The increased interest in biomass energy provides incentive for the development of efficient and high throughput digesters such as anaerobic membrane bioreactors (AnMBRs) to stabilize waste activated sludge (WAS). This paper presents the results of a pilot and short term filtration study that was conducted to assess the performance of AnMBRs when treating WAS at a 15 day hydraulic retention time (HRT) and 30 day sludge retention time (SRT) in comparison to two conventional digesters running at 15 (BSR-15) and 30 days (BSR-30) HRT/SRT. At steady state, the AnMBR digester showed a slightly higher volatile solids (VS) destruction of 48% in comparison to 44% and 35.3% for BSR-30 and BSR-15, respectively. The corresponding values of specific methane production were 0.32, 0.28 and 0.21 m3 CH4/kg of VS fed. Stable membrane operation at an average flux of 40±3.6 LM−2 H−1 (LMH) was observed when the digester was fed with a polymer-dosed thickened waste activated sludge (TWAS) and digester total suspended solids (TSS) concentrations were less than 15 gL−1. Above this solids concentration a flux decline to 24.1±2.0 LM−2 H−1 was observed. Short term filtration tests conducted using sludge fractions of a 9.7 and 17.1 gL−1 TSS sludge indicated 84 and 70% decline in filtration performance to be associated with the supernatant fraction of the sludge. At a higher sludge concentration, the introduction of unique fouling control strategy to tubular membranes, a relaxed mode of operation (i.e. 5 minutes permeation and 1 minute relaxation by) significantly increased the flux from 23.8±1.1 to 37.8±2.3 LMH for a neutral membrane and from 25.7±1.1 to 44.9±2.9 LMH for a negatively charged membrane. The study clearly indicates that it is technically feasible to employ AnMBRs to achieve a substantial reduction in digester volumes.
Keywords: AnMBR, biomass energy, biosolids, membrane fouling, sludge digestion