Assessing the performance of an MBR operated at high biomass concentrations

Carlos M. Barreto, Hector A. Garcia, Christine M. Hooijmans, Aridai Herrera, Damir Brdjanovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Reducing the footprint requirements of membrane bioreactors (MBR)s can both decrease the surface area needs for new wastewater treatment plants (WWTP)s, and increase the treatment capacities of existing WWTPs at a given surface area. In addition, it may promote the development of movable/portable containerized MBRs for a diverse range of wastewater treatment applications. Applications may include the provision of municipal/industrial wastewater treatment in remote areas without sewerage, and the provision of sanitation services under challenging site-specific conditions such as after the occurrence of a human-made or a natural disaster. The reduction of the footprint requirements of MBRs is constrained by the maximum amount of biomass that can be accommodated in the aerobic basin. The biomass concentration is mainly limited by the extremely low oxygen transfer efficiency (OTE) experienced by conventional aeration bubble diffuser systems at mixed liquor total suspended solids (MLSS) concentrations higher than 20 g L-1. Another potential limitation for the operation of MBRs at such high MLSS concentrations is the reduction on the membrane permeability due to excessive fouling. A pilot MBR with a treatment capacity of one m3 d-1 was installed at the research hall facilities at the Harnaschpolder wastewater treatment plant in Delft, The Netherlands. The MBR was operated at MLSS concentrations of up to 28 g L-1 at sludge retention times (SRT)s ranging from 30 to 35 days. The MBR was provided with a Speece cone concentrated oxygen delivery system to overcome the oxygen transfer limitations of conventional bubble diffuser aeration systems at high MLSS concentrations. The MBR performance was evaluated by monitoring the influent and effluent water quality, the membrane permeability, the sludge filterability, the dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration, and the oxygen uptake rate (OUR). The Speece cone proved to be effective in delivering enough oxygen to maintain DO concentrations in the MBR of approximately 2 mg L-1 at MLSS concentrations of up to 22 g L-1. OUR values above 200 mg L-1 h-1 were observed at 14 g L-1 MLSS and higher than 300 mg L-1 h-1 at 22 g L-1 MLSS. The MBR exhibited chemical oxygen demand (COD) removal efficiencies of up to 99% even at a hydraulic retention time (HRT) as low as 3.7 h. A reduction in permeability from 33 to 11 lmh bar-1 was observed when the MLSS concentrations increased from 18.7 to 27.8 g L-1. Sludge filterability values expressed as the added resistance (δR20) fell in the range of "poor filterability" for all the evaluated operational conditions; however, a lower filtration resistance in the range of "moderate filterability" at approximately 23 g L-1 MLSS was noticed. The experimental results suggest that at the evaluated experimental conditions the existent limitations on poor oxygen transfer and low permeability when operating a MBR at high MLSS concentrations can be overcome; therefore, the footprint requirements of MBR systems may be further reduced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)528-537
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Biodeterioration and Biodegradation
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


  • Emergency sanitation
  • Filterability
  • High MLSS
  • Membrane bioreactor (MBR)
  • Oxygen transfer
  • Oxygen uptake rate (OUR)

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