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Diffusion of Oxygen Through Activated Sludge Flocs: Experimental Measurement, Modeling, and Implications for Simultaneous Nitrification and Denitrification

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Diffusion of dissolved oxygen through activated sludge flocs was studied, as it represents a potential mechanism for simultaneous nitrification and denitrification in activated sludge systems. Dissolved oxygen profiles through six floc particles collected at different times from a full-scale activated sludge plant demonstrated that that the dissolved oxygen concentration declines through all floc particles. For larger floc particles (2-mm diameter and greater), the dissolved oxygen concentration reached near-zero values at depths depending on process operating conditions. A mathematical model based on diffusion of dissolved oxygen, organic substrate (methanol), ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate through a spherical floc and consumption of dissolved oxygen by heterotrophs and autotrophs accurately predicted the dissolved oxygen profile and required adjustment of only one model parameter—the concentration of heterotrophs. A different dissolved oxygen decline pattern was exhibited for the smaller floc particles characterized, with the dissolved oxygen reaching a non-zero plateau toward the center of the floc. This pattern was not reproduced with the mathematical model developed and suggests that additional mechanisms are responsible for the transport of dissolved oxygen into the center of these flocs. Implications of these results regarding the occurrence of simultaneous nitrification and denitrification include consideration of the factors that affect floc size and distribution (simultaneous nitrification and denitrification is maximized with larger floc particles), coupling of the International Water Association (London) activated models to predict activated sludge composition with diffusion models to consider intrafloc effects, and the effects of substrate diffusion on the apparent half-saturation constant for various substrates in activated sludge systems.

Keywords: activated sludge; biological nutrient removal; denitrification; diffusion; flocs; nitrification; simultaneous

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2007

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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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