Membrane fouling currently makes filtration of high-solids anaerobic sludges difficult and this is discouraging online monitoring of volatile fatty acids and control of high-solids digesters. The present study tests the critical flux approach to reduce membrane fouling. Filtration tests are performed on two sludges, filtered via a side-stream off two full-scale digesters. Sub-critical flux operating conditions (for minimal cake layer formation) are identified for each of the sludges and the filtration units are operated at these conditions to assess longer term performance. Results for one of the sludges (co-digested primary and secondary sludge) is found to be encouraging, showing that sufficient flux rates (up to 40 L m−2 h−1) can be readily sustained to allow longer term digester monitoring and control. Filtration performance for this sludge did not deteriorate significantly over the test period. Results for the other test sludge (digested thermally hydrolyzed waste activated sludge) were not as favorable and indicated that application may be limited for very high solids digesters (>5% total solids concentration). Differences in filtration behavior for the two test sludges were ascribed to the presence of complex soluble organics, the concentration of sludge solids and their particle size. © 2013 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Biotechnol. Prog., 29:1059–1063, 2013
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