The application of seawater desalination technology using a reverse osmosis (RO) membrane has been expanding because it requires less energy compared with other distillation methods. Even in Middle Eastern countries where energy costs are lower such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait, almost all desalination plants where only water production is required have adopted the RO method. However, large plants in excess of half mega-ton size are required, and Seawater Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) operation lacks reliability due to heavy biofouling and large amounts of briny discharge contaminated with chemicals. For reliable desalination systems with lower environmental impact, membrane-processing technology, including biotechnology (such as marine bacteria), has been examined as national research in Japan in the “Mega-ton Water System” project. We examined the influence of chlorination on marine bacteria using the fluorescence microscopic observation method and found that the effect of chlorination is limited. Chlorination sterilization triggers biofouling and sodium bisulfate (SBS) addition as a de-chlorinating agent also triggers biofouling, so a process with no chlorine or SBS addition would reduce biofouling. As polyamide SWRO membranes have low chlorine resistivity, such a process would enable longer membrane life in real plants. We used a biofouling monitoring technology, the Membrane Biofilm Formation Rate (mBFR), to design a process that involves no chlorine or SBS addition and verified it in the Arabian Gulf Sea, of Saudi Arabia, which is one of the most difficult and challenging seawaters in which to control biofouling. Furthermore, by minimizing the addition of a sterilizer, the desalination system became more environmentally friendly.
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