Membrane Fouling in Algal Separation Processes: A Review of Influencing Factors and Mechanisms

Andres Felipe Novoa, Johannes S. Vrouwenvelder, Luca Fortunato*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The use of algal biotechnologies in the production of biofuels, food, and valuable products has gained momentum in recent years, owing to its distinctive rapid growth and compatibility to be coupled to wastewater treatment in membrane photobioreactors. However, membrane fouling is considered a main drawback that offsets the benefits of algal applications by heavily impacting the operation cost. Several fouling control strategies have been proposed, addressing aspects related to characteristics in the feed water and membranes, operational conditions, and biomass properties. However, the lack of understanding of the mechanisms behind algal biofouling and control challenges the development of cost-effective strategies needed for the long-term operation of membrane photobioreactors. This paper reviews the progress on algal membrane fouling and control strategies. Herein, we summarize information in the composition and characteristics of algal foulants, namely algal organic matter, cells, and transparent exopolymer particles; and review their dynamic responses to modifications in the feedwater, membrane surface, hydrodynamics, and cleaning methods. This review comparatively analyzes (i) efficiency in fouling control or mitigation, (ii) advantages and drawbacks, (iii) technological performance, and (iv) challenges and knowledge gaps. Ultimately, the article provides a primary reference of algal biofouling in membrane-based applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number687422
JournalFrontiers in Chemical Engineering
StatePublished - 2021


  • algae membrane photobioreactor
  • algal organic matter
  • cake layer
  • fouling
  • fouling control
  • transparent exopolymer particles
  • wastewater treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Bioengineering
  • Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)


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