Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 31, pp 31786–31792 | Cite as

Characterization of activated sludge flocs in membrane bioreactor: stable and unstable flocs

  • Yifei Sang
  • Shengli Wang
  • Lianfa Song
  • Jingbo Guo
  • Lanhe Zhang
  • Haifeng ZhangEmail author
Research Article


In this study, the properties of unstable and stable flocs were investigated under the steady operation of a membrane bioreactor (MBR). The extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) composition, surface charge, and hydrophobicity of unstable and stable flocs were examined and compared. Interfacial interactions of the membrane with unstable flocs, unstable flocs themselves, and unstable and stable flocs were assessed using the extended Derjaguin–Landau–Verwey–Overbeek (XDLVO) models. Cake layer resistance was found to contribute more than 80% of total resistance under steady operating conditions. Compared with stable flocs, unstable flocs possessed a higher level of EPS, more diverse protein, more negative charge, weaker hydrophobicity, and higher fouling potential. Thermodynamic analyses showed that unstable flocs had a higher adhesive strength (− 63.4 mJ/m2) with the membrane, lower self-cohesive strength (− 18.3 mJ/m2), and higher cohesive strength (− 54.3 mJ/m2) with stable flocs. Therefore, some unstable flocs remained on the membrane surface to form the cake layer due to their poor cohesion strength.


Membrane bioreactor Extracellular polymeric substances Sludge flocs Stability Membrane fouling potential Interaction energy 


Funding information

The authors wish to thank the National Science Foundation of China (Nos. 51478093 and 51678119) and the Jilin Province Scientific and Technological Planning Project of China (No. 20170519013JH).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Chemistry EngineeringNortheast Electric Power UniversityJilin CityPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Civil, Environmental, and Construction EngineeringTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  3. 3.School of Civil and Architecture EngineeringNortheast Electric Power UniversityJilin CityPeople’s Republic of China

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