The work reports the main results of an experimental activity aimed at evaluating the performance of a membrane bioreactor with complete sludge retention and the characteristics of its biomass. The bench scale system was started-up without any sludge inoculum and fed on real municipal sewage in order to favour biomass selection based on the imposed operating conditions. Process performance was evaluated in terms of COD removal (above 90% on average) and nitrification under two pre-determined volumetric loading rates (0.8 and 1.7gCOD Lreact.−1d−1 on average). The biomass was evaluated in terms of growth, accumulation of inert solids, and bacterial activity. The latter was measured through respirometric tests. The results showed that the suspended solids concentrations (SS) under equilibrium were proportional to the volumetric loading rates in both the experimental periods considered and a relationship between these two parameters was proposed. Also, the organic loading rates reached the same equilibrium value of 0.12gCOD gTSS−1d−1 in the two periods. Moreover, the system showed very limited sludge production under equilibrium conditions (0.12gVSS gCODrem−1) and low biomass activity, although it readily responded to load variations.

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