Biofilm Engineering Laboratory



Nanofiltration (NF) and reverse osmosis (RO) membranes are widely and increasingly used for water treatment process. The efficiency of NF and RO processes is however adversely affected by biofouling. Environmental stimuli can trigger self-cleaning mechanisms of natural surfaces. Consequently there is an increasing interest in developing smart or stimuli responsive polymers as coatings to prevent biofouling. However, external chemical/physical stimuli must be selectively applied to the smart polymers to induce the cleaning mechanism; this procedure limits their applicability at industrial scale. The idea of this Proof of Concepts is to develop smart polymeric surfaces that will be used in NF/RO feed spacers. This concept is expected to dramatically reduce the operating costs of NF and reverse osmosis RO processes.

The Project is funded by the European Research Council under Horizon 2020


There is a strong societal need to anticipate threats to the environment that may impact on public health. Consequently there is a need to develop, understand and optimise environmental technologies that will play an important role in protecting the public from future environmental threats. Water quality is threatened by a growing number of contaminants entering water supplies as a result of human activity, including medicines, veterinary drugs, fragrances and cosmetics. A major challenge in water treatment is to improve existing processes and to design new ones to remove a large number of chemically very different contaminants. These contaminants  are an emerging threat and membrane separation processes are an important technology in their management.  However, biofouling is a key impediment and the tenacious nature of biofilms is at the core of the problem. This five-year programme is investigating the role of biofilms in the fouling of nanofiltration membranes and will develop strategies to enhance the removal of such biofilm. The results of the project will advance the understanding of important mechanisms in biofouling development and consequently increase the effectiveness and reliability of nanofiltration design and operation. Ultimately this will have wider implications for the effective treatment of  water treatment processes and biofouling control in general. Previous work on nanofiltration biofouling have highlighted the complexity of the microenvironment in which the biofilm is formed. The challenge of this project is to devise an approach that recognises that multiple overlapping mechanisms contribute to biofilm formation.

The Project is funded by the European Research Council under FP71021px-European_Research_Council_logo.svg

The membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (OxyMem)

50% of the energy used in wastewater treatment is for aeration. Existing biotreatment technology has a critical drawback; it uses bubble aeration. The oxygen transfer efficiency of this aeration method is particularly low and therefore the operating costs of the technology are substantial. In the face of globally rising energy costs, the lifecycle cost of the existing biotreatment processes will seem increasingly unattractive. In contrast, Membrane Aeration technology offers superior energy efficiency at reduced operating cost while maintaining a high-rate of oxidation. This project builds on over 15 year’s research at UCD on bubbleless aeration technology.

The Project was funded by Enterprise Ireland