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UF membrane challenge testing using biopolymer nanomaterials

Project Number # 2070

Full-scale UF membrane challenge testing using biopolymer nanomaterials


Verifying the integrity of UF membranes at full-scale is currently achieved using MS2 bacteriophage challenge tests or pressure-based tests. There are no fully automated integrity test methods that can be performed at full-scale, online and in real-time.


Challenge testing using novel fluorescent biopolymer nanoparticles (BNPs) has shown potential for replacing existing integrity tests for UF membranes at bench and pilot scale  However, the synthesis and stability of the BNPs needs further development to demonstrate their use at full-scale.

Please see the final report and factsheet for previously completed WaterRA Project #2044 “Alternative ultrafiltration integrity test using novel nanomaterials”


The proposed project will evaluate new methods for synthesising the BPNs in quantities that are suitable to facilitate challenge testing at full-scale and investigate techniques for stabilising the BPNs for distribution. The prepared BNPs will then be used to demonstrate a full-scale challenge test at a South East Water membrane treatment plant. The BNP test will be performed at the same time as a scheduled MS2 challenge test in order to compare the two methods.


The project will demonstrate the ability to perform UF membrane challenge testing: online and in real-time; at full-scale; using readily available, low cost instrumentation; and with novel biodegradable fluorescent BNPs; leading to potential commercialization of this novel system. 


The project will be conducted in five stages over a total of 8 months and will involve:

Stage 1: Refining the synthesis of BNPs

Since the completion of the previous Water RA project that developed the BNPs, several new techniques for synthesising similar BNPs have been identified. These include the use of new solvents, methods for forming the BNPs, the use of alternative biopolymers and fluorescent tags. This stage of the project will involve a review of the new methods to identify and implement new routes to synthesising BNPs.

Stage 2: Scaled-up synthesis and stabilisation of BNPs

One unresolved issue with the synthesis of the BNPs was the ability to produce quantities large enough to facilitate a full-scale test. In this stage, methods to concentrate and stabilise the BNPs (i.e. freeze/spray drying) will be evaluated and developed. The dispersion and fluorescence signature of BNPs following drying/storage will be investigated to ensure the fluorescence properties are maintained and the BNPs remain stable and usable.

Stage 3: Evaluation of portable detection device

A portable fluorescence detection device will be identified that will enable detection of the BNPs with the potential for integration into existing plant systems. The device will be tested to enable a demonstration of the potential for real-time, online analysis.

Stage 4: Full-scale challenge testing using BNPs and MS2

In this stage of the project, the BNPs will be used to perform a full-scale challenge test at a nominated SE Water UF treatment plant. The BNPs will be synthesised and characterised (size, concentration) immediately prior to testing which will be scheduled to coincide with annual MS2 challenge testing.  The previously identified portable device will be utilised on-site to evaluate the potential for real-time analysis of the BNPs.

Stage 5: Costing and commercialisation

A review of the costing and potential for commercialisation of the newly developed integrity measurement system will be performed including synthesis and distribution of the BNPs, availability of any portable detection device, development of an integrated detection system, and protocols for implementing challenge testing.