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Membrane biological reactor is an advanced wastewater treatment technology, which offers merits of biological

treatment and membrane filtration of wastewater and overcomes various limitations of conventional processes.
Membrane filtration process is coupled with biological treatment process of wastewater, which results in excellent
quality of permeate. Membrane bioreactor technology was introduced in late 1960s and gained attraction in 1990s but
within last two decades MBR technology has gained wide acceptance and its application for treatment of various
types of wastewater has increased significantly, owing to decreasing cost of membranes and better membrane life.
Earlier, high costs and limited membrane life were major obstacles in the broad application of membrane bioreactor
technology; but due to recent advancements in membrane materials and studies conducted to prevent membrane
fouling helped a lot to overcome these barriers. Membrane fouling in membrane bioreactors is a complex
phenomenon having diverse relationships with its causing factors which leads for evolution of hybrid MBRs. Aim of
this study is to review membrane fouling and its controlling strategies in application of MBR technology along with
latest advancements and to seek state-of-the-art of the MBR technology
Keywords: advanced wastewater treatment, comparison, MBR, membrane bioreactor, membrane fouling, recent
advances on MBR.


In past two decades, Membrane bioreactors have gained a significant attention among researchers and engineers
due to their robustness, flexibility and reliability. Initially, application of MBR was more focused on sewage
treatment but recently, applicability of MBR on treatment of various types of industrial wastewater have gained
much attention. Membrane bioreactors not only gives excellent quality of permeate(treated water) but also offers
various advantages like low excess sludge production due to longer sludge retention time(SRT), works at high
MLSS and low hydraulic retention time (i.e. high volumetric loading rate) and acquires small space when
compared to conventional technologies like ASP and SBR.
Membrane bioreactors have two configurations according to location of the membrane component:
Side stream MBR - When membrane component is placed in a separate vessel then bioreactor, it is
referred as side stream or cross-flow MBR.
Submerged MBR - If membrane component is submerged in bioreactor it is referred as immersed or
submerged MBR.
Side stream MBRs are considered as first generation of MBR; cross-flow principle, with it is associated high
cross flow velocity which is used to prevent the buildup of solids on the membrane surface, so-called cake-layer
formation. This method of cross-flow operation requires large amounts of energy to generate the sludge velocity
across the membrane surface to maintain both the high cross-flow velocity for membrane cleaning and the
requires pressure drop necessary for permeation.[adel kader et al.2007]. Owing to low energy requirements and
their compactness, submerged MBRs have dominated the MBR market and likely to continue according to
recently published market report.[market report]. However, advancements have done to reduce energy
requirements of side stream MBRs and development of non-conventional external membrane system

designs will no doubt lead to much wider application of the external membrane MBR as the
economics of the systems appear comparable to the internal membrane MBR configuration, at
least up to flow rates approaching 1893 m /day (The largest system is designed to handle a
wastewater flow of 3785 m3/day is installed in US.)[Sutton]. Selection of particular configuration of

MBR system depends upon the application requirement and considering all the factors related to the application.
[c. vishvanathan]. Fig.1 shows side stream and submerged MBRs [cpheeo manual]and Table 1. Shows
comparison between side stream and submerged MBRs that should be considered while adopting a configuration.

Table 1.Comparison of Cross-flow MBR and submerged MBR [marrot;samarakoon thesis]





Membrane area

Characterized by higher flux (50-100 m3/m2/s), thus

lower membrane area requirement.

Space or footprint

Higher flux membranes with bioreactor

operating at higher VSS concentration and skidded
assembly construction, results in compact system


Less susceptible to changing wastewater and biomass


More susceptible to changing wastewater and

biomass characteristics requiring alteration in
membrane cleaning strategy and/or cleaning

Recovery of membrane

Off-line cleaning required every 1 to 2 months. Simple,

automated procedure normally requiring less than 4

Off-line recovery cleaning required every 2 to 6

months. A more complex procedure requiring
significantly more time and manual activity, at least
on occasion may be required.

Membrane life or

An operating life of 7 years or more can be achieved

with polymerics prior to irreversible fouling. Operating
life of ceramics is much longer.

An operating life of 5 years may be possible prior to

irreversible fouling and/or excessive membrane
physical damage.

Lower flux (15-35 m3/m2/s) but higher membrane

packing density (i.e., membrane area per unit
Higher membrane packing density and operation at
bioreactor VSS concentration of 10 g/l or greater
translates to compact system.


Non-conventional designs translate to comparable

power costs. Comparable capital cost at least at lower
wastewater feed rates. Higher OPEX & lower CAPEX.
Aeration costs low (nearly 20% of OPEX) & high
pumping cost (60-80% of OPEX)

Power and capital cost advantage at higher

wastewater feed rates. Appears to be more
economical based on energy consumption.
Lower OPEX & higher CAPEX. Aeration costs high
(nearly 90% of OPEX) & very low liquid pumping
costs (higher if suction pump is used nearly 28% of

Typical energy

2 to 10 KW.h/m3

0.2 to 0.4 KW.h/m3

Design parameters and membrane characteristics1.) Flux- It is defined as the quantity of material passing through a unit area of membrane per unit time. Flux
indicates the productivity of membrane and defined as equation (1). MBRs usually works in the range of
flux rates of10-100 m3/m2/s.

Permeate Flow(m3 /s )
Flux , J=
Total Membrane area(m2)
2.) Permeability - The amount of permeate passing through unit area of membrane per unit time in unit
transmembrane pressure.

m / m / s /


It is sometimes corrected for temperature impacts on viscosity

3.) Membrane Area [m2] = Process Volume [L] / (Flux [LMH] x Process Time [H])[manual]
4.) Sludge retention time (SRT) - It can be defined as the ratio of total mass of the organism in the reactor to the
total mass of organism leaving the system per day. It can be calculated by following equationSRT = V.X/Q.X = V/Q
Where, V is total reactor volume; X is the biomass concentration in the reactor and Q is the wastage flow
rate per day.[n. gupta]
5.) Resistance R (/m) and permeability K (m/(s bar), or LMH/bar in non-SI units) are inversely related. The
resistance is given by

Rt =


Where, is the viscosity (kg/(m s2)) and P (Pa) the pressure drop, and can refer to either the TMP (Pm Pa/bar in
non-SI units) or individual components which contribute to the pressure drop.
6.) F/M ratio- It is the ratio of total applied substrate rate to total microbial biomass. F/M = Q.S o/V.X
7.) Pump feed rate [L/min] = Feed flux [L/min/m2] x Area [m2]

Membrane fouling is considered to be spontaneous and inevitable during the microfiltration or ultrafiltration
process in MBR in spite of all antifouling measures taken so far.[p_2014__Fouling_and_Mitigation_Strategies]