The potential of membrane bioreactors to enhance the removal of selected metals from low loaded sewages has been explored. A 1400 litre pilot plant, equipped with an industrial submerged module of hollow fibre membranes, has been used in three different configurations: membrane bioreactor, operating in sequencing batch modality, for the treatment of real mixed municipal/industrial wastewater; membrane-assisted biosorption reactor, for the treatment of real leachate from municipal landfills; continuously fed membrane bioreactor, for the treatment of water charged with cadmium and nickel ions. The results show that: (a) in treating wastewaters with low levels of heavy metals (< one milligram per litre concentration), operating high sludge ages is not an effective strategy to significantly enhance the metals removal; (b) Hg and Cd are effectively removed already in conventional systems with gravitational final clarifiers, while Cu, Cr, Ni can rely on a additional performance in membrane bioreactors; (c) the further membrane effect is remarkable for Cu and Cr, while it is less significant for Ni. Basically, similar membrane effects recur in three different experimental applications that let us estimate the potential of membrane system to retain selected metal complexes. The future development of the research will investigate the relations between the membrane effect and the manipulable filtration parameters (i.e., permeate flux, solids content, filtration cycle).

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