Girona University is granted the patent of a process that improves energy efficiency of membrane bioreactors (MBRs)

Membrane bioreactors (MBRs) combine the use of a reactor, in which the degradation reactions of contaminants existing in wastewater occur (through the action of a microorganism culture), with a filtration process based on membranes. In essence, the filtration system replaces the function of solids separation that takes place in secondary sedimentation tanks and the subsequent tertiary system treatment that have traditionally been used in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs).

The MBR technology can produce a high quality effluent, suitable for any sort of dumping and useful for most water reuse applications, and also it reduces to a large extent the space requirements of wastewater treatment plants. The global market for this technology is growing both for industrial and municipal wastewater treatment, specially in areas with water shortages and where its reuse or reintegration to nature requires a high quality treatment. Wastewater treatment plant operators can see the benefits of MBRs, compared to conventional treatment methods, although these advantages are conditional on an intensive energy consumption and a lack of specific procedures for membrane maintenance, and these issues have held back its definite expansion.

From basic to applied research

Sensitive to the issues holding back the implementation of MBRs, LEQUIA (Laboratory of Chemical and Environmental Engineering), conducted by Dr. Manel Poch, has developed a Decision Support System (DSS) that allows monitoring and automatic control of MBRs with no need of sensors or additional equipment. The main strength of the system, proved at bench scale and in pilot plants, is a great reduction of MBRs’ energy consumption. In addition, it also optimizes reagent consumption, it increases the liability and efficiency of purification biological processes and contributes to ecological footprint reduction.

The project was initiated in 2006, taking as a starting point the group’s previous experience in the fields of modelling and management of water treatment systems knowledge. Researchers Ignasi Rodríguez-Roda and Joaquim Comas carried out studies to improve aspects still very little known about membrane bioreactors (the effects of extracellular polymeric substances on dirt, a study on virtual coarsening observers, another one about the efficiency of the elimination of pathogens, medicines, etc.) whilst the group always kept its end goal in mind, that is to obtain a system that improves the performance of real scale MBRs. This task is complemented by other studies, such as the assignment from the Exploitation of Water Treatment Systems Department of the Catalan Water Agency, in which the workings of the MBRs that are in service in Catalonia is assessed.

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Proyecto financiado por el Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte en el marco del Programa Campus de Excelencia Internacional

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