Characterization of microbial communities in water and biofilms along a large scale SWRO desalination facility: Site-specific prerequisite for biofouling treatments

Adi Levi, Edo Bar-Zeev, Hila Elifantz, Tom Berman, Ilana Berman-Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Biofouling impacts seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plants by hindering module performance, increasing energetic demands, and incurring further costs. Here we investigated the spatial-temporal dynamics of microbial communities along the feedwater, pretreatment, and reverse osmosis stages of a large-scale SWRO desalination facility. While the composition of water-based microbial communities varied seasonally, the composition of biofilm microbial communities clustered by locations. Proteobacteria dominated throughout the water and biofilm communities while other dominant phyla varied seasonally and spatially. The microbial community composition significantly differed along the pathway locations of feedwater, rapid sand filtration (RSF), cartridge filters (CF), and the reverse osmosis (RO) membranes. Biofilms on the RSF and CF were composed of more diverse microbial populations than RO biofilms as determined by the effective number of species. Biofilms that developed along the treatment pathway (CF) served as inocula enhancing biofouling downstream on the RO membranes. Subsequently, we believe that prior to the development of advanced antibiofouling treatments for the desalination industries, the site-specific microbial community of feedwater, pretreatment and RO biofouling should be characterized. Site specific identification of these communities will enable optimization of pretreatment and cleaning procedures and can ultimately reduce chemical usage and incurred costs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-52
Number of pages9
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by an Israeli Water Authority (grant number 4500445459 ) grant to IBF and TB (Reduction in Biofilm Formation at Desalination Facilities). We thank the ADOM management for access to the Ashkelon desalination plant. This work is part of the Bar Ilan University PhD requirements for AL. We thank Natalia Belkin and Eyal Rahav for sampling assistance and Tal Duvdevani Levi for the drawing of the ADOM sampling locations schematic ( Fig. 1 ). This study is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Tom Berman who died unexpectedly during the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Biofouling
  • Desalination
  • Desalination-pretreatment
  • Microbial-communities
  • Proteobacteria
  • Reverse-osmosis fouling


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