The use of microbial and chemical analyses to characterize the variations in fouling profile of seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) membrane
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Biofouling of reverse osmosis (RO) membranes is one of the most common problems in desalinations plants reducing the efficiency of the water production process. The characterization of bacterial community composition from fouling layers as well as detailed analysis of surrounding chemical environment might reveal process specific bacterial groups/species that are involved in RO biofouling. In this study, advanced organics analytic methods (elemental analysis, FTIR, and ICP-OES) were combined with high-throughput 16S rRNA (pyro) sequencing to assess in parallel, the chemical properties and the active microbial community composition of SWRO membranes from a pilot desalination plant (MFT, Tarragona) in February 2011 and July 2011. Prefiltered ultrafiltration. waters fed SWRO membranes during third and fifth month of operation, respectively. SWRO samples were taken from three modules at different positions (first, fourth, and sixth) in order to investigate the spatial changes in fouling layers' chemical and microbiological composition. The overall assessment of chemical parameters revealed that fouling layers were mainly composed by bio and organic material (proteins and lipids). Ca and Fe were found to be the most abundant elements having an increasing concentration gradient according to the module position. Bacterial community composition of SWRO membranes is mostly represented by the Gammaproteobacteria class with interesting differences in genera/species spatial and temporal distribution. This preliminary result suggests that pretreatments and/or operational conditions might have selected different bacterial groups more adapted to colonize SWRO membranes. © 2013 Desalination Publications.
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