Seawater reverse osmosis desalination and (harmful) algal blooms

Loreen O. Villacorte, S. Assiyeh Alizadeh Tabatabai, Donald M. Anderson, Gary L. Amy, Jan Cornelis Schippers, Maria Dolores Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


This article reviews the occurrence of HABs in seawater, their effects on the operation of seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plants, the indicators for quantifying/predicting these effects, and the pretreatment strategies for mitigating operational issues during algal blooms. The potential issues in SWRO plants during HABs are particulate/organic fouling of pretreatment systems and biological fouling of RO membranes, mainly due to accumulation of algal organic matter (AOM). The presence of HAB toxins in desalinated water is also a potential concern but only at very low concentrations. Monitoring algal cell density, AOM concentrations and membrane fouling indices is a promising approach to assess the quality of SWRO feedwater and performance of the pretreatment system. When geological condition is favourable, subsurface intake can be a robust pretreatment for SWRO during HABs. Existing SWRO plants with open intake and are fitted with granular media filtration can improve performance in terms of capacity and product water quality, if preceded by dissolved air flotation or sedimentation. However, the application of advanced pretreatment using ultrafiltration membrane with in-line coagulation is often a better option as it is capable of maintaining stable operation and better RO feed water quality during algal bloom periods with significantly lower chemical consumption.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-80
Number of pages20
StatePublished - Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: This study was conducted with the financial support of UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Wetsus Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology and Water Desalination and Reuse Center (KAUST, Saudi Arabia). Support for D. M. Anderson was provided through the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health, National Science Foundation Grant OCE-1314642 and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Grant 1-P01-ES021923-01.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • General Materials Science
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Chemistry
  • Mechanical Engineering


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