Ultafiltration membranes and a clean water tank

Benefits of MBR systems vs the risks

Marcus Green
February 22, 2024
4 minute read
Food and Beverage

Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) systems offer numerous advantages, but they are a significant investment so it's important to consider factors such as initial capital costs and maintenance requirements when considering if they’re suitable for your wastewater treatment plant.

Advantages of MBR systems

1. High Treatment Efficiency

MBRs provide excellent removal of contaminants, producing high-quality treated water due to the combination of biological treatment and membrane filtration.

2. Compliance assurance

The membrane barrier prevents the passage of suspended solids, ensuring stable and consistent treatment performance even during fluctuating influent conditions.

3. Compact Design and footprint

MBR systems typically have a smaller footprint compared to conventional wastewater treatment systems, eliminating the need for secondary clarifiers, and making them suitable for sites with limited space.

4. Reduced Sludge Production

MBRs generate less sludge compared to traditional processes, contributing to easier and more cost-effective sludge management.

5. Improved Solids Removal

The membrane barrier in MBRs ensures effective separation of solids, resulting in a higher solids retention time and improved treatment performance.

6. Facilitates Water Reuse

Treated water from MBRs often meets stringent water quality standards, making it suitable for further treatment and reuse in various applications, such as irrigation or industrial processes.

7. Better Nutrient and Pathogen Removal

MBRs can achieve efficient removal of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, and provide an additional layer of protection against pathogens.

8. Reduced Dependence on Chemicals

MBRs can minimise the need for chemicals in the treatment process, leading to cost savings and a more environmentally friendly approach.

9. Flexibility and Scalability

MBR systems are modular and can be easily scaled up or down to meet changing wastewater treatment demands, making them suitable for various applications.

10. Biomass condition

MBRs don’t depend on a sludge settlement stage so are not affected by the filamentous bacteria that cause sludge bulking in conventional treatment processes.

The risks (and how to navigate them)

MBR systems often involve higher upfront capital costs compared to traditional wastewater treatment methods, so it is important to understand the challenges (and how to mitigate them) when investing in this technology.

1. Complexity of Operation

MBR systems can be more complex to operate and maintain than conventional treatment processes. Ensuring your team has the right training, skillset and support is essential for optimal system performance.

2. Membrane Fouling

Fouling (where substances accumulate on the membrane surface) can reduce filtration efficiency and increase energy consumption. Regular preventative maintenance and cleaning are necessary to avoid issues. Read our case study to discover the devastating effect fouling can have on performance and cost, and how we recovered and extended the membrane lifespan for a leading UK plant-based F&B manufacturer.

3. Energy Consumption

MBR systems that incorporate tubular membranes may require significant energy inputs, especially for aeration in the biological treatment process and pumping of water through membranes. Escalating energy costs can be prevented by close monitoring of performance and proactive cleaning and maintenance to prevent build-up.

4. Sensitivity to Shock Loads

MBRs can be sensitive to sudden changes in influent characteristics or shock loads, which may affect system stability and efficiency. Close monitoring of pre-treated effluent, communication with the production team and swift reaction to changes can minimise the effects and disruption.

5. Membrane cleaning costs

Ineffective Cleaning in Place (CIP) and maintenance can cause build-up which could lead to an increase in cleaning chemical costs or the requirement of one-off cleans. Close monitoring, combined with proactive cleaning and maintenance keeps costs to a minimum. We recently helped Bakkavor save 76% on cleaning chemical costs by making improvements to the process and changing the chemicals used (and supplier).

6. Membrane Replacement Costs

Over time, membranes may need replacement due to wear and tear. The cost of membrane replacement can be a significant factor in the long-term operation and maintenance budget – however expert proactive and preventative membrane maintenance can increase their lifespan by years to deliver extra value to the bottom line.

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