Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

MS in Environmental Engr. (M.S.E.V.)


Environmental Engineering

Degree Granting Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Major Professor

Daniel H. Yeh, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffrey Cunningham, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Piet Lens, Ph.D.


Membrane fouling, Modified fouling index, Ultrafiltration, wastewater treatment, water quality


With the growing use of membranes in the water industry, different methods for using membranes to treat water is still occurring. Enhancing membrane performance is generally performed with extensive pretreatment methods before the feedwater is filtered by the membrane. With the utilization of direct membrane filtration (DF), no pretreatment is performed and the membrane is exposed to raw wastewater. While this may suggest that membrane performance and permeate quality would suffer in the process, DF testing with a 0.03 µm ultrafiltration PVDF membrane showed that relatively high membrane flux was sustained while producing a high quality effluent. Due to the rejection of the membrane, a highly concentrated fraction of the wastewater, which is significantly reduced in volume but high in solids and organic strength, is obtained and can be treated in other ways.

A process is proposed to treat municipal wastewater by coupling a DF system with an anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR). AnMBRs generally treat industrial strength wastewater, which is high in chemical oxygen demand (COD), and may struggle with domestic wastewater, which is generally considered low strength in terms of COD. By coupling the DF with an AnMBR, the DF-AnMBR can be used to treat the low strength domestic wastewater. The DF portion can handle the bulk of the liquid fraction, while the highly concentrated fraction of wastewater is treated by the AnMBR stage, thus improving the energy profile of the AnMBR and enhancing performance. A series of flow and mass balance equations for the combined DF-AnMBR was developed, and used to shed insight on design parameters relevant to this novel treatment process.

Since membrane fouling occurs gradually over weeks or months, it is difficult to systematically determine how processes changes may affect membrane performance. Hence, a method to rapidly determine the fouling propensity of wastewater was desired. The modified fouling index (MFI) was previously developed to test the fouling propensity of feedwater for seawater RO desalination, but has not been applied to membrane filtration of wastewater. The MFI method was adapted and used to test the fouling propensity of various treatment streams in the DF-AnMBR system, including raw domestic wastewater, concentrated domestic wastewater (20X by DF), and liquor from an active AnMBR. The effect of powdered activated carbon (PAC) on fouling propensity was also investigated. Raw wastewater had a fouling potential of about 25% of the AnMBR MFI, and with the utilization of PAC the fouling potential was further decreased to nearly 50% of the original fouling potential. The DF concentrated stream had a higher MFI value than liquor from the AnMBR, but presumably some of organics contributing to fouling would be degraded in the AnMBR. This study demonstrated that DF of raw wastewater is feasible, and the combined use of DF and AnMBR is highly promising.