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A unified thermodynamic mechanism underlying fouling behaviors of soluble microbial products (SMPs) in a membrane bioreactor

Teng, Jiaheng, Zhang, Meijia, Leung, Kam-Tin, Chen, Jianrong, Hong, Huachang, Lin, Hongjun, Liao, Bao-Qiang
Water research 2019 v.149 pp. 477-487
Gibbs free energy, agar, energy balance, filtration, fouling, gels, membrane bioreactors, mixing, particulates, sludge
Soluble microbial products (SMPs) are the predominate foulants determining fouling extent in membrane bioreactors (MBRs). However, exact mechanism underlying their typical fouling behaviors remains unrevealed. In this study, the typical fouling behaviors of SMPs during initial operational period of a MBR were characterized. It was found that, although being low content, SMPs rather than sludge particulates preferentially adhered to membrane surface to accumulate a gel layer, and moreover, specific filtration resistance (SFR) of SMPs was approximately 700 times larger than that of the sludge particulates at operational day 3. According to energy balance principle, a unified thermodynamic mechanism underlying these fouling behaviors of SMPs was proposed. Thermodynamic analyses demonstrated that, the attractive interaction energy strength in contact between SMPs and membrane was larger by around 3700 times than that between sludge particulates and membrane, well explaining the extremely high adhesive ability of SMPs over sludge particlulates. Meanwhile, filtration through a SMPs layer was modelled and simulated as a thermodynamic process. Simulation on an agar gel showed that, about 92.6% of SFR was originated from mixing free energy change during filtration. Such a result satisfactorily interpreted the extremely high SFR of SMPs layer over sludge cake layer. The revealed thermodynamic mechanism underlying SMPs fouling behaviors significantly deepened understanding of fouling, and facilitated to development of effective fouling control strategies.