Membrane fouling in microfiltration (MF) and ultrafiltration (UF) of an activated sludge (AS) effluent was investigated. It was found that the major membrane foulants were polysaccharides, proteins, polysaccharide-like and protein-like materials and humic substances. MF fouling by the raw effluent was governed by pore adsorption of particles smaller than the pores during the first 30 minutes of filtration and then followed the cake filtration model. UF fouling could be described by the cake filtration model throughout the course of filtration. Coagulation with alum and (poly)aluminium chlorohydrate (ACH) altered the MF fouling mechanism to follow the cake filtration model from the beginning of filtration. The MF and UF flux improvement by coagulation was due to the removal of some of the foulants in the raw AS effluent by the coagulants. The MF flux improvement was greater for alum than for ACH whereas the two coagulants performed equally well in UF. Coagulation also reduced hydraulically irreversible fouling on the membranes and this effect was more prominent in MF than in UF. The unified membrane fouling index (UMFI) was used to quantitatively evaluate the effectiveness of coagulation on membrane flux enhancement.
Keywords: activated sludge effluent, coagulation, membrane foulant, microfiltration, ultrafiltration, unified membrane fouling index