This study aimed to investigate the influence of biomass properties and high mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) concentrations on membrane permeability in a pilot-scale hollow fibre membrane bioreactor treating domestic wastewater. Auxiliary molasses solution was added to maintain system operation at constant food-to-microorganisms ratio (F/M = 0.13). Various physicochemical and biological biomass parameters were measured throughout the trial, comprising pre-thickening, thickening and post-thickening periods with reference to the sludge concentration and with aerobic biotreatment continuing throughout. Correlations between dynamic changes in biomass characteristics and membrane permeability decline as well as permeability recovery were further assessed by statistical analyses. Results showed the MLSS concentration to exert the greatest influence on sustainable membrane permeability, with a weaker correlation with particle size distribution. The strong dependence of absolute recovered permeability on wet accumulated solids (WACS) concentration, or clogging propensity, revealed clogging to deleteriously affect membrane permeability decline and recovery (from mechanical declogging and chemical cleaning), with WACS levels increasing with increasing MLSS. Evidence from the study indicated clogging may permanently reduce membrane permeability post declogging and chemical cleaning, corroborating previously reported findings.

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