Frontier Research

Fouling formation in membrane contactors for methane recovery from anaerobic effluents

Walailak Frontier 18, July 2019


Fouling formation in membrane contactors for methane recovery from anaerobic effluents


Fouling which causes decline of performance overtime has been known as a major problem in all membrane processes. As such, knowing its nature of formation could help minimize its severity, prevent permanent damage, and potentially find a way to reverse its course. This is especially important, when applying the membranes to treat municipal and industrial wastewater which the fouling is unavoidable.


Fig. 1. FESEM images of the outer-surface morphology of a membrane (a) before and (b) after membrane fouling and c) the cross-sectional morphology of the fouled membrane (the arrow indicates the fouled layer and the scale bars indicate 1 micrometer)  


Fouling in membrane contactors (MC) for recovery of dissolved methane (CH4) was investigated in this work. Two types of effluents from anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) and upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) were tested under a continuous operational mode. Membrane characterization revealed cake layer formation by protein-like substances as the source of membrane fouling. On this basis, a mass transfer analysis was performed to understand the fouling resistance exerted by the cake layer and identify a parameter which best described the fouling mechanism. It was found that cake thickness can be used to express the change in fouling resistance in the case of the AnMBR effluent, while cake porosity was a better parameter in the case of the UASB effluent. Knowing the source of the fouling will help to find suitable pre-treatment and cleaning methods, while the mass transfer analysis will assist long term performance prediction and maintenance planning in this process.


Fig 2 and 3 Fouling thickness and cake porosity of fouled membrane treating AnMBr and UASB effluent with respect to time as calculated by an developed mathematic model in this study



  • Rongwong, W., Goh, K., Sethunga, G.S.M.D.P., Bae, T.H., 2019. Fouling formation in membrane contactors for methane recovery from anaerobic effluents. Journal of Membrane Science 573, 534-543

  • Rongwong, W., Lee, J., Goh, K., Karahan, H.E., Bae, T.H., 2018. Membrane-based technologies for post-treatment of anaerobic effluents. npj Clean Water 1, 21

  • Rongwong, W., Wongchitphimon, S., Goh, K., Wang, R., & Bae, T.H., 2017, Transport properties of CO2 and CH4 in hollow fiber membrane contactor for the recovery of biogas from anaerobic membrane bioreactor effluent. Journal of Membrane Science 541, 62-72

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