Biofouling of spiral-wound nanofiltration and reverse osmosis membranes: A feed spacer problem

Johannes Vrouwenvelder*, D. A. Graf von der Schulenburg, J. C. Kruithof, M. L. Johns, M. C.M. van Loosdrecht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

269 Scopus citations


Biofouling was studied in full-scale and pilot-scale installations, test-rigs and membrane fouling monitors by conventional methods as well as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Independent of permeate production, the feed spacer channel pressure drop and biomass concentration increased similarly in a nanofiltration pilot installation. In the presence of a feed spacer the absolute feed channel pressure drop increase caused by biomass accumulation was much higher than when a feed spacer was absent: in both spiral-wound nanofiltration and reverse osmosis systems biofouling is dominantly a feed spacer problem. This conclusion is based on (i) in-situ visual observations of the fouling accumulation, (ii) in-situ non-destructive observations of the fouling accumulation and velocity distribution profiles using MRI, and (iii) differences in pressure drop and biomass development in monitors with and without feed spacer. MRI studies showed that even a restricted biofilm accumulation on the feed channel spacer influenced the velocity distribution profile strongly. Biofouling control should be focused on the development of low fouling feed spacers and hydrodynamic conditions to restrict the impact of biomass accumulation on the feed channel pressure drop increase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)583-594
Number of pages12
JournalWater Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2009


  • Biofouling
  • Drinking water
  • Feed spacer channel pressure drop
  • Flux
  • Hydrodynamic conditions
  • MRI
  • Membrane
  • NF
  • NMR
  • RO

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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