One of the major impediments in the application of spiral-wound membranes in water treatment or desalination is clogging of the feed channel by biofouling which is induced by nutrients in the feedwater. Organic carbon is, under most conditions, limiting the microbial growth. The objective of this study is to assess the relationship between the concentration of an easily assimilable organic compound such as acetate in the feedwater and the pressure drop increase in the feed channel. For this purpose the membrane fouling simulator (MFS) was used as a model for the feed channel of a spiral-wound membrane. This MFS unit was supplied with drinking water enriched with acetate at concentrations ranging from 1 to 1000 microg C x L(-1). The pressure drop (PD) in the feed channel increased at all tested concentrations but not with the blank. The PD increase could be described by a first order process based on theoretical considerations concerning biofilm formation rate and porosity decline. The relationship between the first order fouling rate constant R(f) and the acetate concentration is described with a saturation function corresponding with the growth kinetics of bacteria. Under the applied conditions the maximum R(f) (0.555 d(-1)) was reached at 25 microg acetate-C x L(-1) and the half saturation constant k(f) was estimated at 15 microg acetate-C x L(-1). This value is higher than k(s) values for suspended bacteria grown on acetate, which is attributed to substrate limited growth conditions in the biofilm. The threshold concentration for biofouling of the feed channel is about 1 microg acetate-C x L(-1).
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