The arguments surrounding the precise target sludge (or mixed liquor suspended solids, MLSS) concentration to use when running an MBR are pretty well developed but what is it that ultimately sets the solids concentration range?
Features - Membrane operation
It is most often assumed that the main cost associated with operating a membrane separation plant relates to the energy consumption, followed by the membrane replacement. Consequently, considerable efforts have been devoted to fouling control and mitigation, with more than one fifth of all MBR research literature publications devoted to this topic (Judd, 2017).
Clogging can take place within MBR module channels as a thick deposit which fills the channel (‘sludging’ or ‘localised dewatering’). Sometimes long rags or braids can develop in the tank itself which wrap around the membrane tank infrastructure (‘ragging’ or ‘braiding’). Chemical cleans are largely ineffective since they can only attack the foulants on the membrane surface, so leaving the clogged material filling the membrane channels largely unaltered. Cranfield University and Qatar University have completed work on this largely neglected research area.
Disinfection by MBRs. Unlike regular physical membrane filtration, virus removal by MBRs is not limited to simple size exclusion. Adsorption onto the sludge solids and the membrane cake layer (as well as the membrane itself) represent important removal mechanisms, as well as removal by predation (the feeding on the pathogens by other higher organisms).
MBR membranes are prone to fouling generally, and biofouling in particular, by organic matter originating from the microbial cells. These biofoulants vary in concentration with the activated sludge characteristics, such as the mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) concentration and solids retention time (SRT) (and so the food/microorganism (F/M) ratio), as well as the feedwater chemistry.
MBRs use more energy compared with classical activated sludge (CAS) because the aeration requirements are greater. Aeration is needed both for the biological and membrane tanks for degrading the organics and scouring the membrane respectively. Typically, aeration energy consumption accounts for 70–80% of total energy used for the municipal wastewater treatment process, with 40–60% consumed by the process biology.