Biofilm Formation and Biofouling Development on Different Ultrafiltration Membranes by Natural Anaerobes from an Anaerobic Membrane Bioreactor

Yang Yang, Edo Bar-Zeev, Gideon Oron, Moshe Herzberg, Roy Bernstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biofouling in anaerobic membrane bioreactors (AnMBRs) has not been studied widely. Moreover, the effect of membrane surface properties on biofilm formation beyond initial deposition is controversial. We investigated biofouling with polyvinyldifluoride, polyacrylonitrile, and zwitterion-modified polyethersulfone ultrafiltration membranes having different properties during 72 h filtration using natural anaerobes isolated from AnMBR and analyzed biofilm characteristics by physicochemical and molecular techniques. A decrease in membrane performance was positively correlated with biofilm formation on polyvinyldifluoride and polyacrylonitrile membranes, and as expected, physical cleaning effectively mitigated biofilm on hydrophilic and low-roughness membranes. Surprisingly, while the biofilm on the hydrophilic and low-surface roughness zwitterion-modified membrane was significantly impaired, the impact on transmembrane pressure was the highest. This was ascribed to the formation of a soft compressible thin biofilm with high hydraulic resistance, and internal clogging and pore blocking due to high pore-size distribution. Anaerobe community analysis demonstrated some selection between the bulk and biofilm anaerobes and differences in the relative abundance of the dominant anaerobes among the membranes. However, correlation analyses revealed that all membrane properties studied affected microbial communities' composition, highlighting the system's complexity. Overall, our findings indicate that the membrane properties can affect biofilm formation and the anaerobic microbial population but not necessarily alleviate biofouling.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)10339-10348
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number14
StatePublished - 19 Jul 2022


  • biofilm
  • biofouling
  • membrane property
  • microbial community
  • natural mixed-culture anaerobes
  • zwitterionic modification

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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