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Membrane Bioreactors

Membrane Bioreactors (MBRs) combine biological treatment processes with membrane filtration to effectively treat wastewater. They offer significant advantages over traditional wastewater treatment methods, including better water quality, a smaller footprint, and greater operational flexibility. This innovative technology is increasingly being used for both municipal and industrial wastewater treatment because of its efficiency and reliability.

How MBRs Work

MBRs use microorganisms to break down organic pollutants in wastewater within an aeration tank, where the wastewater is mixed with activated sludge. This process converts organic matter into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass. After this biological treatment, the mixture passes through membrane modules made of materials like polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) or polypropylene (PP) with small pores. These membranes act as filters, separating solid particles, including microorganisms and suspended solids, from the treated water. The clean water passes through the membranes, while the concentrated sludge stays in the tank.

The image above shows BioMicrobic's HSMBR® (high strength membrane bioreactor).

Advantages of MBRs

MBRs produce high-quality effluent by removing suspended solids, pathogens, and organic contaminants. This results in treated water suitable for reuse in various applications, such as irrigation, industrial processes, and even drinking water in some cases. The membrane ensures consistent water quality regardless of changes in incoming wastewater. Additionally, MBR systems take up less space as they combine biological treatment and membrane filtration in one unit, eliminating the need for large secondary clarifiers. This makes MBRs ideal for upgrading existing treatment plants to increase capacity or improve water quality without expanding the physical footprint. MBRs also offer operational flexibility, handling higher concentrations of mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) and allowing for easier management of varying loads. Advanced control systems enable precise monitoring and adjustment of operations, optimizing performance and reducing manual intervention.

Recent Advancements in Membrane Materials

Improvements in membrane materials, like PVDF, have made membranes more durable and resistant to chemicals, allowing them to withstand harsh cleaning agents and tough conditions. Surface modifications and hydrophilic coatings reduce membrane fouling and enhance permeability, improving performance and reducing maintenance. Innovations in anti-fouling technologies, such as air scouring, backwashing, and periodic chemical cleaning, help keep membranes clean and extend their operational cycles. Research into biofouling control strategies, including antimicrobial coatings and biofilm-resistant materials, aims to further reduce fouling and enhance system reliability.

Applications and Considerations

MBRs are increasingly used in urban areas for municipal wastewater treatment, where space is limited and strict water quality standards are required. They are well-suited for treating domestic sewage and producing high-quality effluent for non-potable reuse. In industrial sectors, such as food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and textiles, MBRs effectively treat complex industrial effluents, ensuring compliance with discharge regulations. While MBR systems have higher initial costs compared to traditional systems, the benefits of better water quality, smaller footprint, and operational efficiency often justify the investment. Operating costs include energy use, membrane replacement, and maintenance. Regular maintenance, cleaning protocols, and proper management are essential to extend membrane life and ensure system reliability.


Membrane Bioreactors (MBRs) are an advanced solution for wastewater treatment, combining biological processes with advanced membrane filtration to deliver superior water quality and operational efficiency. With continuous advancements in membrane materials and fouling prevention strategies, MBRs are becoming more viable and attractive for both municipal and industrial wastewater treatment. Their compact design, high performance, and ability to handle varying loads make them a key technology in the quest for sustainable and efficient wastewater management.

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