Application of nanosilver surface modification to RO membrane and spacer for mitigating biofouling in seawater desalination

Hui Ling Yang, Justin Chun Te Lin, Ch-Hpin Huang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

173 Scopus citations


Biofouling is one the most critical problems in seawater desalination plants and science has not yet found effective ways to control it. Silver compounds and ions are historically recognized for their effective antimicrobial activity. Nanosilver particles have been applied as a biocide in many aspects of disinfection, including healthcare products and water treatment. This study proposes an innovative biofouling control approach by surface modification of the RO membrane and spacer with nanosilver coating. A chemical reduction method was used for directly coating nanosilver particles on the membrane sheet and spacer. The surface-modified membrane and spacer were tested for their antifouling performance in a cross-flow flat-sheet membrane cell, which is a part of a pilot plant in Wukan desalination plant. The silver-coating membranes and spacers, along with an unmodified membrane sheet, were tested in the membrane cell and compared on the basis of their antifouling performance. Permeate flux decline and salt rejection was continuously monitored through the testing period. Meanwhile regrowth of microbial populations on the membrane cell was quantified by a unique microbial counting every three to four days. The results showed that both silver-coated membrane (Ag-cM) with uncoated spacer and silver-coated spacer (Ag-cS) with uncoated membrane perforemed better than the unmodified membrane and spacer (Un-MS), in terms of much slower decrease in permeate flux and TDS rejection. However, the effect of silver-coated spacer on antimicrobial activity was more lasting. In the silver-coated spacer test, there was almost no multiplication of cells detected on the membrane during the whole testing period. Besides, the cells adhering to the membrane seemed to lose their activity quickly. According to the RO performance and microbial growth morphology, the nanosilver coating technology is valuable for use in biofouling control in seawater desalination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3777-3786
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number15
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2009


  • Biofouling
  • Nanosilver particles
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Spacer
  • Surface modification

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