Biofouling in anaerobic membrane bioreactors: To control or not to?

  • Hong Cheng

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) serves as a more sustainable form of wastewater treatment. However, biofouling is particularly detrimental to the performanceof AnMBRs. This dissertation focuses on understanding more about the biofouling in nMBR, and to devise strategies to control or make use of these biofoulant layers. First, we aim to investigate the microbial community structure of sludge and biofilm from 13 different AnMBRs. Our findings indicate 20 sludge core genera and 12 biofilm core genera (occurrence ≥ 90% samples) could potentially account for the AnMBR performance. Sloan neutral model analysis indicates the anaerobic microbial consortium between sludge and biofilm is largely affected by stochastic dispersal and migration processes (i.e., neutral assembly), suggesting that the majority of these core genera are not selectively enriched for biofilm formation. Therefore, the second part of this dissertation aims to minimize the growth of the overall bacterial cells attached on the membranes. For this, membranes embedded with zinc oxide (ZnO) and copper oxide (CuO) nanoparticles were examined for their antifouling efficacies. Our findings indicate both CuO and ZnO nanoparticles embedded membranes could delay biofouling formation without significantly triggering the overall expression/abundance of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) and metal resistance genes (MRGs) in biofilm. Furthermore, CuO and ZnO nanoparticles could inhibit the expression of quorum sensing associated genes, resulting in lower quorum sensing signal molecules production. Despite the positive results demonstrated from this study as well as those from others, we recognize that no control strategies are likely to achieve total prevention of anaerobic biofouling. Therefore, the last part of this dissertation focuses on exploring the effects of different foulant layers on antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) and ARGs removal. Our findings suggest both ARB and ARGs could be absorbed by membrane foulant. Transmembrane pressures and the foulant layer synergistically affected ARB removal, but the foulant layer is the main factor that contributed to ARG removal through adsorption. Overall, the collective findings could bring new insights to the anaerobic membrane biofouling phenomenon, and offer pragmatic approaches to minimize biofouling without compromising the post-AnMBR effluent quality.
Date of AwardOct 2019
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorPeiying Hong (Supervisor)


  • Anaerobic membrane bioreactor
  • biofouling
  • antifouling
  • microbial community
  • nanoparticles

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