Cleaned wastewater may be the answer to the Gulf’s needs

September 21, 2018

As the UAE grows, its people need more water. We can’t keep taking ever more from the Arabian Gulf – so instead we are increasingly turning to wastewater as a source of fresh water.

There are already many ways of doing this, but they take time and money, and come with their own environmental impacts. We have to make wastewater treatment more effective, efficient and affordable.

MBRs offer a compact way to produce high quality water that can even be coupled with biogas recovery, resulting in two useful products – water and biogas. But this technology still faces challenges.

Nothing can get through the membrane’s pores, making it no use as a filter for wastewater – so treatment has to stop for the membrane to be either cleaned or replaced. The loss of productivity, along with the cost of the treatment chemicals or new membranes, reduces the cost effectiveness of the MBR.
A membrane that prevented biofouling could make MBRs a far more attractive option for water treatment. That is where our novel membrane comes in.
Building on European research, we have created a membrane that is highly resistant to biofouling and also improves the through-flow of water. This was achieved by improving the membrane structure, porosity, and surface chemistry.

The 3D pattern also increases the effective filtration area of membrane, giving it twice the filter surface area – and therefore twice the productivity. Lastly and most importantly, the improved flow hydrodynamic makes it harder for unwanted organisms to stick to the membrane.

Standard membrane bioreactor membranes need to be cleaned or replaced daily. After a month, our membranes were still fairly clear of biofouling and functioning as they should.

We hope this research can be utilized by industry and academia to make wastewater treatment and reuse through membrane bioreactors more widely adopted not only here in the UAE, but around the world.

Dr. Hassan Arafat is an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Dr. Muhammad Ro’il Bilad is a post-doctoral associate and Jehad Kharraz is a master’s student in the same department.