Pilot scale evaluation of biofiltration as an innovative pre-treatment for ultrafiltration membranes for drinking water treatment

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Fouling remains one of the major constraints on the use of low pressure membranes in drinking water treatment. Work over the last few years has shown the importance of biopolymers (carbohydrates and protein-like material) as foulants for ultrafiltration (UF) membranes. The purpose of this study was to investigate at pilot scale the use of rapid biofiltration (without prior coagulation or ozone addition) as an innovative pretreatment to reduce fouling of UF membranes. The investigation was carried out on a water with a higher than average DOC and significant temperature variation. The biofilters, each operated at a hydraulic loading of 5 m/h, had empty bed contact times of 5, 10 and 15 minutes. The membrane unit was operated at a flux equivalent to 60 LMH at 20°C. The investigation confirmed the encouraging results obtained in an earlier smaller scale study with essentially the same water. Increased biofiltration contact time (i.e. increased bed depth) led to lower rates of hydraulically irreversible fouling. The initial biofiltration backwash procedure, involving air scour as is common in chemically assisted filtration, led in some cases to an increased rate of membrane fouling immediately after the backwash. An alternative backwashing strategy was developed, however the feasibility of operating with this approach over very long periods of time needs to be confirmed. To assist in full-scale implementation of this “green” and simple pretreatment, the design and operating conditions for the biofilters should be optimized for various types of waters. It is expected that biofiltration pretreatment will be of particular interest for small and/or isolated systems where a higher initial capital cost may be acceptable because of operational simplicity and reduced chemical requirements.

Keywords: backwashing, biofiltration, biopolymers, drinking water, organic fouling, ultrafiltration

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