Biofilm treatment, cleaning and control strategies for membrane desalination applied for drinking water production

  • Maria F. Nava Ocampo

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The global demand for potable water has increase the use of chemicals to clean or prevent undesirable biofouling in reverse osmosis membranes. Biofouling is the growth and accumulation of biomass that generates an unacceptable performance decline. To date, a thoroughly efficient and green method to remove, prevent or treat biofouling in water treatment systems has not been developed. The studies carried out during my Ph.D. aim to develop greener and more efficient biofuling prevention/cleaning methods. The first two studies introduce a polyelectrolyte coating with the atypical characteristic of being removed and reapplied under operating conditions. After the biofilm develops on the coating, both biomass and coating can be removed with brine. The application of the coating can be done in-situ without hindering membrane performance. Using this procedure, both biofilm and coating could be simultaneously removed, leaving a clean surface. The biofouled coated membrane had two-fold higher permeate flux recovery compare to the non-coated. The sacrificial polyelectrolyte coating offers a greener solution for biofouling treatment in membrane systems. As an alternative to harsh chemicals, natural deep eutectic solvents (NADES) are presented as an alternative for biofilm treatment. Our results indicate that the NADES could solubilize up to ≈70% of the main components of the biofilm. The biofilm is weakened by the biomolecule’s solubilization, which could enhance biofilm removal. NADES have a great potential to be used for biofilm and avoid the currently used solvents. The last chapter is focused on understanding the structural characteristics and stability of NADES composed of betaine, urea, and water. The NADES composition and the water content is of significant relevance for its stability and supramolecular structure. Our experimental and computational results show that water is of crucial importance to the NADES supramolecular structure and stability. Understanding the NADES characteristics leads to finding better applications and giving insights into the interaction that these solvents have with other molecules, such as biopolymers or proteins. Even though there is still further research to be done, the studies presented on this thesis are a step forward towards finding and understanding greener solutions for biofilm treatment in water treatment systems.
Date of AwardOct 2021
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorJohannes Vrouwenvelder (Supervisor)


  • Reverse Osmosis
  • Membrane desalination
  • Green chemistry
  • Sacrificial coating

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