Microbial-based evaluation of anaerobic membrane bioreactors (AnMBRs) for the sustainable and efficient treatment of municipal wastewater
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AbstractConventional activated sludge-based wastewater treatment is an energy and resource-intensive process. Historically it has been successful at producing safely treated wastewater effluents in the developed world, specifically in places that have the infrastructure and space to support its operation. However, with a growing need for safe and efficient wastewater treatment across the world in both urban and rural settings, a paradigm shift in waste treatment is proving to be necessary. The sustainability of the future of wastewater treatment, in a significant way, hinges on moving towards energy neutrality and wastewater effluent reuse. This potential for reuse is threatened by the recent emergence and study of contaminants that have not been previously taken into consideration, such as antibiotics and other organic micropollutants (OMPs), antibiotic resistance genes, and persistent pathogenic bacteria. This dissertation focuses on investigating the use of anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) technology for the sustainable treatment of municipal-type wastewaters. Specifically, a microbial approach to understanding biofouling and methane recovery potential in anaerobic MBR systems has been employed to assess different reactor systems’ efficiency. This dissertation further compares AnMBRs to their more widely used aerobic counterparts. This comparison specifically focuses on the removal and biodegradation of OMPs and antibiotics in both anaerobic and aerobic MBRs, while also investigating their effect on the proliferation of antibiotic resistance genes. Due to rising interest in wastewater effluent reuse and the lack of a comprehensive understanding of MBR systems’ effects on pathogen proliferation, this dissertation also investigates the presence of pathogens in both aerobic and anaerobic MBR effluents by using molecularbased detection methods. The findings of this dissertation demonstrate that membrane-associated anaerobic digestion processes have significant potential to improve the sustainability of wastewater treatment. This is exemplified by attributes of AnMBR systems associated with both increased system efficiency and wastewater reuse potential through methane recovery and lower abundance of effluent microbial contaminants, respectively. Overall, the studies collated in this dissertation have shown that understanding the microbial communities of AnMBRs can play a central role in further improving these attributes and in reducing the risks posed by emerging contaminants and pathogens in wastewater treatment systems.