01 February 2004
Going with bio flow
Membrane technologies bring multiple uses for wastewater.
By Lisa Woolard and Michael Sparks
Alaskan septic system benefits from MBR
An Alaskan lodge on the Kenai Peninsula turned to a membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology—replacing its septic tank and a mound leach field system with a custom-designed MBR system.
The most important constraint was maintaining the option for subsurface discharge with the existing mound system at the increased wastewater flow rates anticipated for the expanded facility. The lodge needed to minimize the soluble organic and particulate load to the subsurface adsorption system. In addition to a high-quality effluent, they required a system that existing maintenance staff could operate with limited wastewater treatment training and experience. The system needed to operate throughout the peak and shoulder seasons and shut down during the off-season.
The facility started with raw wastewater in May 2001 and operated for more than two years. The lodge generates a particularly strong waste stream with chemical oxygen demand (COD) values typically in excess of 1000 milligrams per liter. Effluent COD has been consistently below 60 milligrams per liter since start-up regardless of waste strength.
The lodge saw less consistent results for nitrogen removal. The 2001 season brought limited nitrification. Because the MBR started from only raw wastewater, it would take much of the first season to develop an active culture of nitrifiers. Also, the high waste strength the lodge generated exceeded the design waste strength. As a result, the initial aeration capacity was inadequate to consistently meet the oxygen demand. Based on the results of the first season of operation, the lodge installed additional blower capacity in 2002 and added an aeration header to one end of the anoxic tank to provide more aerobic detention time during peak months. These changes promoted better nitrification during the second and third years of operation. Since start-up, the lodge has measured consistently low levels of effluent nitrate.
For many industrial users, the cost of pretreating and disposing their wastewater has become astronomical. For the past decade industries have applied membrane bioreactor systems to industrial waste—oil, food, brewery, leachate, and livestock wastes. They can reuse the effluent from the MBR system in nonpotable applications including irrigation, wash-down water, boiler feed, and cooling tower makeup.
The control system for an MBR plant is simple; it limits the amount of daily operator attention the plant needs. The system also operates at higher solids concentrations that allow for more efficient treatment (90–99% removal of chemical oxygen demand [COD]) and limit the amount of upsets occurring at the treatment plant. MBR also generates less sludge than conventional wastewater treatment plants. A decrease in solids equates to lower operating cost, because the decrease reduces labor and solids handling costs.
Mitsubishi Rayon Co. Ltd. in Tokyo is one confectionery plant now reaping the benefits of MBR technology. Their original wastewater treatment system had a throughput of 600 cubic meters per day. But they needed a higher wastewater treatment capacity to keep pace with their production volume. Space limitations at the site made it impossible to enlarge the existing aeration tank, so they turned to the membrane bioreactor. The result was a 1.7-fold increase in throughput to 1,000 cubic meters per day and improved water quality. The feedwater contains high levels of oil, and the new system removes the oils first by pretreatment involving pressurization and flotation. The hollow-fiber membranes are made of polyethylene and have a tough construction characterized by high strength and excellent resistance to flaxing fatigue. The membranes are acid and alkali resistant and impervious to microbial attack, making them suitable for a broad range of wastewater treatment applications.
The reactor operates in a similar way as conventional activated sludge (CAS); however it doesn't need a clarifier. Instead, it uses a low-pressure membrane, either MF or UF, to perform the sludge separation. The combination of an activated sludge and membrane process produces water that has undergone secondary, tertiary, and low-pressure membrane treatment using only one unit operation.
Because a membrane performs the separation instead of a clarifier, the MBR can operate at higher mixed-liquor, suspended-solids concentrations and at longer solids retention times. The removal of the clarifier further eliminates such problems as sludge bulking, pin floc, and various other settling problems associated with clarifier operation, and the overall footprint of the system is much smaller than it is at a CAS facility.
HOW DOES MBR WORK?
MBR combines the technologies of activated sludge treatment with microfiltration membranes. The microfiltration membranes submerge into the aeration basin, which decreases the footprint of the system. The activated sludge tank stays at mixed-liquor, suspended -solids levels approximately four times greater than those of conventional activated sludge systems, which allows for a more stable system and less sludge generation.
Air introduces itself to the system to scour the membranes and drive the biological treatment. A vacuum on the membranes pulls out a high-quality and consistent effluent.
Course bubble aeration with the MBR system creates a continuous flow of mixed liquor around the membrane module and the oxygen required for microbial degradation of waste components. The system operates on an eight-minutes-on and two-minutes-off schedule. The filtrate pump pulls a vacuum on the membranes with the blower operating for eight minutes—at which time the pump turns off and the blower continues to run. This two-minute period allows the membranes to relax, which improves air-scouring efficiency.
Dividing the MBR tank into four separate aerated tanks—each with a working volume of about 1,800 gallons—produces greater flexibility in the operation. Each aeration tank fits one membrane module. Installing three modules provides a treatment capacity of 20,800 gallons per day. Wastewater passes through a 1/16-inch wedge-wire rotary drum screen before entering membrane tanks. IT
Behind the byline
Lisa Woolard, P.E. is a partner in GV Jones & Associates, Inc., Anchorage, Alaska. Michael Sparks is an engineer at Ionics, Inc., Watertown, Mass.
Just water down the drain?
A case study of an Ann Arbor plant.
By Brian A. Miller
There are several ways to treat municipal wastewater, but they all follow the same general principles. At the Ann Arbor wastewater treatment plant, several remote lift stations throughout the city help keep the wastewater flowing. Ultrasonic level detection controls the pumps, and remote monitoring ensures proper operation. The plant's design allows wastewater to flow through the influent, displacing and thus discharging the effluent from each tank. Archimedes screw pumps lift the high volume of water—providing hydraulic head through the process.
Wastewater coming in should be gray, have a milder-than-expected smell, and look like dirty bath water. We screen the wastewater to remove large items, which could foul up the process. Then we remove the grit. Grit would not only add inert solid bulk, but also would scour and wear away any other equipment it runs through.
We want to maintain a relatively constant flow to avoid upsetting the process, but the flows coming into the plant vary greatly throughout the day. As the incoming flow increases above the daily average flow, we direct the excess to the equalization and retention tanks. Then as the flow drops off, we send the retained flow back to the lift screws and into the plant. The flows are controlled automatically; the operators just set the desired plant flows to keep everything in balance, so we neither run out before flows pick up, nor have too much in reserve from day to day.
In Ann Arbor we have six different passes, two in the older west plant and four in the newer, larger-capacity east plant. Having six passes allows us to take a pass down for maintenance—a primary treatment tank, an aeration basin, and a secondary treatment tank—without having to shut down the plant.
During primary treatment, the larger, heavier solids settle out. Then we remove them from the bottom of the tank. If we do not remove enough solids, the tank could go septic, creating smells and providing too much biological oxygen demand (BOD), or food for the bacteria, perhaps overloading the process. Removing too many solids could result in the removal of too much BOD for the bacteria in the aeration tanks.
The wastewater then flows into the aeration tank, mixing with activated sludge from the secondary treatment tanks. Blowers provide air for mixing and oxygen. As the bacteria eat up the BOD in the aeration tanks, the material mixes around or flocculates. These flocs will settle in the secondary treatment tanks. A properly mixed, healthy aeration tank should be light brown with an earthy smell—not a foul smell at all from this point downstream.
The water flows into the secondary treatment tanks. The solids sink—pumping from the bottom (most as return activated sludge) to the head of the aeration tanks to mix with the primary effluent. We remove waste-activated sludge to maintain proper sludge inventories and to maintain a proper sludge age. We must have enough bacteria to metabolize the BOD but must waste enough to keep the sludge from getting old enough to break down and decay. We maintain a sludge age of about ten to twelve days. We change it according to plant parameters, time of the year, and plant experience.
The clear water flows over the top of the weirs. In our Ann Arbor plant the water then flows through sand filters. It is like a standard sand pool filter, except the filters consist of 12 pairs of cells, each about the size of a swimming pool.
The water then goes through the ultraviolet (UV) system—banks of specially designed UV bulbs submerged in the water. The ultraviolet light is intense enough to kill any pathogens that happen to make it through the plant, eliminating dangerous chemicals. Also UV treatment has no residual chemicals added to the water. Under normal operations we discharge it to the river knowing it is cleaner than the river itself. IT
Behind the byline
Brian A. Miller is an instrument technician for the city of Ann Arbor WWTP, a 29.5-million-gallons-per-day wastewater treatment plant.