16 April 2019

Membrane Bioreactor

Author/Compiled by
José Luis Bribián (BIOAZUL S.L.)
Angela Magno (BIOAZUL S.L.)
Pilar Zapata (BIOAZUL S.L.)
adapted from: Beat Stauffer (seecon international gmbh)

Executive Summary

MBRs combine conventional biological treatment processes with membrane filtration to provide an advanced level of organic and suspended solids removal. The development of new polymeric membranes, cheaper and more resistant, together with less pressure requirements and higher permeate flow, has made the submerged membrane configuration in MBRs the most common, although it is also possible to use external membranes.

Low plant footprint.
Less sludge production than the conventional activated sludge systems.
High effluent quality.
High loading rate capability.
Operation and capital costs (membranes) higher than in non- conventional systems.
Membrane complexity and fouling.
Medium-Skilled personnel required.
Energy demanding system.

The contents of this factsheet are results of the Indo-European Project NaWaTech- “Natural Water Systems and Treatment Technologies to cope with Water Shortages in Urbanised Areas in India”, co-financed by the EC and the DST – India.

Design and Construction Principles

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F10 Membrane Bioreactor
Membrane Bioreactor (MBR)


The Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) process (membrane activated sludge process) is an advanced wastewater treatment technology and constitutes a suspended growth activated sludge system, which instead of secondary clarifiers utilises low-pressure membranes for solid/liquid separation. As opposed to secondary clarification, the quality of solids separation is not dependent upon the mixed liquor suspended solids concentration, or the settling characteristic. Hence, the fact that MBRs can operate with much higher mixed liquor suspended solid concentrations, which provides an intensified biological process. Accordingly, the two major benefits of the MBR process are substantially reduced land and space requirements, and the reclamation of water (permeate) of excellent quality, which is a valuable source for higher demand reuse applications (LAHNSTEINER et al. 2007). There are five types of membrane configuration, which are currently in operation: Hollow fibre (HF), Spiral-wound, Plate-and-frame (i.e. flat sheet - FS), Pleated filter cartridge and Tubular. To provide optimal aeration and scour around the membranes, the mixed liquor is typically kept in the 1.0-1.2% solids range, which is 4 times that of a conventional plant. Pollutants removal efficiency: BOD5: 99%, COD: 95%, TSS: 99%, Pathogen: 99.99% (FITZGERALD 2008).

Operation and Maintenance

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Most MBRs employ chemical maintenance cleaning on a weekly basis and recovery cleaning when filtration is no longer durable (once or twice per year). A deposit that cannot be removed by available methods of cleaning is called “irrecoverable fouling”. This fouling builds up over the years of operation and eventually determines the membrane lifetime (RADJENOVIC et al. 2008). All O&M tasks have to be done by skilled workers. Modern systems are maintained with chemicals, i.e. it is not necessary to remove the membranes from the membrane tank (KUBOTA 2010).

Cost Considerations

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Although MBR capital and operational costs (membranes, oxygen utilisation, expert design, etc.) exceed the costs of conventional process, it seems that the upgrade of conventional process occurs even in cases when conventional treatment works well. This can be related to increase of water prices and the need for water reuse as well as with more stringent regulations on the effluent quality.

Experiences in Europe and other Cities of the World

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At present, approximately 800 MBRs with a total capacity of nearly 1.2 million m³/day are treating municipal wastewater worldwide. Indeed, since 2000, the number of plants has tripled and total capacity has increased by a factor of 20 (PINNEKAMP 2007). Most of the plants have been built in Asia (303 MBRs) followed by North America (295 MBRs), while in Europe only 169 MBRs have been realised. However, if the total capacities are considered, the picture is quite different, i.e. North America: 492,000 m³/day, Europe: 423,000 m³/day, Asia: 268,000 m³/day (LAHNSTEINER et al. 2007).

In Europe, the first full-scale MBR plant for treatment of municipal wastewater was constructed in Porlock (UK, commissioned in 1998, 3,800 PE), soon followed by Buechel and Roedingen WWTPs (Germany, 1999, resp. 1,000 and 3,000 PE), and Perthes-en-Gatinais WWTP (France, 1999, 4,500 PE). Only a few years later, in 2004, the largest MBR plant worldwide so far was commissioned to serve a population of 80,000 PE in Kaarst, Germany. The installations have thus grown from “small-size WWTPs” to “very large-size WWTPs” within only a few years (LESJEAN & HUISJES 2007).

Experiences in India

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The Manual on Sewerage and Sewage Treatment published by the Indian Ministry of Urban Development in 1993 (last update on 2012) emphasised conventional sewage treatment technologies such as Activated Sludge Process (ASP), Waste Stabilisation Pond (WSP), Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) Reactor, etc. Over the last two decades, many new technologies for sewerage and sewage treatment have emerged like membrane bioreactors. This technology, which is being used in other parts of the world, has not been deployed in India on a large scale until recently. Because of the advantages of the technology, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has recently adopted the MBR technology as a suitable technology for the Indian conditions.

Some examples of MBR plants in India are:

  • Delhi Games Village - Water treatment plant. Capacity: 4,545 m3/d.
  • India’s first wastewater recycling plant for IOCL Panipat. Capacity: 21,600 m3/d.
  • India’s largest lamella wastewater treatment plant for the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corp. (BMC).
  • India’s first wastewater treatment plant based on a (Build-Own-Operate-Transfer) BOOT model for Alandur. Capacity: 24,000 m3/d.


For more information please visit: Membrane Bioreactor


The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme ([FP7/2007-2013]) under Grant Agreement N° [308336] and the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India  DS.O DST/IMRCD/NaWaTech/ 2012/(G).

Library References

Survey of European MBR Market, Trends and Perspectives

A market survey of the European MBR industry was performed while contacting 33 suppliers or retailers of MBR filtration systems and/or MBR plant constructors. The study enabled to identify MBR plants constructed up to 2005: about 300 references of industrial applications (> 20 m3/d) and about 100 municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs > 500 p.e.) were listed.

LESJEAN, B. ; HUISJES, E.H. (2007): Survey of European MBR Market, Trends and Perspectives. In: IWA 4th International Membrane Technologies Conference, 15-17 May 2007, Harrogate, UK: URL [Accessed: 24.03.2015]

Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) as an Advanced Wastewater Treatment Technology

In this chapter, the authors have covered several aspects of MBR, with an exhaustive overview of its operational and biological performance. Different configurations and hydraulics of MBR are presented, with attention given to the fouling phenomenon and strategies for reducing it. Also, the high quality of MBR effluent is discussed, whereas in comparison with CAS removals of organic matter, ammonia, phosphorus, solids, bacteria and viruses are significantly enhanced.

RADJENOVIC, J. MATOSIC, M. MIJATOVIC, I. PETROVIC, M. (2008): Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) as an Advanced Wastewater Treatment Technology. In: BARCELO, D. ; PETROVIC, M. (2008): Emerging Contaminants from Industrial and Municipal Waste. The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry. Berlin-Heidelberg: 37-101. URL [Accessed: 03.06.2019]
Further Readings

Viability of Membrane Bioreactor Technology as an Advanced Pre-Treatment for Onsite Wastewater Treatment

This master thesis was a part of a research program at Colorado School of Mines. The objectives are threefold. Initially, the purposes were to increase the state of the knowledge using MBR in wastewater treatment and evaluate a pilot-scale MNR during start-up and steady state conditions, in respect of nutrient and organic compounds removal and overall system performance. A second objective was to evaluate the performance of the MBR during different stress conditions (power failure, high loading rate and high flux) in respect of nutrient and organic compounds removal and overall system performance. A third objective was to investigate permeate quality with respect of nutrients and organic compounds after infiltration through soil columns. The purpose was to assess if the effluent quality was suitable for direct discharge into the underlying groundwater or surface water.

LARSSON, E. PERSSON, J. (2004): Viability of Membrane Bioreactor Technology as an Advanced Pre-Treatment for Onsite Wastewater Treatment. (= Master Thesis ). Lulea: University of Technology URL [Accessed: 03.06.2019]

Compendium of Natural Water Systems and Treatment Technologies to cope with Water Shortages in Urbanised Areas in India

The Compendium of NaWaTech Technologies presents appropriate water and wastewater technologies that could enable the sustainable water management in Indian cities. It is intended as a reference for water professionals in charge of planning, designing and implementing sustainable water systems in the Indian urban scenario, based on a decentralised approach.

BARRETO DILLON, L. ; DOYLE, L. ; LANGERGRABER, G. ; SATISH, S. ; POPHALI, G. (2013): Compendium of Natural Water Systems and Treatment Technologies to cope with Water Shortages in Urbanised Areas in India. Berlin: EPUBLI GMBH URL [Accessed: 11.12.2015]

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