The potential of membrane bioreactor (MBR) systems to remove organic micropollutants was investigated at different scales, operational conditions, and locations. The effluent quality of the MBR system was compared with that of a plant combining conventional activated sludge (CAS) followed by ultrafiltration (UF). The MBR and CAS-UF systems were operated and tested in parallel. An MBR pilot plant in Israel was operated for over a year at a mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) range of 2.8–10.6 g/L. The MBR achieved removal rates comparable to those of a CAS-UF plant at the Tel-Aviv wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) for macrolide antibiotics such as roxythromycin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin and slightly higher removal rates than the CAS-UF for sulfonamides. A laboratory scale MBR unit in Berlin – at an MLSS of 6–9 g/L – showed better removal rates for macrolide antibiotics, trimethoprim, and 5-tolyltriazole compared to the CAS process of the Ruhleben sewage treatment plant (STP) in Berlin when both were fed with identical quality raw wastewater. The Berlin CAS exhibited significantly better benzotriazole removal and slightly better sulfamethoxazole and 4-tolyltriazole removal than its MBR counterpart. Pilot MBR tests (MLSS of 12 g/L) in Aachen, Germany, showed that operating flux significantly affected the resulting membrane fouling rate, but the removal rates of dissolved organic matter and of bisphenol A were not affected.
Keywords: antibiotics, BPA, organic micropollutants, membrane bioreactor, municipal wastewater, ultrafiltration