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Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Vol. 81 (7), 2015; Pages: 2515-2524

Nitric Oxide Treatment for the Control of Reverse Osmosis Membrane Biofouling

Robert J. Barnes, Jiun Hui Low, Ratnaharika R. Bandi, Martin Tay, Felicia Chua, Theingi Aung, Anthony G. Fane, Staffan Kjelleberg and Scott A. Rice

Advanced Environmental Biotechnology Centre, Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


Biofouling remains a key challenge for membrane-based water treatment systems. This study investigated the dispersal potential of the nitric oxide (NO) donor compound, PROLI NONOate, on single- and mixed-species biofilms formed by bacteria isolated from industrial membrane bioreactor and reverse osmosis (RO) membranes. The potential of PROLI NONOate to control RO membrane biofouling was also examined. Confocal microscopy revealed that PROLI NONOate exposure induced biofilm dispersal in all but two of the bacteria tested and successfully dispersed mixed-species biofilms. The addition of 40 μM PROLI NONOate at 24-h intervals to a laboratory-scale RO system led to a 92% reduction in the rate of biofouling (pressure rise over a given period) by a bacterial community cultured from an industrial RO membrane. Confocal microscopy and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) extraction revealed that PROLI NONOate treatment led to a 48% reduction in polysaccharides, a 66% reduction in proteins, and a 29% reduction in microbial cells compared to the untreated control. A reduction in biofilm surface coverage (59% compared to 98%, treated compared to control) and average thickness (20 μm compared to 26 μm, treated compared to control) was also observed. The addition of PROLI NONOate led to a 22% increase in the time required for the RO module to reach its maximum transmembrane pressure (TMP), further indicating that NO treatment delayed fouling. Pyrosequencing analysis revealed that the NO treatment did not significantly alter the microbial community composition of the membrane biofilm. These results present strong evidence for the application of PROLI NONOate for prevention of RO biofouling.


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