Membrane bioreactors (MBR) are designed to maintain high solid concentrations, thus limiting sludge production and the related operational costs of the process. Sludge physical properties strongly affect the operation of these systems, due to their influence on the filtration process and also on excess sludge handling. This study reports the physical characterization of a bench scale MBR biomass with different sludge ages and with complete sludge retention. The results span over a period of three years when a bench scale MBR was operated under the same conditions except for the sludge retention time (SRT). The main dewatering properties were measured over time and their steady state average values were related to the SRT. The capillary suction time (CST) and the specific resistance to filtration (SRF) showed similar decreasing trends during the transient phase and reached equilibrium values under steady state conditions, except in the case of complete sludge retention. Under all the tested conditions, the average equilibrium values of the CST, the SRF and the compressibility (s) of the MBR sludge were similar to those reported for conventional activated sludge, suggesting the adoption of the same dewatering technologies. In terms of settleability, the relationship between the diluted sludge volume index (DSVI) and the sludge age appeared weak for SRT higher than 20 days. Under the tested conditions, the best performances in terms of physical properties of the MBR excess sludge were obtained for sludge retention times between 40 and 80 days.

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