Recently, the membrane bioreactor (MBR) process has become one of the novel technologies to enhance the performance of biological treatment of wastewater. Membrane bioreactor process uses the membrane unit to replace a sediment tank, and this can greatly enhance treatment performance. However, membrane fouling in MBR restricts its widespread application because it leads to permeate flux decline, making more frequent membrane cleaning and replacement necessary, which then increases operating and maintenance costs. This study investigated the sludge characteristics in membrane fouling under sub-critical flux operation and also assessed the effect of shear stress on membrane fouling. Membrane fouling was slow under sub-critical flux operation. However, as filamentous microbes became dominant in the reactor, membrane fouling increased dramatically due to the increased viscosity and polysaccharides. A close link was found between membrane fouling and the amount of polysaccharides in soluble EPS. The predominant resistance was the cake resistance which could be minimized by increasing the shear stress. However, the resistance of colloids and solutes was not apparently reduced by increasing shear stress. Therefore, smaller particles such as macromolecules (e.g. polysaccharides) may play an important role in membrane fouling under sub-critical flux operation.

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