Denitrification in Membrane Bioreactors

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Virginia Tech

Three membrane bioreactors, a low flux filter (LFF), a diafilter (DF), and an ion-exchange (IE) membrane bioreactor were used to treat water polluted with 50 ppm-N nitrate. The three systems were compared in terms of removal efficiency of nitrate, operational complexity, and overall quality of the treated water.

In the low flux filter (LFF) membrane bioreactor an hemo-dialysis hollow fiber module was used and operated continuously for 29 days with a constant flux of permeate. The performance of the system was constant during the span of the experiment, which demonstrated that when the module was operated under constant low flux of permeate, the membrane filtration process was not affected by fouling. The removal rate of the LFF was 100% since the treated effluent did not contain nitrate or nitrite. The volumetric denitrification rate was 240 g-N day-1 m-3, which is within the range of denitrification rates obtained in tubular membrane modules. The treated effluent contained acetate, the carbon source of the biological process, and other inorganic nutrients, which showed that operating this ultrafiltration module at controlled flux did not improve the retention of these substances in the bioreactor.

The same hemo-dialysis hollow fiber module employed in the LFF system was used in the diafilter (DF) membrane bioreactor. In the DF system, however, the membrane module was used as a contactor that separated the treated water and the bioreactor system, which allowed the transfer of solutes through the membrane porous structure and supported the growth of a biofilm on the membrane surface. The nitrate removal rate of the DF system increased from 76% to 91% during the 17 days assay. Unfortunately, this improvement could be attributed to microbial contamination of the water circuit because significant concentrations of the carbon source, acetate, nutrients, and nitrate were found in the treated effluent. The volumetric denitrification rate of the system was 200 g-N day-1 m-3, and the surface denitrification rate was lower than values previously reported for contactor membrane bioreactors. The results hereby presented do not evidence any advantage of operating the Filtral 20 ® membrane module as a contactor instead of as a filter such as in the LFF system.

On the other hand, the third system herein presented, the IE membrane bioreactor, demonstrated several advantages of a contactor configuration but with a non-porous ion exchange membrane module in place of the Filtral 20 ®. As in a contactor system, the anion membrane provided a surface for biofilm growth, facilitated the transport of nitrate, and prevented mixing of treated water and bioreactor medium. Compared to the two previous systems, the most remarkable result of the IE was the reduction of secondary pollution in the treated water. The concentrations of phosphate and ethanol were zero and less than 1% of the concentration in the bioreactor, respectively. In addition, the IE system was less complex than the two other systems because the ion exchange membrane is non-porous. Therefore, unlike with porous contactors, it was not necessary to control the flux of treated water that could be lost through the bioreactor. The average surface denitrification rate of the IE system was 7.0 g-N day-1 m-2, which is higher than what had been reported for other contactor denitrification systems. However, because of the low surface to volume ratio of the membrane module that was used, the volumetric denitrification rate of the IE system was low, equivalent to 65 g-N day-1 m-3.

contactor, membrane bioreactors, denitrification, water treatment, ion exchange, filtration