This is the first study on application of a sponge-membrane bioreactor (sponge MBR) for recirculation of aquaculture wastewater in the Mekong delta, Vietnam. Performance of a sponge MBR with a moving-cube sponge medium (20% v/v) was evaluated at different hydraulic retention times (HRTs) for the specific example of catfish pond wastewater. The sponge MBR was operated at HRT values of 8, 4, and 2 h, which correspond to membrane fluxes of 5, 10, and 20 L/m2 per hour, respectively.
The average chemical oxygen demand (COD) removal efficiencies were maintained at 93%, 94%, and 87% at an HRT of 8, 4, and 2 h, respectively, while the average total nitrogen (TN) removal efficiencies were 84%, 70%, and 57%. The COD and TN removal efficiencies decreased with a decrease in HRT (increase in membrane flux). Permeate concentrations of COD and TN were as low as 6.3 and 2.7 mg/L at the operated HRTs, respectively. Compared to the conventional MBR, the sponge MBR had twice the TN removal capacity at the same HRT due to simultaneous nitrification–denitrification.
In addition, results implicated that the fouling rate (dTMP/dt) increased in an inverse proportion with HRT (h) according to the power equation (fouling rate=4.2474 HRT−2.225). Free movement of sponges in the reactor improved fouling due to sweeping of the cake layer on the membrane surface. Results reveal that the sponge MBR was effective in terms of simultaneous organic and nitrogen removal, fouling control, and water recirculation.