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Application of electrochemical processes to membrane bioreactors for improving nutrient removal and fouling control

Borea, Laura, Naddeo, Vincenzo, Belgiorno, Vincenzo
Environmental science and pollution research international 2017 v.24 no.1 pp. 321-333
ammonium nitrogen, electrochemistry, electrodes, fouling, hydrophobicity, membrane bioreactors, orthophosphates, sludge, wastewater treatment
Membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology is becoming increasingly popular as wastewater treatment due to the unique advantages it offers. However, membrane fouling is being given a great deal of attention so as to improve the performance of this type of technology. Recent studies have proven that the application of electrochemical processes to MBR represents a promising technological approach for membrane fouling control. In this work, two intermittent voltage gradients of 1 and 3 V/cm were applied between two cylindrical perforated electrodes, immersed around a membrane module, at laboratory scale with the aim of investigating the treatment performance and membrane fouling formation. For comparison purposes, the reactor also operated as a conventional MBR. Mechanisms of nutrient removal were studied and membrane fouling formation evaluated in terms of transmembrane pressure variation over time and sludge relative hydrophobicity. Furthermore, the impact of electrochemical processes on transparent exopolymeric particles (TEP), proposed as a new membrane fouling precursor, was investigated in addition to conventional fouling precursors such as bound extracellular polymeric substances (bEPS) and soluble microbial products (SMP). All the results indicate that the integration of electrochemical processes into a MBR has the advantage of improving the treatment performance especially in terms of nutrient removal, with an enhancement of orthophosphate (PO₄-P) and ammonia nitrogen (NH₄-N) removal efficiencies up to 96.06 and 69.34 %, respectively. A reduction of membrane fouling was also observed with an increase of floc hydrophobicity to 71.72 %, a decrease of membrane fouling precursor concentrations, and, thus, of membrane fouling rates up to 54.33 %. The relationship found between TEP concentration and membrane fouling rate after the application of electrochemical processes confirms the applicability of this parameter as a new membrane fouling indicator.