Biofilms are complex biostructures that appear on all surfaces that are regularly in contact with water. They are structurally complex, dynamic systems with attributes of primordial multicellular organisms and multifaceted ecosystems. The presence of biofilms may have a negative impact on the performance of various systems, but they can also be used beneficially for the treatment of water (defined herein as potable water, municipal and industrial wastewater, fresh/brackish/salt water bodies, groundwater) as well as in water stream-based biological resource recovery systems. This review addresses the following three topics: (1) biofilm ecology, (2) biofilm reactor technology and design, and (3) biofilm modeling. In so doing, it addresses the processes occurring in the biofilm, and how these affect and are affected by the broader biofilm system. The symphonic application of a suite of biological methods has led to significant advances in the understanding of biofilm ecology. New metabolic pathways, such as anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) or complete ammonium oxidation (comammox) were first observed in biofilm reactors. The functions, properties, and constituents of the biofilm extracellular polymeric substance matrix are somewhat known, but their exact composition and role in the microbial conversion kinetics and biochemical transformations are still to be resolved. Biofilm grown microorganisms may contribute to increased metabolism of micro-pollutants. Several types of biofilm reactors have been used for water treatment, with current focus on moving bed biofilm reactors, integrated fixed-film activated sludge, membrane-supported biofilm reactors, and granular sludge processes. The control and/or beneficial use of biofilms in membrane processes is advancing. Biofilm models have become essential tools for fundamental biofilm research and biofilm reactor engineering and design. At the same time, the divergence between biofilm modeling and biofilm reactor modeling approaches is recognized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1753-1760
Number of pages8
JournalWater Science and Technology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2017


  • Aerobic granular sludge
  • Biofilm
  • Ecology
  • Integrated fixed-film activated sludge
  • Membrane-supported biofilm reactors
  • Moving bed biofilm reactor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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