Installing membranes for solid–liquid separation into biological nutrient removal (BNR) activated sludge (AS) systems makes a profound difference not only to the design of the membrane bio-reactor (MBR) BNR system itself, but also to the design approach for the whole wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). In multi-zone BNR systems with membranes in the aerobic reactor and fixed volumes for the anaerobic, anoxic and aerobic zones (i.e. fixed volume fractions), the mass fractions can be controlled (within a range) with the inter-reactor recycle ratios. This zone mass fraction flexibility is a significant advantage of MBR BNR systems over BNR systems with secondary settling tanks (SSTs), because it allows changing the mass fractions to optimise biological N and P removal in conformity with influent wastewater characteristics and the effluent N and P concentrations required. For PWWF/ADWF ratios (fq) in the upper range (fq∼2.0), aerobic mass fractions in the lower range (fmaer<0.60) and high (usually raw) wastewater strengths, the indicated mode of operation of MBR BNR systems is as extended aeration WWTPs (no primary settling and long sludge age). However, the volume reduction compared with equivalent BNR systems with SSTs will not be large (40–60%), but the cost of the membranes can be offset against sludge thickening and stabilisation costs. Moving from a flow unbalanced raw wastewater system to a flow balanced (fq=1) low (usually settled) wastewater strength system can double the ADWF capacity of the biological reactor, but the design approach of the WWTP changes away from extended aeration to include primary sludge stabilisation. The cost of primary sludge treatment then has to be offset against the savings of the increased WWTP capacity.

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