A pilot UASB reactor coupled with an external ultrafiltration (UF) membrane was operated under three different hydraulic retention times (HRT) for domestic wastewater treatment. The aim was to assess the HRT influence on system performance and fouling. The highest concentrations of COD, total solids, extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) and soluble microbial products (SMP) in UASB effluent and permeate were found when the UASB reactor was operated under the lowest HRT studied (4 hours); although the fulfillment of Mexican Standard for wastewater reclamation was not compromised. This fact could be attributed to the higher shear stress forces inside the UASB reactor when it was operated at low HRT, which promoted the release of biopolymeric substances in its effluent. Besides, the fouling propensity in the UASB effluent was worsened with HRT reduction, by increasing the fouling rate and the specific cake resistance. Based on these results, it is recommended to avoid operating the UASB reactor at low HRTs (less than 4 hours) in order to control SMP and EPS fouling potential. The results presented also suggest that HRT reduction has a detrimental effect on performance and fouling.
Keywords: anaerobic digestion, biopolymeric substances, domestic wastewater, hydraulic retention time, membrane fouling