A membrane with brains: High-tech filtration system purifies refinery wastewater

A primary goal of the petrochemical industry is reducing its reliance on fresh water. GE Power and Water’s membrane bioreactor (MBR) with membrane-accommodating carrier (MACarrier) filtration system promises to meet regulatory requirements for refinery and industrial wastewater and create high quality effluent that can be instantly reused in the next refinery cycle.

MBR is an established membrane filtration technology. MACarrier is the newest addition to the wastewater processing team, placed at the front end of the system. Developed in GE’s China Technology Center, MACarrier is a carbon-based agent that does the heavy lifting, removing stubborn organic contaminants and toxic compounds while attracting biomass.

One of the key requirements of industrial wastewater treatment is the removal of contaminants that deplete the oxygen in water—those with a high biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and those with a high chemical oxygen demand (COD).

“Our new MBR with MACarrier provides a solution for treating wastewater that is high in COD, toxicity, BOD, phenols and other contaminants,” says Yuvbir Singh, general manager, engineered systems, water and process technologies for GE Power & Water. “In other words, tough to treat wastewater.”

Even better, MACarrier operates symbiotically with toxins, attracting biomass, which degrades oxygen-depleting chemicals and in turn regenerates the MACarrier.

Wastewater next settles into a reactor that employs biological agents to reduce organic content and unwanted nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. The bioreactor also zaps colloidal suspended solids, microscopic contaminants that are difficult to filter.

The wastewater receives a final polish in the MBR, a tank outfitted with GE’s well-established ZeeWeed hollow fibre membranes, which provide a physical barrier to any remaining microorganisms and microscopic particles.

By combining three treatment methods, MBR with MACarrier builds on its own efficiency, for example reducing COD by half, as compared to a system using MBR technology alone.

Launched in May, the system has already been selected by Russian oil company Bashneft to treat refinery wastewater at the Bashneft-Ufaneftekhim oil-processing complex.

“GE’s advanced effluent treatment technology allows most of the treated water (at the complex) to be reused and reduces fresh water consumption,” says Singh.

The technology is also showing significant promise for Canadian applications, including oil sands markets, says Mike Hribljan, regional vice-president for Canada of GE Power & Process Technologies.

“MACarrier is designed to bolt onto existing membrane filtration technology and we’re already looking at possible applications in the refinery space where the system could deal with additional phenols, benzenes, toluenes and other toxic compounds,” he says.

The product development team is also looking to assist municipal wastewater utilities, tanneries and other industries to more effectively address organic-rich waste streams.

“One very cool application in pharmaceuticals is the removal of microconstituents, such as endocrine disruptors, that have negative impacts on aquatic life,” Hribljan says. “Using MBR with MACarrier, we can remove those microconstituents both from the manufacturing waste stream and also from utility wastewater.”

 

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