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The effect of the nutrient matrix on biofilm formation in membrane filtration units

  • 15 January, 2014
  • Wageningen University, Microbiology
  • prof. dr ir AJM Stams
  • dr CM Pluggedr P van den Brink

Reverse osmosis membrane filters are used now on a global scale for generating high-quality water. However, membrane performance is negatively affected when particles deposit at the membrane surface. This is known as fouling and provides a major productivity obstacle. Membrane fouling can be categorized into four different types: biological fouling (i.e., biofouling), organic fouling, colloidal/particulate fouling and scaling. Biofouling is one of the most problematic and encountered fouling type, and is a biofilm problem.
A biofilm is a structured and surface-adhered microbial community, surrounded by a self-produced extracellular polymeric matrix. Some bacteria, such as Sphingomonads, are better suited to form biofilms in RO membrane filters. However, the reasons why in particular these bacterial species flourish in membrane systems remain largely unknown.
The ultimate goal of this proposal is to develop a new approach to reduce biofouling, or otherwise improve a current methodology. To achieve this, bacterial physiological features will be studied in relation to biofouling, and also the nutritional conditions that lead to biofouling will be investigated. Finally, the aim is to establish whether conditions that are considered as being stressful for microbial systems might be effective as anti-biofouling strategy.
Borders of traditionally separate research fields will be crossed to achieve this goal by combining systems biology, chemical biology, mechanical and materials engineering. The membrane fouling simulator (MFS) that has been developed by Vrouwenvelder and improved by Beyer, will be integrated with advanced imaging techniques. Moreover, the MFS will be further improved to study biofouling under aseptic and reproducible conditions.

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Rik de Vries

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