (ii) low biomass concentrations in membrane elements at the installation feed side. This installation contrasted sharply with installations fed with less extensively pretreated feed water (and therefore higher phosphate concentrations) experiencing a high-pressure drop increase and high biomass concentrations in lead elements. Membrane fouling simulator (MFS) studies showed that low phosphate concentrations (∼0.3 μg P L-1) in the feed water restricted the pressure drop increase and biomass accumulation, even at high substrate (organic carbon) concentrations. In the MFS under ortho-phosphate limiting conditions, dosing phosphonate based antiscalants caused biofouling while no biofouling was observed when acids or phosphonate-free antiscalants were used. Antiscalant dosage could increase both phosphate and substrate concentrations of the water. Therefore, antiscalant selection may be critical for biofouling control. Since no biofouling was observed at low phosphate concentrations, restricting biomass growth by phosphate limitation may be a feasible approach to control biofouling, even in the presence of high organic carbon levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3454-3466
Number of pages13
JournalWater research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Biofilm
  • Biofouling control
  • Feed spacer channel pressure drop increase
  • Growth limitation
  • Membrane fouling simulator
  • Phosphorous removal
  • Reverse osmosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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