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Understanding and Preventing Biofilm Formation in Water Treatment Systems


Mitigating Biofilm Formation in Water Treatment Systems: Technical Strategies and Design Considerations


Biofilm formation in water treatment systems is a pervasive issue, leading to operational inefficiencies, contamination risks, and increased maintenance requirements. This article delves into the technical strategies for designing water treatment systems that minimise biofilm formation, emphasising the KR factor, maintaining system turnover, and considering mechanical design elements like pipe roughness.


Biofilms are communities of microorganisms encased within a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), adhering to surfaces in aqueous environments. In water treatment systems, biofilm development can compromise system performance, reduce flow efficiency, and pose health risks. Effective system design is paramount in mitigating biofilm formation, focusing on factors like flow dynamics, surface characteristics, and maintenance protocols.

The KR Factor in Biofilm Control

The KR (Kinetic Roughness) factor plays a critical role in biofilm control within water treatment systems. It refers to the influence of surface roughness on microbial adhesion and biofilm development. Surfaces with higher roughness offer more niches for microbial colonization, thus facilitating biofilm formation. Designing systems with smooth-surfaced pipes and components can significantly reduce biofilm proliferation.

The Reynolds Number

The Reynolds number is a dimensionless quantity used in fluid mechanics to predict flow patterns in different fluid flow situations. 

The Reynolds number is defined as:



  • ρ is the density of the fluid (in kg/m³).
  • v is the velocity of the fluid with respect to the object (in m/s).
  • L is a characteristic linear dimension (typically diameter in pipe flow, or wing span in aerodynamics, in meters).
  • μ is the dynamic viscosity of the fluid (in Pa·s).

Maintaining System Turnover

Preventing stagnant water conditions is crucial for biofilm control. Water treatment systems should be designed to maintain a constant turnover, ensuring a continuous flow that discourages the establishment of biofilms. This involves optimizing the hydraulic design to avoid dead zones and preferential flow paths where water movement is minimal. Regular flushing and flow variation can help in disrupting biofilm formation.

Mechanical Design Considerations

Pipe Roughness

Selecting materials with lower roughness coefficients for pipes and components can reduce the risk of biofilm formation. Materials like PVC or coated metals that offer smoother surfaces are preferred over rough materials like uncoated steel or concrete.

Flow Velocity

Designing for appropriate flow velocity is essential. Too low a velocity facilitates biofilm formation, while excessively high velocities can lead to erosion and damage. A balanced approach is necessary to maintain effective biofilm control without compromising the structural integrity of the system.

System Layout

The layout of the water treatment system should minimise areas where water can become stagnant. This includes the design of tanks, pipes, and junctions to promote uniform flow distribution.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Incorporating features that facilitate easy cleaning and maintenance can significantly reduce biofilm risks. This includes access points for physical cleaning, and the integration of chemical dosing systems for periodic biofilm removal.


Designing water treatment systems to minimise biofilm formation requires a multifaceted approach. By considering factors such as the KR factor, system turnover, pipe roughness, and flow dynamics, it is possible to effectively mitigate the risks associated with biofilm development. Regular maintenance and monitoring are also crucial in managing biofilm growth over the lifespan of the system.


Adopting these strategies can enhance the efficiency, safety, and longevity of water treatment systems.