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Biofilm Engineering at RWTH

Updated: May 23, 2021

2021 saw one of six RWTH Junior Principle Investigator Fellowships awarded to Dr. Peter Desmond, helping establish a Junior Research Group in Biofilm Engineering at ISA-RWTH. The research group will have focus on biofilm processes applied to water wastewater treatment/reuse.

Dr. Peter Desmond is a native of Dublin, Ireland and has a multi-disciplinary background in molecular microbiology, environment biotechnology and membrane process technology. Dr. Desmond completed his PhD in 2018 at ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Science and Technology on membrane biofouling and decentralised drinking water treatment using gravity driven membrane filtration (GDM). Following his PhD, Dr. Desmond went to work as an R&D engineer at MMS membrane systems (MMS AG Zürich), a post which took him around the world providing training and troubleshooting to a variety of industrial clients in Food and Beverage, Chemical and Biopharma.


Having joined ISA-RWTH in January 2021, Peter and the Biofilm Engineering group will focus on developing insight into biofilm-membrane hybrid systems to enable effective and efficient application in drinking water and wastewater treatment/reuse. An inaugural project will focus on the Membrane Aerated Bioreactor (MABR) for wastewater treatment. The MABR is an emerging fixed film biofilm treatment process that cultivates active biomass on an oxygen transfer membrane submersed in wastewater. Biofilm growth on the oxygen transfer membrane improves oxygen utilisation by direct oxygen transfer, which coined the term “bubble less aeration” and reduces energy costs associated with bulk aeration.


Investigations will make use of bench-and pilot scale MABR technologies custom made by the ISA-RWTH workshop and in partnership with industrial collaborators (Oxymem)

The novel bench-scale reactors will help

monitor how wastewater characteristics can influence biofilm structural development and overall reactor performance. Peter brings with him expertise in a non-invasive imaging technique termed Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), which provide visualisation of biofilm physical structure.

OCT will allow on-line monitoring of biofilm development and will provide early warning indicators of potential “washout” from biofilm reactors. The method will also be use d to visualised fouling layers on membrane filters and will enable ISA to offer industrial clients “non-invasive” membrane autopsies of failed membrane modules.


Over the next five years, the Biofilm Engineering Group led by Dr. Desmond is looking forward to integrating into the German water sector and serving as a valuable partner for academic and industrial professional’s workings in water and wastewater treatment.


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