Ubiquitous and ubiquitously useful, biofilms are key in providing clean water and generating renewable resources



A dense biofilm on the membrane of an MBfR


Photograph of orange-colored anode-respiring bacteria on anodes of an MXC


Scanning electron micrograph of an anode biofilm


Biofilms are microbial aggregations on surfaces.  Biofilms are ubiquitous, comprising as much as 90 percent of microbial life on the planet.  Biofilms also are exceptionally useful in environmental biotechnologies used to clean water and generate renewable resources.  Traditional biofilm processes in wastewater treatment include trickling filters and anaerobic filters.  Today, many exciting new biofilm processes are emerging.  Swette Center researchers are among the world leaders in many of the new applications.  Examples you can learn more about in the Center’s website are microbial electrochemical cells (MXCs), membrane biofilm reactors (MBfRs), photocatalytic circulating-bed biofilm reactors (PCBBRs), and biofilters used for treating drinking water.

Swette Center researchers are famous for taking a comprehensive, inter-disciplinary approach to understanding and applying biofilms.  Everything begins with understanding the microbial ecology of the biofilms:  What microorganisms are present?  What are they doing?  How are they cooperating to provide the service we desire?  What is in the biofilm besides the microorganisms?  Center researchers apply state-of-the art tools of molecular microbial ecology, microscopy, and chemical analysis to gain deep understanding of these ecological characteristics.  Crucial to the research also is mathematical modeling, in which we represent and quantify the crucial biochemical, geochemical, electrochemical, and transport processes that occur simultaneously in biofilms.  Modeling is the essential tool for integrating so many processes, and it is a hallmark of our biofilm research.  Swette Center researchers also design, construct, and test novel biofilm-based processes – such as MXCs, MBfRs, and PCBBRs.  The twin goals are to gain deep understanding of what is happening inside the biofilm and then to convert that understanding to a commercially viable technology that helps make our society more sustainable.