Comprehensive trade study of bioreactors and advancement of membrane-aerated biological reactors for treatment of space based waste streams



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Biological processes offer an alternative approach to treatment of waste streams for water recycling during long term space missions. The combination of biological pretreatment with downstream physiochemical processes may be able to produce potable water at a lower equivalent system mass (ESM) compared to systems composed of only physiochemical processes. Several biological configurations exist for the removal of carbon and nitrogen. To date, no studies have comprehensively evaluated the relative ESM of each system. The configurations evaluated include: 1) membrane aerated biological reactor for simultaneous nitrification/denitrification, 2) membrane aerated biological reactor for nitrification in sequence with a packed-bed reactor for denitrification and organic carbon removal, 3) a pre-carbon oxidation reactor followed by a membrane aerated biological reactor for nitrification, and 4) an extended membrane aerated biological reactor for nitrification and aerobic carbon oxidation. We report on the systems, analysis and results including a detailed discussion of the inputs of the ESM analysis, methodology for determining reactor size and mass, and the implications of each system on downstream processing and reliability. Ongoing development of microgravity compatible biological reactors is essential to develop full scale flight ready technology. Recently, the first full scale membrane aerated biological reactor (MABR) was developed and evaluated. Despite several shortcomings, the reactor laid the groundwork for future development. To further develop the full scale MABR, a counter-diffusion membrane aerated nitrification denitrification reactor, a new upgraded MABR (CoMANDR) was designed to overcome the limitations experienced by the first generation. The first generation was limited primarily by its ability to transfer oxygen to the bulk liquid and inability to make repairs due to inaccessibility to the various chambers. CoMANDR is designed to overcome oxygen transfer limitations by using a submersible membrane module (SMM) with a pressurized lumen and additional membranes (to provide increased surface area). The SMM has the ability to be completely removed from the bulk liquid chamber allowing for ease of maintenance and repair. Along with the SMM, features like unidirectional gas flow patterns, offset liquid influents, and additional membranes are incorporated into CoMANDR to address the limitations experienced in the first generation. CoMANDR has been designed, constructed and is expected to meet treatment efficiencies of 90 % dissolved organic carbon removal, 70 % nitrification, and 50 % denitrification. CoMANDR will treat mass loadings of 34 g-C/d and 44 g-N/d at a hydraulic loading rate of 40 L/d. The reactors use silicone membranes to provide surface area for bacterial attachment and to supply oxygen to the bacteria. The membranes are the most important feature of MABRs because they provide a unique biofilm stratification that allows for higher removal efficiencies. The counter-diffusion of oxygen and substrate to the bacteria create optimum biofilms. MABR technology has been studied for over 10 years and has recently been designed for full scale applications. The first full scale model experienced oxygen transfer limitations. The next full scale application intends to operate under liquid pressure and lumen pressure (conditions that have not been investigated). This paper investigates benefits of switching to thin walled membranes (1.3 mm thick) from the previously used 2.24 mm thick membranes. The thin walled membranes cannot maintain structural integrity under elevated liquid pressure. Also, the thin membranes only slightly increase the oxygen transfer rate. The thick wall membranes are recommended for the optimization of the new full scale MABR, (CoMANDR).