Bacterial attachment to RO membranes surface-modified by concentration-polarization-enhanced graft polymerization

Roy Bernstein, Sofia Belfer, Viatcheslav Freger

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147 Scopus citations


Concentration polarization-enhanced radical graft polymerization, a facile surface modification technique, was examined as an approach to reduce bacterial deposition onto RO membranes and thus contribute to mitigation of biofouling. For this purpose an RO membrane ESPA-1 was surface-grafted with a zwitterionic and negatively and positively charged monomers. The low monomer concentrations and low degrees of grafting employed in modifications moderately reduced flux (by 20-40%) and did not affect salt rejection, yet produced substantial changes in surface chemistry, charge and hydrophilicity. The propensity to bacterial attachment of original and modified membranes was assessed using bacterial deposition tests carried out in a parallel plate flow setup using a fluorescent strain of Pseudomonas fluorescens. Compared to unmodified ESPA-1 the deposition (mass transfer) coefficient was significantly increased for modification with the positively charged monomer. On the other hand, a substantial reduction in bacterial deposition rates was observed for membranes modified with zwitterionic monomer and, still more, with very hydrophilic negatively charged monomers. This trend is well explained by the effects of surface charge (as measured by ζ-potenital) and hydrophilicity (contact angle). It also well correlated with force distance measurements by AFM using surrogate spherical probes with a negative surface charge mimicking the bacterial surface. The positively charged surface showed a strong hysteresis with a large adhesion force, which was weaker for unmodified ESPA-1 and still weaker for zwitterionic surface, while negatively charged surface showed a long-range repulsion and negligible hysteresis. These results demonstrate the potential of using the proposed surface- modification approach for varying surface characteristics, charge and hydrophilicity, and thus minimizing bacterial deposition and potentially reducing propensity biofouling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5973-5980
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number14
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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