Novel application of oxygen-transferring membranes to improve anaerobic wastewater treatment

Anthony S. Kappell, Michael J. Semmens, Paige J. Novak, Timothy M. Lapara

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13 Scopus citations


Anaerobic biological wastewater treatment has numerous advantages over conventional aerobic processes; anaerobic biotechnologies, however, still have a reputation for low-quality effluents and operational instabilities. In this study, anaerobic bioreactors were augmented with an oxygen-transferring membrane to improve treatment performance. Two anaerobic bioreactors were fed a synthetic high-strength wastewater (chemical oxygen demand, or COD, of 11,000 mg l-1) and concurrently operated until biomass concentrations and effluent quality stabilized. Membrane aeration was then initiated in one of these bioreactors, leading to substantially improved COD removal efficiency (> 95%) compared to the unaerated control bioreactor (∼ 65%). The membrane-augmented anaerobic bioreactor required substantially less base addition to maintain circumneutral pH and exhibited 75% lower volatile fatty acid concentrations compared to the unaerated control bioreactor. The membrane-aerated bioreactor, however, failed to improve nitrogenous removal efficiency and produced 80% less biogas than the control bioreactor. A third membrane-augmented anaerobic bioreactor was operated to investigate the impact of start-up procedure on nitrogenous pollutant removal. In this bioreactor, excellent COD (> 90%) and nitrogenous (> 95%) pollutant removal efficiencies were observed at an intermediate COD concentration (5,500 mg l -1). Once the organic content of the influent wastewater was increased to full strength (COD = 11,000 mg l-1), however, nitrogenous pollutant removal stopped. This research demonstrates that partial aeration of anaerobic bioreactors using oxygen-transferring membranes is a novel approach to improve treatment performance. Additional research, however, is needed to optimize membrane surface area versus the organic loading rate to achieve the desired effluent quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-380
Number of pages8
JournalBiotechnology and bioengineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 20 2005


  • Biofilms
  • Hybrid bioreactor
  • Membrane aeration
  • Nutrient removal


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