Enhanced Chemical Cleaning of Reverse Osmosis Membranes to Mitigate Biofouling

  • Huma Sanawar

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The effectiveness of reverse osmosis (RO) membrane systems may be compromised due to fouling, of which biofouling (excessive growth of biomass) is the most troublesome. Effective control of biofouling is essential to improve membrane performance and reduce operating costs. The periodic application of chemical cleaning agents is possibly the most widely practiced method of biofouling control in RO membranes. This research investigated advanced chemical cleaning strategies for biofouling control. The first part of this study concluded that short-term accelerated biofouling studies using lab-scale membrane fouling simulators (MFSs) are a representative and suitable approach for the prediction of long-term biofouling development in membrane systems. Thereon, the superior efficiency of urea as an alternative to conventional chemical cleaning agents was demonstrated (i) at lab-scale using MFSs, (ii) for full-scale industrial spiral-wound membranes and (iii) for multiple cleaning cycles during long-term operation. Periodic chemical cleaning with urea resulted in better restoration of membrane performance, higher biomass inactivation, enhanced biofilm solubilization and removal, disintegration of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) particularly proteins, and a considerable reduction of key biofilm-forming bacteria. This research presented enhanced chemical cleaning strategies aiming to increase the removal of biofilms, reduce biomass accumulation and its impact on membrane performance, and delay fresh biofilm formation.
Date of AwardOct 2019
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorJohannes Vrouwenvelder (Supervisor)


  • Biofouling
  • Chemical Cleaning
  • Reverse Osmosis
  • Urea

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