Designing a biocidal reverse osmosis membrane coating: Synthesis and biofouling properties

Michael R. Hibbs, Lucas K. McGrath, Seoktae Kang, Atar Adout, Susan J. Altman, Menachem Elimelech, Chris J. Cornelius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


A biocidal coating was developed in order to reduce biofouling on a reverse osmosis (RO) membrane using a quaternary ammonium (QA) functionalized polymer. The synthesis of a series of polysulfone (PS) ionomers with QA groups is described, and a method for spraying these QA ionomers as an alcoholic solution, which dried into water insoluble coatings. Contact angle and streaming potential were used to analyze the coating's hydrophilicity and surface charge. Both PS-QA1 and the commercial RO membrane had an apparent contact angle of 68° that increased to 126° for PS-QA12 corresponding to alkyl chain length. A negatively charged particle-probe was used to measure coated and uncoated RO membrane interaction forces. Measured interaction forces correlated strongly with the length of alkyl chains or hydrophobicity of the coated surfaces. Uncoated RO membranes and ones coated with PS-QA were exposed to suspensions of Escherichia coli cells. All four PS-QA coatings showed significant biotoxicity and killed 100% of the E. coli cells, but uncoated RO membranes had metabolically active biofilms. However, coatings tested in a RO crossflow system showed a flux reduction that is attributed to mass transfer resistance due to excessively thick films.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-59
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Feb 15 2016


  • Antibacterial activity
  • Biofouling
  • Polycation coating
  • Quaternary ammonium ionomer
  • Reverse osmosis membrane

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Mechanical Engineering

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