What Are the Causes of Flat Sheet Membrane Fouling?

Flat sheet membranes have become increasingly integral to water treatment processes, particularly in MBR (Membrane Bioreactor) systems. With growing urban and industrial water demands, there’s a pressing need for efficient water treatment methods. While the MBR flat sheet membrane is celebrated for its efficiency, membrane fouling remains a significant challenge. Let’s explore the reasons behind this issue.

What Are the Causes of Flat Sheet Membrane Fouling?

Understanding Membrane Fouling

Fouling is the undesirable accumulation of particles, microorganisms, and other materials on a membrane surface or within its pores, often leading to diminished performance. This buildup can hinder the membrane’s permeability, thereby reducing its efficiency.

What are the four types of membrane fouling?

There are four main types of membrane­ fouling, each presenting its challenges. The first is inorganic fouling, also known as scaling, which occurs when mine­rals like calcium carbonate stick to the surface­ of the membrane. This impairs water flow and compromises the quality of perme­ate. The second type is particle and colloidal fouling, where suspe­nded particles such as clay or silt clog the pore­s of the membrane, re­stricting flow rate. Microbial fouling is another type characterized by the growth of bacteria and algae­ on the membrane’s surface­, forming biofilms that obstruct permeate flow. Finally, organic fouling happens when substances like humic acid or prote­ins bind to the membrane surface­, reducing filtration efficiency.

Causes of Flat Sheet Membrane Fouling

1. Physical Characteristics of the MBR System

The design and layout of the MBR system, including the flat membrane scale, height, and aeration system layout, can influence fouling. Inefficient design can lead to areas of stagnant flow, where particles can accumulate.

2. Biological Factors

Interactions between different microbial populations can exacerbate fouling. For instance, some bacteria might produce compounds that promote biofilm formation on the membrane. Additionally, the composition and concentration of bacterial extracellular polymer (EPS) plays a significant role. EPS can be sticky and may lead to membrane blockage.

3. Membrane Specific Characteristics

The membrane’s characteristics, such as pore size, dispersion, material, structure, and interaction with solutes and solvents, can influence its susceptibility to fouling.

4. Quality of the Treated Sewage

The type and concentration of organic matter in the treated water are critical. Certain organic compounds can readily adhere to the membrane surface, causing fouling.

5. Operating Conditions

Factors like mud age, dissolved oxygen concentration, membrane surface flow rate, and temperature can influence fouling rates. For example, high temperatures can promote microbial growth, increasing biofouling.

6. Microbial Contamination

Microorganisms find the nutrients they require in the membrane’s micropores. Consequently, they might colonize these regions, leading to microbial fouling.

7. Dissolved Organic Matter

Microbial metabolites are a primary source of dissolved organic matter. They can form a gel layer on the membrane’s outer surface or become adsorbed within the micropores, blocking them and reducing the membrane flux.

How to avoid MBR membrane fouling?

1. Optimize the Membrane Module Design

The design of your membrane module can influence the propensity for fouling.

1.1 Placement & Hydraulic Form

It is pivotal to understand the correlation between how the membrane module is positioned and its hydraulic form. Tests have revealed that the horizontal placement of membrane filaments is superior to axial placement when there’s no aeration. However, with aeration, the axial placement shines.

1.2 Diameter & Length of the Hollow Fiber Membrane

The diameter and length of the hollow fiber membrane matter. Experiments demonstrate that thin membrane filaments outperform thick ones in a cross-flow system, regardless of aeration. It’s been found through calculations that a membrane filament length between 0.5-3m and an ideal inner diameter of 0.2-0.35mm can significantly enhance membrane flux.

2. Modify Suspension Characteristics

Fouling often originates from the activated sludge mixed liquor.

2.1 Flocculants to the Rescue

Introducing a minor flocculant to the bioreactor allows fine particles to be flocculated and coagulated, thereby reducing their deposition on the membrane.

3. Regulate the Activated Sludge Concentration

Controlling the concentration of the activated sludge mixture entering the membrane can help in reducing fouling.

3.1 Employ Fillers

Incorporating fillers in the bioreactor ensures that suspended microorganisms adhere to these fillers. This action amplifies the decomposition rate of pollutants and curtails the concentration of activated sludge mixture that makes contact with the membrane.

3.2 Control Flow Rates

Maintaining the working flow of the membrane below the critical flux can retard the deposition rate of pollutants, prolong membrane lifespan, and inhibit fouling.

4. Facilitate Pollutant Shedding & Removal

Regularly removing pollutants from the membrane’s surface is essential to ensure longevity and performance.

4.1 Aerated Shedding

Increasing the aeration rate can induce a water flow shear on the membrane, which results in vibrations and promotes the shedding of pollutants.

4.2 Cleaning Techniques

When fouling reaches a particular threshold, it becomes essential to clean the membrane components. Effective cleaning methods include hydraulic cleaning, chemical cleaning, and ultrasonic cleaning.

What is the difference between membrane fouling and clogging?

Membrane fouling involves the adhesion of dissolved, colloidal, or fine solids onto the membrane surface or the intrusion of these materials into the membrane pores. It primarily affects the membrane’s permeability and is usually mitigated through physical and chemical cleaning cycles. On the other hand, clogging refers specifically to the accumulation of larger, gross solids at the entrance or within the membrane channels themselves. Unlike fouling, which affects the membrane on a molecular or microscopic level, clogging is a macroscopic problem often resolved through mechanical means like backwashing or physical removal.


MBR flat sheet membranes are a crucial component of modern water treatment processes. Understanding and mitigating the causes of membrane fouling is essential to maintain their efficiency, prolong their lifespan, and ensure the consistent quality of treated water. We can optimize membrane performance and combat fouling challenges by focusing on system design and operation.


Why is membrane fouling a concern in water treatment processes?

Membrane fouling can hinder the membrane’s permeability, reducing efficiency and increasing operating costs.

How does the membrane’s material impact fouling?

Different membrane materials have varying affinities for organic and inorganic compounds. Some materials might be more susceptible to fouling due to their inherent properties.

Can the fouling be reversed or cleaned?

Yes, much of the fouling can be reversed with appropriate cleaning methods. However, frequent and harsh cleaning can reduce the membrane’s lifespan.

How does temperature influence membrane fouling?

Higher temperatures can accelerate microbial growth and increase the solubility of certain organic compounds, promoting fouling.

What role does dissolved oxygen play in fouling?

Dissolved oxygen can influence microbial activity. Low dissolved oxygen can reduce microbial growth, potentially reducing biofouling.

Share this article:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Free Quote

contact us

If you are interested in our products, don’t hesitate to contact us! You can contact us in any way that is convenient for you. We are available 24/7 via fax or email. You can also use the quick contact form below or visit our office. We would be happy to answer your questions.

Contact Form Demo
Scroll to Top

Get a free quote

Contact Form Demo