Aerobic granulation (AG) and membrane bioreactor (MBR) are two promising, novel environmental biotechnological processes that draw interest of researchers working in the area of biological wastewater treatment. Membrane fouling in the combined aerobic granular membrane bioreactor (AGMBR) process and the conventional MBR process was investigated in this work. The irreversible fouling on hollow-fibre membranes in both reactors were observed with the multiple staining and confocal laser scanning microscope technique. Following physical and chemical washing, the external fouling layers were mostly removed. However, the biofilms built up in the interior surface of membrane remained and contributed to the irreversible fouling resistance. AGMBR retained most cells with granules, thereby reducing their penetration through membrane and thus the chance to form internal fouling layer. The internal biofilm layer was principally composed of live cells embedded in a matrix of proteins and polysaccharides, with that on AGMBR denser and thicker than that on MBR. Prevention of development of internal biofilm is essential to reduce irreversible fouling of AGMBR and MBR membranes.
Keywords: aerobic granule, CLSM, fouling, hollow-fibre membrane, membrane bioreactor