Effects of Biological Molecules on Calcium Mineral Formation Associated with Wastewater Desalination as Assessed using Small-Angle Neutron Scattering Academic Article uri icon


  • Calcium phosphate scale formation on reverse osmosis (RO) membranes is one of the main limitations on cost-effective desalination of domestic wastewater worldwide. It has been shown that organic agents affect mineralization. In this study, we explored mineralization in the presence of two biofilm-relevant organic compounds, the proteins bovine serum albumin (BSA) and lysozyme, in a simulated secondary effluent (SSE) solution using small-angle neutron scattering (SANS), and applied the results to analyses of mineral precipitation in RO desalination of secondary effluents of wastewater. The two proteins are prominent members of bacterial extracellular polymeric substances (EPSs), forming biofilms that are frequently associated with RO-membrane fouling during wastewater desalination. Laboratory experiments showed that both proteins in SSE solution are involved in complex mineralization processes. Only small portions of both protein fractions are involved in mineralization processes, whereas most of the protein fractions remain as monomers in solution. Contrast variation showed that composite particles of mineral and protein are formed instantaneously to a radius of gyration of about 300 Å, coexisting with particles of about μm size. After about one day, these large particles start to grow again at the expense of the 300 Å particles. The volume fraction of the 300 Å particles is of the order of 2 × 10–4, which is too large to represent calcium phosphate such as hydroxyapatite as the only mineral present. Considering the data of mineral volume fraction obtained here as well as the solubility product of possible mineral polymorphs in the SSE solution, we suggest the formation of protein-mineral particles of hydroxyapatite and calcium carbonate during scale formation.

publication date

  • May 23, 2013