Soluble microbial products (SMPs) contained in membrane bioreactor (MBR) supernatant have been proved to be main foulants. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the fouling potential of SMPs on the basis of both hydrophilic/hydrophobic properties and molecular size, MBR supernatant of a pilot-scaled system treating municipal wastewater was partitioned into different hydrophilic/hydrophobic fractions by DAX-8 resins, with joint size partition of hydrophilic fraction also undertaken. A series of stirred dead-end filtration tests were conducted to investigate the flux decline. Hydrophilic fraction was found the dominant foulant responsible for flux deterioration, which was mainly attributed to the subclass of molecular weight above 100 kDa. The molecular weight distribution and atomic force microscopy images indicated that large molecules in hydrophilic fraction plugged the membrane pores. The backwash tests showed the flux decline caused by hydrophilic fraction was much less recoverable by hydraulic cleaning. It can be inferred that steric factor, i.e. size exclusion was the primary cause in the initial stage of fouling, while the role of hydrophobic interaction was of less significance. Additional modeling work indicates that the main fouling mechanism was complete blocking, further confirming the predominance of size exclusion contributing to membrane fouling by SMPs in MBR supernatant. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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