Abstract: The main goal of the current study was to investigate the membrane fouling mechanism of aerobic granular sludge (AGS) with various AGS sizes. In this regard, AGSs were sieved into 6 levels: 0∼0.5, 0.5∼0.7, 0.7∼1, 1∼1.2, 1.2∼1.7 mm and larger than 1.7 mm, then filtrated by a small dead-end filtration cell. Interestingly, there appeared a critical AGS size (1∼1.2 mm) for membrane fouling. Above 1.2 mm, flux increased and fouling reduced with size, due to the loose cake layer and high permeability caused by larger AGS. Below 1 mm, for smaller AGS, higher flux and lower fouling appeared, because less extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) formed and adhered onto AGS foulants. In the critical size, membrane fouling was serious to the most extent, on account of the dual role of the compact structure of cake fouling layer and the adhesion of EPS. Moreover, this critical AGS size also possessed the highest cake layer, pore blocking and irreversible fouling, which generally existed in various operational conditions. Besides, the results of SEM, AFM, hydrophilicity and ATR-FTIR also proved that the existence of the maximum membrane fouling at the critical AGS size. This study provides a deep understanding of the membrane fouling mechanisms of AGS in membrane filtration and is beneficial for developing a new membrane fouling mitigation strategy by terms of regulating AGS size.
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