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The University of Southampton

Research project: Development of anaerobic support particles for effective membrane cleaning for submerged anaerobic membrane bioreactors, AnMBR

Currently Active: 

BBSRC, ADnet, Proof of Concept

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Membrane fouling has been identified as the main operational cost limiting the use of membrane bioreactors treating low strength industrial and municipal wastewaters.

Particle additions to bioreactors such as carbon, silica, foam and plastic beads have all proven effective in scouring submerged membranes; increasing the flux across the membrane and hence the cleaning interval necessary to maintain the reactor’s operation. These particles are fluidised by gas injection, liquid recirculation, mechanical mixing or a mixture of these modes, but all increase the energy needed to maintain the process. Materials such as powdered carbon and silica are much heavier than water so the energy needed to fluidise them is much greater than that of a number of plastics that are closer to the density of water.

Along with near neutral buoyancy and physical flexibility reticulated foam has the added advantage of an open pore structure that biomass can colonise. Together these properties offer the possibility of energy savings in the operation of anaerobic membrane bioreactors.


  • To make polyurethane foam particles, with or without additives, to specific densities and pore structures
  • To test the fluidisation of these particles with and without colonisation with anaerobic biomass
  • To assess the most effective method of fluidisation, using gas, liquid recirculation or mechanical mixing
  • To assess the membrane cleaning action of the particles on transmembrane pressure and permeate flux
  • To make an estimation of the particle durability under long term fluidisation in the laboratory

Related research groups

Water and Environmental Engineering Group
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