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Optimization of Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal after Periods of Low Loading

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Enhanced biological phosphorus removal is a well-established technology for the treatment of municipal wastewater. However, increased effluent phosphorus concentrations have been reported after periods (days) of low organic loading. The purpose of this study was to evaluate different operating strategies to prevent discharge of effluent after such low-loading periods. Mechanisms leading to these operational problems have been related to the reduction of polyphosphate-accumulating organisms (PAOs) and their storage compounds (polyhydroxy alkanoates [PHA]). Increased effluent phosphorus concentrations can be the result of an imbalance between influent loading and PAOs in the system and an imbalance between phosphorus release and uptake rates. The following operating conditions were tested in their ability to prevent a reduction of PHA and of overall biomass during low organic loading conditions: (a) unchanged operation, (b) reduced aeration time, (c) reduced sludge wastage, and (d) combination of reduced aeration time and reduced sludge wastage. Experiments were performed in a laboratory-scale anaerobic–aerobic sequencing batch reactor, using acetate as the carbon source. Without operational adjustments, phosphorus-release rates decreased during low-loading periods but recovered rapidly. Phosphorus-uptake rates also decreased, and the recovery typically required several days to increase to normal levels. The combination of reduced aeration time and reduced sludge wastage allowed the maintenance of constant levels of both PHA and overall biomass. A mathematical model was used to explain the influence of the tested operating conditions on PAO and PHA concentrations. While experimental results were in general agreement with model predictions, the kinetic expression for phosphorus uptake deviated significantly for the first 24 hours after low-loading conditions. Mechanisms leading to these deviations need to be further investigated.

Keywords: enhanced biological phosphorus removal; phosphate-accumulating organisms; phosphorus release rate; phosphorus uptake rate; polyhydroxy alkanoate

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2005

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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