Membrane fouling investigations in membrane bioreactors (MBRs) are a top research issue. The aim of this work is to study the combined effect of colloids and soluble microbial products (SMPs) on membrane fouling. Two lab-pilot MBRs were investigated for treating two types of wastewater (wwt), synthetic and domestic. Transmembrane pressure (TMP), SMP, particle size distribution and treatment efficiency were evaluated. Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) removal and nitrification were successful for both kinds of sewage reaching up to 95–97% and 100%, respectively. Domestic wwt presented 5.5 times more SMP proteins and 11 times more SMP carbohydrates compared to the synthetic one. In contrast, synthetic wwt had around 20% more colloids in the mixed liquor with a size lower than membrane pore size (<400 nm) than domestic. Finally, the TMP at 36 days reached 16 kPa for synthetic wwt and 11 kPa for domestic. Therefore, synthetic wwt, despite its low concentration of SMPs, caused severe membrane fouling compared to domestic, a result that is attributed to the increased concentration of colloids. Consequently, the quantity of colloids and possibly their special characteristics play decisive and more important roles in membrane fouling compared to the SMP—a novel conclusion that can be used to mitigate membranes fouling.
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