Penn State Receives NSF Grant for Engineering an Advanced Membrane Biofilm Technology
A team of chemical engineers at Pennsylvania State University received a three-year grant from National Science Foundation (NSF) to pursue the research entitled, “Living Reverse Osmosis Membranes: Engineered Membrane Biofilms that Control Their Own Thickness, Prevent Biofouling and Degrade Contaminants." The groundbreaking metabolic engineering research is aimed to develop an advanced biofilm that could prevent reverse osmosis (RO) membranes biofouling.
Reverse osmosis (RO) is an industrial-grade water purification and treatment process that employs semipermeable membrane technology in producing the most amount of desalinated water. RO membranes allow the passage of water molecules but are susceptible to biological growth and biofouling. These setbacks might lead to further deterioration of membrane which reduces RO’s effectivity and sustainability.
To settle this dilemma, co-principal study grant investigators Tom Wood and Tammy Wood discovered a specific gene that can dispense biofilm which they wanted to introduce good microorganisms or biofilms to eliminate the bad microorganisms. The research team further explained that the challenge lies in the need to control the size and thickness of the biofilm formations from the good microorganisms, otherwise, the biofouling would occur and disrupt the water treatment system.
Biofilms are the prime source of the thriving bacteria in aqueous environments. The existence of these micrcoorganisms is highly complex and diverse in nature. However, other good biofilms offer beneficial industrial and environmental applications since these are capable of mediating their own growth. These biofilms can also be measured through color test, wherein pH indicator identifies comparison with the bad strains.
Manish Kumar, a chemical engineering assistant professor and the grant's principal investigator, noted that the impending success of this research offers a great potential in producing low maintenance and reduced energy on RO membranes. "If we can control biofilms on RO membranes, then a large majority of disinfectant and chemical usage will be eliminated and the overall power consumption of this critical water treatment technology will be minimized," she added.
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