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Navigating Wastewater Energy Recovery Strategies: A Life Cycle Comparison of Anaerobic Membrane Bioreactor and Conventional Treatment Systems with Anaerobic Digestion

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journal contribution
posted on 20.05.2014, 00:00 by Adam L. Smith, Lauren B. Stadler, Ling Cao, Nancy G. Love, Lutgarde Raskin, Steven J. Skerlos
The objective of this study was to evaluate emerging anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) technology in comparison with conventional wastewater energy recovery technologies. Wastewater treatment process modeling and systems analyses were combined to evaluate the conditions under which AnMBR may produce more net energy and have lower life cycle environmental emissions than high rate activated sludge with anaerobic digestion (HRAS+AD), conventional activated sludge with anaerobic digestion (CAS+AD), and an aerobic membrane bioreactor with anaerobic digestion (AeMBR+AD). For medium strength domestic wastewater treatment under baseline assumptions at 15 °C, AnMBR recovered 49% more energy as biogas than HRAS+AD, the most energy positive conventional technology considered, but had significantly higher energy demands and environmental emissions. Global warming impacts associated with AnMBR were largely due to emissions of effluent dissolved methane. For high strength domestic wastewater treatment, AnMBR recovered 15% more net energy than HRAS+AD, and the environmental emissions gap between the two systems was reduced. Future developments of AnMBR technology in low energy fouling control, increased flux, and management of effluent methane emissions would make AnMBR competitive with HRAS+AD. Rapid advancements in AnMBR technology must continue to achieve its full economic and environmental potential as an energy recovery strategy for domestic wastewater.