Thousands of sparsely populated communities scatter in the remote areas of northern Canada. It is economically preferable to adopt the decentralized systems to treat the domestic wastewater because of the vast human inhabitant distribution and cold climatic conditions. Electro-technologies such as electrofiltration, elctrofloatation, electrocoagulation and electrokinetic separation have been applied in water and conventional wastewater treatment for decades due to the minimum requirements of chemicals as well as ease of operation. The membrane bioreactor (MBR) is gaining popularity in recent years as an alternative water/wastewater treatment technology. However, few studies have been conducted to hyphenate these two technologies. The purpose of this work is to design a novel electrically enhanced membrane bioreactor (EMBR) as an alternative decentralized wastewater treatment system with improved nutrient removal and reduced membrane fouling. Two identical submerged membranes (GE ZW-1 hollow fiber module) were used for the experiment, with one as a control. The EMBR and control MBR were operated for 4 months at room temperature (20 ± 2 °C) with synthetic feed and 2 months at 10 °C with real sewage. The following results were observed: (1) the transmembrane pressure (TMP) increased significantly more slowly in the EMBR and the interval between the cleaning cycles of the EMBR increased at least twice; (2) the dissolved chemical oxygen demand (COD) or total organic carbon (TOC) in the EMBR biomass was reduced from 30 to 51%, correspondingly, concentrations of the extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), the major suspicious membrane foulants, decreased by 26–46% in the EMBR; (3) both control and EMBR removed >99% of ammonium-N and >95% of dissolved COD, in addition, ortho-P removal in the EMBR was >90%, compared with 47–61% of ortho-P removal in the MBR; and (4) the advantage of the EMBR over the conventional MBR in terms of membrane fouling retardation and phosphorus removal was further demonstrated at an operating temperature of 10 °C when fed with real sewage. The EMBR system has the potential for highly automated control and minimal maintenance, which is particularly suitable for remote northern applications.

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