Membrane Bioreactors (MBR) for Wastewater Treatment: The Ultimate Guide


Whether you are an engineer, scientist, or simply interested in environmental sustainability and water management, feel free to join us to discuss the principles and technologies behind MBR systems.

We will cover their benefits and limitations, as well as their applications in various industries. You’ll get a comprehensive view of MBR systems and their role in improving the quality of our water resources.

Membrane bioreactor (MBR) for wastewater treatment

Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) Wastewater Treatment

A membrane bioreactor, referred to as MBR, is a wastewater treatment system that can combine the biodegradation of organic matter with the separation of biomolecules using a membrane filtration process. It is an advanced treatment technology that can effectively remove a wide range of pollutants from wastewater, including biological oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus), and suspended solids.

The Working Principles of Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) Systems

Membrane bioreactor (MBR) systems combine biological treatment processes with membrane filtration technology to treat wastewater. The process can be broken down into the following steps:

MBR wastewater treatment process

· Pre-Treatment

The first step in the MBR process is to remove large solids from the wastewater using a process called pre-treatment. This can be done using mechanical screens or sedimentation tanks.

· Biological Treatment

After pre-treatment, the wastewater is then treated biologically by adding microorganisms to the water. These microorganisms consume the organic matter in the wastewater, breaking it down into simpler compounds that are safe for the environment.

Biological Treatment

· Membrane Filtration

After the biological treatment step, the wastewater is then filtered through a membrane. The membrane is made of a thin, semi-permeable material that allows water molecules to pass through, but not larger molecules or solids. This removes any remaining impurities from the wastewater.

· Disinfection

The final step in the MBR process is to disinfect the treated wastewater. This is typically done using chemicals such as chlorine or ozone to kill any remaining microorganisms in the water.

· Discharge or Reuse

After the disinfection step, the treated wastewater can be safely discharged into the environment or reused for non-potable applications such as irrigation.

Types of Membrane Bioreactors for Wastewater Treatment

The use of MBR systems has become increasingly popular in recent years due to their high treatment efficiency and compact size. Several different types of MBR systems exist on the market today, each with its own unique characteristics and applications.

· Submerged MBR Systems

In an SMBR system, the membrane module is submerged in the biological treatment tank. The wastewater is treated by microorganisms in the biological tank, and the treated water is then passed through the membrane module for further purification. SMBR systems are relatively simple and easy to operate, making them a popular choice for small-scale applications.

Submerged MBR Systems

· External MBR Systems

In an EMBR system, the membrane module is located outside of the biological treatment tank. The wastewater is treated by microorganisms in the biological tank, and the treated water is then pumped to the external membrane module for further purification. EMBR systems are more complex and require more maintenance than SMBR systems, but they have a higher treatment capacity and are more suitable for large-scale applications.

· Integrated MBR Systems

An IMBR system combines the biological treatment process and the membrane filtration process into a single, integrated system. The wastewater is treated by microorganisms in the biological tank, and the treated water is then passed directly through the membrane module for further purification. IMBR systems are more efficient and have a higher treatment capacity than traditional MBR systems, but they are also more complex and require more maintenance.

Integrated MBR Systems

· Hybrid MBR Systems

A hybrid MBR system combines the features of both SMBR and EMBR systems. The membrane module is partially submerged in the biological treatment tank and partially located outside of the tank. HMBR systems are more flexible and can be adapted to a wide range of applications.

Hybrid MBR Systems

Advantages of Membrane Bioreactors (MBR) for Wastewater Treatment

Membrane bioreactor (MBR) wastewater treatment is a technology that has gained widespread adoption in recent years. It has many advantages over conventional wastewater treatment systems.

· High Level of Treatment Efficiency

One of the main advantages of MBR systems is their high level of treatment efficiency. These systems are able to remove a wide range of contaminants, including pathogens, organic matter, and nutrients, to achieve high-quality effluent that meets or exceeds discharge standards. This is achieved through the combination of biological treatment and membrane filtration, which allows for the removal of both suspended solids and dissolved contaminants.

· Compact size and High Loading Rate

Another advantage of MBR systems is their compact size and ability to operate at a high loading rate. Because the membrane filtration process allows for the separation of solids and liquids, the volume of sludge produced is significantly reduced compared to conventional treatment systems. This allows MBR systems to operate at a much smaller footprint, making them an attractive option for locations with limited space.

Additionally, the high loading rate of the MBR system ensures that it can treat large volumes of wastewater in a short period of time. Therefore it is a more efficient choice for treating large-flow wastewater.

Compact size and High Loading Rate mbr system

In addition to treatment efficiency and compact size, MBR systems have other outstanding advantages that make them an excellent choice for wastewater treatment.

  • These systems are relatively simple to operate and maintain, with minimal operator attention required.
  • They are also highly reliable and have a long lifespan, with membranes typically lasting up to 10 years or more with proper maintenance.
  • Finally, MBR systems have a low energy consumption compared to other treatment technologies, making them a more sustainable and cost-effective option.

Limitations of Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) Wastewater Treatment

  • Higher capital and operating costs. Because MBR systems require the use of specialized membrane filtration units compared to other systems, the purchase and maintenance costs are high.
  • Susceptibility to fouling: The membranes in MBR systems can become fouled by the accumulation of biological sludge and other contaminants, which can reduce their efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Limited tolerance for variations in pH and temperature: MBR systems are sensitive to pH and temperature changes, which can affect the performance of the membranes and the overall treatment process.
  • Limited treatment of certain contaminants: MBR systems are not always effective at removing certain types of contaminants, such as certain types of pathogens, metals, and emerging contaminants.
  • High energy consumption. A large amount of energy is required to run an MBR system, which can lead to its high operating costs.
  • Limited application: MBR systems may not be suitable for all types of wastewater, and may not be the most cost-effective option in certain situations.

Figure 4 Aerobic MBR Plant.

Application Fields of Membrane Bioreactors (MBR) for Wastewater Treatment

Membrane bioreactors (MBRs) have several advantages over traditional wastewater treatment systems, including higher treatment efficiency, smaller footprint, and lower energy consumption. These features have made MBRs an attractive option for a wide range of applications in various fields.

· Municipal Wastewater Treatment

One key application of MBRs is in the treatment of municipal wastewater. MBRs can effectively remove a wide range of contaminants, including organic matter, nutrients, and pathogens, from municipal wastewater. This makes them a suitable option for small- to medium-sized communities that require advanced wastewater treatment.

In addition, MBRs can be used in decentralized wastewater treatment systems, which can be an attractive option for areas that do not have access to a central treatment facility.

Municipal Wastewater Treatment

· Industrial Wastewater Treatment

MBRs are also widely used in the industrial sector for the treatment of process wastewater. Industrial processes often produce wastewater that contains high levels of contaminants, such as heavy metals, oils, and organic matter. MBRs can effectively remove these contaminants, making them a suitable option for industrial wastewater treatment.

· Agricultural Wastewater Treatment

MBRs are also used to treat agricultural wastewater in addition to municipal and industrial wastewater treatment. For example, livestock and crop production often produce large volumes of wastewater that can be difficult to treat, and MBRs can be a suitable option for treating such wastewater, effectively removing pollutants from agricultural wastewater.

· Landfill Leachate Treatment

Finally, MBR is also often used to treat landfill leachate. Landfills are sites where solid waste is deposited and covered with soil. Over time, the waste decomposes and produces leachate, a liquid that contains a wide range of contaminants. MBRs can be used to treat this leachate, removing contaminants and reducing the environmental impact of landfills.

Landfill Leachate Treatment


MBRs offer high treatment efficiency, compact design, and the possibility of water reuse. It is a promising technology for wastewater treatment. They have been shown to effectively remove a variety of contaminants, including suspended solids, nutrients, and pathogens.

However, MBR systems can be costly to operate and maintain due to the need for frequent membrane cleaning and replacement. Despite this, the benefits of MBR systems often outweigh the costs, making them a valuable option for wastewater treatment in various industries and settings.

In conclusion, MBR technology represents a significant advancement in the field of wastewater treatment and has the potential to significantly improve the quality and sustainability of water resources.

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