Effect of phosphate availability on biofilm formation in cooling towers

Ingrid S.M. Pinel, Lan Hee Kim, Vitor R. Proença Borges, Nadia M. Farhat, Geert Jan Witkamp, Mark C.M. van Loosdrecht, Johannes S. Vrouwenvelder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Phosphate limitation has been suggested as a preventive method against biofilms. P-limited feed water was studied as a preventive strategy against biofouling in cooling towers (CTs). Three pilot-scale open recirculating CTs were operated in parallel for five weeks. RO permeate was fed to the CTs (1) without supplementation (reference), (2) with supplementation by biodegradable carbon (P-limited) and (3) with supplementation of all nutrients (non-P-limited). The P-limited water contained ≤10 µg PO4 l−1. Investigating the CT-basins and coupons showed that P-limited water (1) did not prevent biofilm formation and (2) resulted in a higher volume of organic matter per unit of active biomass compared with the other CTs. Exposure to external conditions and cycle of concentration were likely factors that allowed a P concentration sufficient to cause extensive biofouling despite being the limiting compound. In conclusion, phosphate limitation in cooling water is not a suitable strategy for CT biofouling control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)800-815
Number of pages16
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • biofilm composition
  • Biofouling
  • microbial community analyses
  • nutrient limitations
  • principal component analysis
  • water quality


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