Antiscalants Used in Seawater Desalination: Biodegradability and Effects on Microbial Diversity

Ashraf Al-Ashhab, Amer Sweity, Luna Al-Hadidi, Moshe Herzberg, Zeev Ronen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antiscalants are organic polymers widely used for scale inhibition in seawater desalination. While they are susceptible to biodegradation, they provide nutrients for bacterial cell growth and energy for the microbes that assimilate and degrade them. This paper shows the biodegradability of three commercial antiscalants (polyacrylate—CA, polyphosphonate—PP, and carboxylated dendrimers—DN) applied in seawater reverse osmosis desalination (SWRO) as well as analyzing the antiscalant’s effects on microbial diversity using microbial cultures grown in seawater, under semi-continuous batch conditions. Nutritional uptake and contribution of the antiscalants to microbial growth were investigated by measuring DOC, TDN, NO3, NO2, PO4, NH4+, and TP of the filtered samples of the incubated batch, twice a month, for twelve months. The microbial community was estimated by 16S rRNA sequencing. The main changes in the microbial communities were determined by the incubation period. However, bacterial orders of the antiscalant treatments differed significantly from the control treatment, namely Planctomycetales, Clostridiales, Sphingobacteriales, Rhodobacterales, and Flavobacteriales, and other unclassified bacterial orders, which were found in various relative abundances dependent on incubation times. The results showed the PP antiscalant to be the least biodegradable and to have the least effect on the bacterial community composition compared to the control. This result emphasizes the need to reassess the suitability criteria of antiscalants, and to further monitor their long-term environmental effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1580
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2022


  • antiscalants
  • biodegradation
  • desalination
  • microbial diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Virology


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