The influence of antiscalants on biofouling of RO membranes in seawater desalination

Amer Sweity, Yoram Oren, Zeev Ronen, Moshe Herzberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antiscalants are surface active polyelectrolyte compounds commonly used in reverse osmosis (RO) desalination processes to avoid membrane scaling. In spite of the significant roles of antiscalants in preventing membrane scaling, they are prone to enhance biofilm growth on RO membranes by either altering membrane surface properties or by serving as nutritional source for microorganisms. In this study, the contribution of antiscalants to membrane biofouling in seawater desalination was investigated. The effects of two commonly used antiscalants, polyphosphonate- and polyacrylate-based, were tested. The effects of RO membrane (DOW-Filmtec SW30 HRLE-400) exposure to antiscalants on its physico-chemical properties were studied, including the consequent effects on initial deposition and growth of the sessile microorganisms on the RO membrane surface. The effects of antiscalants on membrane physico-chemical properties were investigated by filtration of seawater supplemented with the antiscalants through flat-sheet RO membrane and changes in surface zeta potential and hydrophobicity were delineated. Adsorption of antiscalants to polyamide surfaces simulating RO membrane's polyamide layer and their effects on the consequent bacterial adhesion was tested using a quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring technology (QCM-D) and direct fluorescent microscopy. Asignificant increase in biofilm formation rate on RO membranes surface was observed in the presence of both types of antiscalants. Polyacrylate-based antiscalant was shown to enhance initial cell attachment as observed with the QCM-D and a parallel plate flow cell, due to rendering the polyamide surface more hydrophobic. Polyphosphonate-based antiscalants also increased biofilm formation rate, most likely by serving as an additional source of phosphorous to the seawater microbial population. A thicker biofilm layer was formed on the RO membrane when the polyacrylate-based antiscalant was used. Following these results, a wise selection of antiscalants for scaling control should take into account their contribution to membrane biofouling propensity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3389-3398
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2013


  • Antiscalant
  • Biofilm
  • Biofouling
  • Fouling
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Scaling

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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