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Lessons Learned During Startup, Testing and Optimization of MBR

Systems for Enhanced Nutrient Removal

Vince Maillard1*, Kristi Perri1, Jason VerNooy1

GHD, Bowie, Maryland.

* Email:
Membrane bioreactors (MBRs) are known for producing high quality effluent from wastewater
treatment facilities in order to meet stringent regulatory requirements (Fleischer et al., 2005),
accommodate growth (Vadiveloo & Cisterna, 2008), provide opportunities for water reuse
(Schmidt et al., 2011), and achieve other operational goals for various municipalities, utilities
and industries (Cummings & Frenkel, 2008). The process of testing, starting up and optimizing
an MBR process for enhanced nutrient removal at the end of a construction project is often
overlooked. Even a well-designed MBR can fail to meet expectations if the system is not
properly configured during the startup phase, making this a critical step in any successful
implementation of membrane technology. The startup phase of two municipal MBR plants were
compared to demonstrate the importance of various strategies for initial process optimization,
with a focus on lessons learned, techniques and performance expectations that can be applied to
future projects.
KEYWORDS: MBR, nutrient removal, startup, testing, optimization.

Membrane bioreactors (MBRs), which consist of an activated sludge process and a membrane
filtration system (MFS), offer several benefits which have led to their widespread application in
the treatment of municipal and industrial wastewater (Cummings & Frenkel, 2008). MBR
technology allows for greater flexibility in both design and operation, as they are compatible
with a broad range of process configurations, physical layouts, influent characteristics, operating
conditions and control strategies (Pellegrin et al., 2012). MBRs are also ideal for expansion to
accommodate growth or meet increasingly stringent effluent requirements within a relatively
small footprint (Ferraris et al., 2009). Perhaps one of the most significant advantages of MBR
technology is its ability to consistently produce high quality effluent, including effluent total
nitrogen (TN) concentrations of 3 mg/L and total phosphorus (TP) concentrations of 0.3 mg/L,
with the possibility of even lower concentrations following process optimization (Fleischer et al.,
The selection of MBR technology is often based on the benefits associated with the production
of such high quality effluent, such as more efficient utilization of available discharge limits, a
reduction in the facilitys environmental impact and the potential to implement water reuse.

However, selection and design are only the first steps towards capitalizing on these benefits. In
order to take full advantage of the advanced treatment capabilities and maximize the value of the
MBR system, it is also critical for each component to be properly installed and operated to avoid
costly inefficiencies, underperformance or even process failures (Ellsworth & Riddell, 2007).
The successful startup and optimization of any new biological treatment process can be
jeopardized by a wide range of potential setbacks, including schedule delays, equipment
deficiencies, inadequate feedback or data collection, and lack of coordination between the parties
involved. Standard contract specifications and other construction phase documents, such as
inspection checklists and report forms, have been established over time to help manage these
general types of issues. Yet these standard resources are often developed based on conventional
wastewater facilities and may not adequately address the unique challenges associated with
implementing MBR technology, including:

The large number of interconnected components operating as a single system;

Reliance on complex automatic controls and interlocks with risk of costly failures;
Use of proprietary terminology, configurations, operational schemes, testing protocols,
etc., by different system suppliers; and
A relatively wide range of potential operating conditions, control strategies and
performance targets.

As such, an additional degree of planning and execution is required to bring MBR systems from
installation to successful operation. A project-specific startup plan is essential for meeting the
goals set for each individual installation, which can vary considerably based on the details of the
application and the reasons for selecting MBR technology. The best approach to startup and
optimization will depend on several factors, including the features of the proposed MBR system,
recommendations of the MFS supplier, time or budget constraints and owner preferences. In
order to document the impact of different strategies for bringing an MBR plant online, two
municipal MBR wastewater treatment plants located in Virginia (United States) were studied
during startup, performance testing and initial operation. Results and lessons learned from both
case studies are documented herein.
The first plant (Plant A) is a new 0.95 ML/d (0.25 mgd) facility owned and operated by a
small, seasonal town of about 1,000 permanent residents on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Plant
A was built on a greenfield site to replace the Towns existing plant, which consisted of aging
contact stabilization units. The new plant includes headworks, four-stage Bardenpho reactors,
MFS, ultraviolet (UV) disinfection, and provisions for water reuse. The second plant (Plant B)
is a 2.65 ML/d (0.70 mgd) facility owned and operated by a town of about 4,000 residents in
Northern Virginia. The MFS at Plant B was added as part of a major upgrade project on the same
site as the existing lagoon treatment plant. The upgrade project also added new headworks, 2.65
ML (0.7 mgd) of flow equalization, four-stage Bardenpho reactors, and UV disinfection. Both
plants were designed to meet enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) level effluent concentrations of
4.0 mg/L TN and 0.3 mg/L TP. A summary of each plant is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Plant design criteria.

Current Average Flow
Design Average Daily Flow
Design Peak Flow
Peaking Factor for MBR
Design Average Influent Concentrations
Flow Equalization
Influent Pumping Operation
Biological HRT
Type of Membranes
No. of Membrane Trains

Plant A
0.4 ML/d (0.1 mgd)
0.95 ML/d (0.25 mgd)
2.84 ML/d (0.75 mgd)

Plant B
1.1 ML/d (0.3 mgd)
2.65 ML/d (0.70 mgd)
7.95 ML/d (2.10 mgd)
with flow equalization

206 mg/L
226 mg/L
39.7 mg/L
6.1 mg/L
Constant Speed
14 hours
Hollow Fiber

290 mg/L
270 mg/L
45 mg/L
6.5 mg/L
2.65 ML (0.7 mil gal)
Variable Speed
24 hours
Hollow Fiber

The contract specifications for both plants required an extensive testing sequence as shown in
Figure 1. Each step in the testing sequence had its own milestones or goals which must be
completed before the next step could begin. Many of the steps also had minimum durations that
would be extended in the event that the performance goals were not met.

Figure 1. Specified testing sequence for MBR system startup.

The testing procedures were organized to balance the need to be thorough and verify the
functionality of the installed system with the need to be concise and minimize unnecessary
delays to the construction schedule. The MFS suppliers own testing procedures were
considerable, so extra coordination was necessary to integrate these testing activities into the
startup plan for each facility. The MFS suppliers standard testing routine was supplemented by
the engineers specified testing requirements, which were adjusted during design to account for
the unique features of the MBR system.
Initial Planning and Coordination
The first step in the startup process began while the new equipment was still being installed at
each plant. The engineer and contractor worked together to create template documents that
would be used during the various stages of testing, including inspection checklists, report forms
and summary tables listing the applicable milestones for each step in the testing sequence. These
documents were based on the contract specifications for the project and provided a consistent
means of tracking progress and communicating results to the project team. On-site meetings,
phone calls and other correspondence were also utilized to help plan the startup process and keep
key parties informed.

During this same time, a comprehensive startup plan was developed for each facility with input
from the owner, engineer, contractors, suppliers, and all other parties that would be involved in
the startup process. The startup plan was used as a detailed guide that would supplement the
contract specifications and the contractors construction schedule, providing additional
information and recommendations such as:

Roles and responsibilities for each party during the startup period;
Review of sequencing constraints;
Evaluation of the proposed timing for key events, including activities not specifically
covered by the contractors schedule (delivery of chemicals, transfer of activated sludge
inoculum, coordination with regulatory agencies, etc.);
Details of flow transfer and splitting (including closed loop clean water testing and the
introduction of raw wastewater);
Plans for seeding the MBR (source, transfer, handling, target solids concentration,
required volume, etc.);
Milestones or other trigger events to help focus efforts and determine sequencing;
Summary of any available data applicable to the startup process (including recent flow
rates and influent characteristics);
Sampling and monitoring protocols for each stage of testing and optimization; and
Other applicable input or feedback from parties involved.

The startup plan served as a single, consolidated resource for collecting relevant information and
using it to determine a practical approach to the startup process, resulting in better coordination
during the critical steps of the startup process.
Preliminary Equipment Checks
As equipment at each facility was installed, the contractor was responsible for verifying that each
component was properly set and capable of operating. Preliminary tests were conducted,
including point-to-point electrical testing, infrared testing, and vibration testing, and operator
training began on the new equipment. The preliminary equipment checks also served as a final
opportunity to confirm that the new facilities were ready to proceed to online testing and
operation, which meant collecting all product information, warranty documents, tools, test
materials and lubrication equipment on site.
MFS Clean Water Testing
Separate clean water testing was required for the MFS at each plant as a prerequisite to clean
water testing for the rest of the new facilities, as multiple components of the MFS must be
operating successfully under automatic control in order to hydraulically pass flow through the
treatment facility. The MFS supplier for both plants preferred the use of potable water for clean
water testing to protect the membranes, and stressed the importance of thoroughly cleaning the
process tanks before filling them with water. The MFS supplier also requested that all work in
the area of the MBR tanks be completed before the membrane filtration equipment was installed
for protection of the membranes.

Once the process tanks were cleaned and filled the membrane filtration equipment was installed
and clean water testing began. For Plant A, the clean water testing loop started in the membrane
tanks, where the potable water was drawn through the membrane fibers by the permeate pumps.
The permeate pumps discharged the clean water into the backpulse (BP) water storage tank for
the MFS, which overflowed to the downstream UV disinfection structure and adjacent plant
water well. The permanently installed plant water pumps were then used to pump the clean water
back into the membrane tanks, as shown in Figure 2. A separate loop was established with the
mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) recirculation pumps, which discharged at the distribution
box upstream of the biological reactors and flowed by gravity back into the membrane tanks.

Figure 2. MFS clean water testing loop for Plant A.

For Plant B, the clean water testing loop for the MFS initially consisted of the MLSS
recirculation pumps transferring potable water from the membrane tanks to the biological reactor
tanks, which flowed by gravity downstream to the membrane tanks. Once the permeate pumps
were placed online, the potable water from the membrane tanks was drawn through the
membrane fibers and discharged into the backpulse water storage tank, which was able to flow
by gravity back to the raw sewage pump station (RSPS) at the head of the plant. The clean water
loop was then expanded to flow through most of the new facilities, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. MFS clean water testing loop for Plant B.

The contract specifications for both facilities required a minimum of one week of successful
clean water testing with the MFS prior to plant-wide clean water testing, which would be
extended as necessary if the system failed to meet the specified performance requirements. The
MFS suppliers own standard clean water testing routine required two weeks for system
configuration and testing, which coincided with the engineers specified testing period.
During the clean water testing phase the installed equipment ran under automatic control and was
inspected to verify proper function in each available operational mode. In particular, preliminary
clean water testing of the MBR system was utilized to check the automatic programming
developed for each facility, including data transfer and recording, alarms, interlocks, alternate
control modes and operator interface. Any discrepancies observed during the clean water testing
period were tracked with project-specific checklists until they could be suitably resolved.

Plant-wide Clean Water Testing

After the successful completion of clean water testing for the MFS, the rest of the new facilities
at each plant went through a similar clean water testing routine. The control systems for each
equipment package (including the MFS) were integrated with the process control system (PCS)
for the entire plant to allow for the specified remote monitoring and control functions. Any
outstanding issues identified during the clean water testing phase were recorded and tracked until
they were adequately addressed, at which time the plant was considered ready for wastewater
MBR Seeding and Introduction of Wastewater
The potable water used for clean water testing was drained out of the process tanks to allow for
the addition of activated sludge inoculum to the MBR system at each plant. The activated sludge
inoculum was obtained from a nearby operating MBR facility in both cases, as previous studies
with ultrafiltration membrane systems have shown that seeding from an existing facility can
reduce membrane fouling during initial operation and help to speed up the development of higher
MLSS concentrations (Di Bella et al., 2010). Seeding with activated sludge also helps the MBR
system to achieve the maximum design solids concentrations during the specified testing period.
Plant A initially seeded the new MBR with activated sludge at about 7,000 mg/L MLSS
concentration to obtain a starting MLSS concentration goal of over 2,000 mg/L, and utilized
additional 120,000 L (32,000 gal) of seed sludge to accelerate solids accumulation after the
introduction of wastewater. The activated sludge inoculum for Plant A was delivered using septic
hauling trucks, which introduced small amounts of mixed debris into the sludge. The high solids
concentration of the seed sludge caused it to clog up the fine screens installed upstream of the
MFS, so the seed sludge had to be discharged directly into the biological reactor tanks and the
debris was manually screened out. Plant B seeded the new MBR with activated sludge at about
3,000 mg/L MLSS concentration for a starting MLSS concentration goal of about 900 mg/L, and
did not utilize additional seed sludge following the introduction of wastewater. As a result,
MLSS concentrations were significantly higher at Plant A throughout the startup period, as
shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Startup phase MLSS concentrations.

Raw wastewater flow from the collection system was diverted to each plant after initial activated
sludge addition. Based on the construction schedule for the respective projects, the introduction
of wastewater occurred in January 2012 for Plant A and in September 2012 for Plant B. The
diversion of raw wastewater to the new MBR systems proceeded in accordance with the startup
plan developed specifically for each facility. For Plant A, the startup plan recommended that the
Towns existing wastewater plant remain in operation until the new MBR facility was
consistently producing high quality effluent. This allowed for a gradual increase in flow to the
new MBR plant and a prolonged flow split between the old and new treatment facilities. The
new MBR system at Plant A began receiving 100% of the Towns raw wastewater flow two
months after the initial startup date. The MBR system at Plant B was constructed as part of an
upgrade to the Towns existing treatment plant, so all of the raw wastewater flow was
immediately diverted from the existing treatment process to the new MBR facilities. Influent
flow rates for each plant are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Startup phase influent flow rates.

Final Performance Testing and Optimization
During the performance testing period, operating conditions and effluent quality were closely
monitored at each facility to assist with process optimization. A combination of on-site
laboratory testing and off-site, third party laboratory analysis were used to monitor
concentrations of nutrients and suspended solids in the raw influent, mixed liquor and plant
effluent. At both plants, online instrumentation was utilized to continuously measure influent and
effluent flow rates, as well as dissolved oxygen (DO) and nitrate (NO3) concentrations in the
biological tanks. Instrumentation provided as part of the MFS for each facility was used to
monitor plant feed (raw influent) flows, permeate (filtered effluent) flows, wastewater
temperature, effluent turbidity and trans-membrane pressure (TMP).
Both Plants A and B were designed to use Micro C-GTM for supplemental carbon and aluminum
sulphate (alum) as a metal coagulant. The startup plans for both plants called for the chemical
feed systems, supplemental carbon and alum, to be started up sequentially to provide adequate
time to establish dosing rates for the first chemical before starting addition of the second
chemical. Full denitrification was listed as an initial milestone in the startup plan for Plant A, so
the supplemental carbon feed system was brought online first. Supplemental carbon addition
began 22 days after the introduction of wastewater at Plant A, followed by alum addition after 38

days of wastewater treatment. Plant B started with relatively high (> 7 mg/L) effluent TP
concentrations in the first month of performance testing, so the alum feed system was started first
after 40 days of wastewater treatment and the supplemental carbon feed system followed at 54
days of wastewater treatment.
Influent Characteristics
The raw influent wastewater characteristics during the startup phase of each plant are listed in
Table 2. The influent characteristics at Plant B remained relatively consistent throughout the 90day startup period. Influent wastewater characteristics at Plant A showed significant variation as
a result of the Towns sewage collection system.
Table 2. Startup phase average influent wastewater characteristics.
Plant A
Plant B
Average (Min-Max)
Average (Min-Max)
142 mg/L (64-223 mg/L)
362 mg/L (209-536 mg/L)
91 mg/L (30-256 mg/L)
125 mg/L (32-448 mg/L)
30 mg/L (14-44 mg/L)
55 mg/L (47-59 mg/L)
3.7 mg/L (1.7-5.4 mg/L)
7.4 mg/L (1.7-5.4 mg/L)
The collection system for Plant A consists of two main raw wastewater pump stations: one
serving a gravity sewer system in the Towns historic district and the second connected to a
vacuum sewer system serving primarily new development. The influent wastewater from the
gravity sewer system was relatively dilute due to generally older construction and higher
inflow/infiltration (I&I) rates in the collection system. In contrast, the vacuum sewer system has
relatively high strength wastewater coming from the area of new development where there are
more low-flow plumbing fixtures and less I&I. Both pump stations cycled on and off throughout
the day, producing significant variation in the influent wastewater characteristics. This was
particularly noticeable during the colder months of the year when Plant A began wastewater
treatment (before the seasonal residents arrived in Town). The cyclic operation of the raw
wastewater pumps also produced rapid fluctuations in the influent flow rate, as shown in Figure
6. This caused the MFS to frequently transition between production and standby mode
throughout the day.

Figure 6. Screen shot of the influent flow chart for Plant A showing significant fluctuations
over a two hour period during routine plant operation. Flows are displayed in units of
million gallons per day (mgd) and range between 0 and 1 mgd.
Nitrogen Removal
Full nitrification occurred rapidly at both MBR facilities (within 7 days for Plant A and 14 days
for Plant B), and as expected the time required to achieve nitrification did not appear to be
significantly impacted by the volume of activated sludge inoculum utilized (Di Bella et al.,
2010). As shown in Figure 7, Plant A was able to achieve partial denitrification until the addition
of supplemental carbon. Full denitrification was achieved shortly after startup of the
supplemental carbon feed system. Plant B was able to achieve nearly complete denitrification
without the addition of supplemental carbon addition; however, as shown in Figure 7, the startup
of the supplemental carbon feed system provided stable and complete denitrification.

Phosphorus Removal
Plant A demonstrated significant phosphorus removal due to biological treatment after startup of
the supplemental carbon system, as shown in Figure 7. Alum addition was required to maintain
effluent TP concentrations below 0.3 mg/L as the plant flows and influent loads increased.
Effluent TP concentrations at Plant B decreased below the target concentration of 0.3 mg/L after
the addition of alum on day 40 of the performance testing period.

Figure 7. Startup Phase Effluent Total Nitrogen (TN) and Total Phosphorus (TP)
Chemical Addition
At Plant A, the supplemental carbon system started up on day 24 of the performance testing
period, and the effluent TN concentrations quickly decreased from approximately 25 mg/L on
day 22 to less than 3 mg/L by day 29. Supplemental carbon (Micro CGTM) was initially dosed in
manual control while the automatic control programming for the plant was finalized. While
under manual control, the supplemental carbon was over-dosed at approximately 142 mg/L to
ensure consistent denitrification, resulting in an average effluent TN concentration of 1.2 mg/L.
After the automatic controls became available the dosing rate was flow-paced using the influent
flow signal, allowing the feed rate to be adjusted to achieve the desired effluent quality. After a
temporary increase in effluent TN concentration following the implementation of the automatic
control programming, the effluent TN concentration was again maintained below 2 mg/L for the

remainder of the performance testing period with typical supplemental carbon dosing rates of
approximately 130 mg/L.
At Plant A, the initial alum dose was approximately 20 mg/L and was increased to 40 mg/L by
the end of the performance testing period. During startup, Plant A tested for effluent TP using a
0.2 mg/L detection limit; however, more recent laboratory testing with a detection limit of 0.02
mg/L has shown that the MBR system is able to consistently produce at or below 0.02 mg/L with
an alum dosing rate of approximately 30 mg/L. This effluent TP concentration is approaching the
current limit of technology (deBarbadillo et al., 2010; Bott, 2009).
The alum feed system for Plant B was started on day 40 and resulted in a significant decrease in
the effluent TP concentration from 7.7 mg/L on day 27 to 0.2 mg/L on day 48. Plant B continued
to maintain alum feed rates for the remainder of the startup period to achieve an effluent TP
concentration of 0.3 mg/L or less. Laboratory results for Plant B indicated TN concentrations as
low as 4.3 mg/L without supplemental carbon addition, likely as a result of the favorable influent
BOD/TKN ratio of about 6.6:1 (Fleischer et al., 2002). However, the supplemental carbon feed
system for Plant B was started in automatic control on day 54 of the performance testing period
to achieve the target effluent TN concentration of less than 4 mg/L.
MFS Performance
Both plants maintained average effluent turbidity levels below 0.1 NTU throughout the startup
period, as shown in Table 3. The average pressure differential across the membranes (i.e. transmembrane pressure, or TMP) was minimal for Plant A and well below the maximum allowable
TMP of 55 kPa for Plant B. Permeability data was also monitored for both plants as a relative
indicator of membrane fouling and system efficiency, with higher permeability values generally
representing decreased fouling and increased efficiency. The permeability of the membranes,
reported in units of litres per square meter of membrane surface area per day per kPA of TMP
(Lm2d/kPa), was approximately 40% higher for Plant A during the 90-day performance testing
period. The lower average permeability value for Plant B may have been a result of the limited
volume of activated sludge inoculum used to seed the MBR system, as the biomass in the MBR
system typically forms a protective layer around the surface of the membranes that can enhance
filtering and reduce certain types of fouling (Di Bella et al., 2010).
Table 3. Startup Phase MFS Performance Data.
Plant A
Average (Min-Max)
Wastewater Temperature (oC)
15.5 (9.6 20.5)
Turbidity (NTU)
0.06 (0.04 0.80)
Trans-Membrane Pressure (kPa)
0.4 (-3.5 9.8)
Permeability (Lm2d/kPa)
256 (5 296)

Plant B
Average (Min-Max)
12.4 (7.3 19.8)
0.06 (0.00 0.76)
-2.0 (-7.2 2.1)
182 (6 295)

System performance was also maintained during extreme conditions, including periods of
low/sporadic flow caused by cyclic operation of the raw wastewater pumps upstream for Plant A
and high flow events such as Hurricane Sandy at Plant B.

There are many different ways to start up an MBR, and each will yield different results, as
evidenced herein. The milestones, durations, and sequencing associated with each phase of
testing and optimization were especially important for the selected case studies.
In the case of Plant A, the Town expressed interest in maximizing nutrient removal through the
new MBR facility to take advantage of available nutrient credits. In response to this objective, a
significant volume of activated sludge inoculum was utilized for seeding to quickly increase the
MLSS concentration in the biological tanks and achieve the desired performance. The chemical
feed systems were also started up earlier to enhance nutrient removal during the preliminary
stages of plant operation. As a result, Plant A achieved ENR-level effluent concentrations of 4.0
mg/L TN and 0.3 mg/L TP approximately 2-3 weeks earlier in the startup process when
compared to Plant B, likely as a result of the increased seeding volume and earlier chemical feed
(Manninaa & Di Bella, 2012). The larger volume of sludge inoculum also appears to have
reduced fouling of the membranes at Plant A during the first 90 days of operation. By
maintaining conservative dosing rates for supplemental carbon and alum Plant A has consistently
achieved effluent concentrations below 2.0 mg/L TN and 0.05 mg/L TP following the
completion of performance testing on the new MBR facilities.
Plant B took a different approach to startup of the new MBR facilities, choosing instead to
develop MLSS concentrations gradually instead of relying on large volumes of activated sludge
inoculum. This ultimately reduced the cost of the startup process, but delayed subsequent
milestones related to chemical addition and solids processing that were dependent on reaching
target solids concentrations in the MBR system. Plant B demonstrated the ability to meet ENRlevel effluent concentrations within the 90-day performance testing period even with limited
seeding. Plant B has averaged effluent concentrations of approximately 2.6 mg/L TN and 0.2
mg/L TP since the completion of startup testing.
The two case studies demonstrated the importance of developing a project-specific startup plan
early in construction, which could then be utilized as a valuable resource for coordinating
between multiple parties, guiding on-site personnel, identifying and preparing for possible
setbacks, and addressing variations in startup conditions. The detailed, step-by-step organization
of the startup plan helped to identify what additional information was required to prepare for the
startup process, and also provided a central location to document the information once it was
collected. Following the logical, sequential order of the startup plan raised key questions, such

Do the characteristics of the raw influent wastewater match previously collected data
and design criteria?
How much influent flow is expected at the time of plant startup?
How much seed sludge is required? How will it be delivered into the MBR system?
How long will it take before wastewater reaches each process tank? When is operator
action required?
What initial set points should be used for process control?
What information is required to track performance during initial operation?

When should chemical addition and sludge wasting begin?

What are the operational goals for the plant owner?

For the selected case studies, the answers to these questions were not emphasized in the contract
specifications or construction schedule but proved to have a significant influence on the startup
process. In the case of Plant A, the actual influent concentrations and raw wastewater flows at
the time of plant startup were considerably different from the values estimated during the
preliminary design phase of the project due to changes in growth projections and seasonal
variations in the local population. The owners of each plant also had different preferences
regarding the use of activated sludge inoculum and the treatment objectives for the plant, which
resulted in different approaches to the startup of each plant. Documenting these critical factors in
the startup plan helped to minimize miscommunication, delays and unexpected results.
In particular, details of the MBR seeding plan, from the source and delivery method of the
activated sludge inoculum to the amount used, can have a major impact on plant startup in terms
of process performance, scheduling, and potential risks to installed equipment. Depending on the
source of the seed sludge and the method of delivery, screening of the activated sludge inoculum
should be considered for protection of the MBR equipment. Utilizing larger volumes of activated
sludge inoculum can increase project costs and possibly create logistical issues, but can also
improve treatment and accelerate the plant startup process based on the results of the selected
case studies. The condition of the sludge (age, MLSS concentration, solids retention time of the
seed plant, etc.) should be checked for each batch to avoid process upsets during initial
In order to function as an effective tool for on-site personnel and other decision makers, the
startup plan should establish intermediate milestones or goals for each phase of testing, startup
and optimization. The minimum performance requirements and durations for the various stages
of testing should be included in the contract specifications for the project, but the startup plan
should account for possible delays due to unfinished work or equipment failures. Once
wastewater is introduced to the facility the milestones may be linked to certain events or
conditions, such as adding seed sludge until a target MLSS concentration is reached, waiting to
start chemical addition until full nitrification is observed, adjusting chemical feed systems after
receiving a certain number of consistent laboratory results or observing a specific change in
effluent quality, or beginning to waste sludge when the MLSS concentration in the MBR process
reaches a certain level. These goals and milestones helped to communicate objectives, assess
priorities, track progress and focus efforts during startup.
Extensive clean water testing is recommended for future MBR installations. Thorough clean
water testing procedures can take multiple weeks to complete, but can potentially eliminate
costly delays or shutdowns during wastewater operation. Point-by-point testing of the automatic
controls for the MBR process during clean water testing was especially valuable for the selected
case studies, and also served as a helpful training exercise for plant operators. Issues related to
the automatic system controls at Plant A, including missing steps in the membrane cleaning
sequence and failure to automatically re-start the system after a power outage, were successfully
identified and corrected before they resulted in critical failures by utilizing project-specific
checklists during clean water testing. Other automatic control issues, such as missing logic for

the operation of RAS pumps under bypass conditions at Plant A and excessive opening and
closing of flow control gates at Plant B, were not identified until after the introduction of
wastewater, which resulted in programming changes late in construction as well as additional
costs for repairing equipment. The clean water testing protocols should cover the entire range of
specified operational modes, alarm conditions and control features, with a focus on any projectspecific modifications to the suppliers standard design.
Extensive laboratory testing and data collection is important for accurately monitoring
performance of the new MBR for a successful startup. Frequent testing can add cost and increase
labor, but the benefits include faster response to changes in the MBR process, reduced risk of
making key decisions based on inaccurate or marginal data, and a better understanding of the
system response to various operating conditions. Plant A collected multiple samples for
laboratory testing each week of the startup period, and utilized the additional data to fine-tune
chemical dosing rates and plant performance early in the startup phase. Plant B opted for less
frequent testing, and achieved ENR level treatment later in the startup period. On-site testing is
recommended for obtaining test results as soon as possible, with packaged reagent test kits
offering a relatively low cost option for checking plant performance on a regular basis.
Another important consideration for the successful startup of a membrane filtration system is
how to best integrate and train the plant operators to run the new process and associated
facilities. Membrane filtration technology can represent a significant operational change from the
treatment processes it replaces in various ways, including increased automation, different
performance indicators and process variables to monitor and control, and unfamiliar equipment
and terminology. This was especially true for the operators at Plant A, as limited staffing
required them to work full-time at the existing treatment plant until almost all of the influent
wastewater flow was diverted to the new membrane filtration plant. This resulted in a rapid
transition from an aging contact stabilization plant with minimal automation and no nutrient
removal to a state-of-the-art facility equipped with a high level of automation and ENR level
nutrient removal. Special considerations were made to gradually familiarize the operators from
Plant A with the new membrane filtration system both before and after startup, including on site
meetings with the engineer and MFS supplier and review of the plant-specific computerized
operation and maintenance manual (COMM) for the MFS. This was in sharp contrast to the
operators at Plant B, who were on-site while the new membrane filtration system was
constructed, tested, and started up, allowing for much more exposure to the new technology and
more familiarity with system operation before they had to take the reins. In both cases,
communication with the MFS suppliers support staff after the completion of plant startup helped
continue the process of system optimization and operator training.
These and other valuable lessons from the case studies can be applied to the startup phase of
future projects.
The authors of this paper would like to thank Bob Panek, Dave Fauber and Patrick Christman
(Town of Cape Charles); Dave Tyrrell (Town of Berryville); the staff of the Cape Charles and
Berryville WWTPs; Shawn Addison and Jeny Chacko (GE Power and Water); Greg Jablonski
and Sebastian Smoot (GHD).

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