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Overcoming floc formation limitations in high-rate activated sludge systems

Van Winckel, Tim, Liu, Xiaocen, Vlaeminck, Siegfried E., Takács, Imre, Al-Omari, Ahmed, Sturm, Belinda, Kjellerup, Birthe V., Murthy, Sudhir N., De Clippeleir, Haydée
Chemosphere 2019 v.215 pp. 342-352
activated sludge, coagulants, coagulation, energy, flocculants, flocculation, polysaccharides, sewage treatment
High-rate activated sludge (HRAS) is an essential cornerstone of the pursuit towards energy positive sewage treatment through maximizing capture of organics. The capture efficiency heavily relies on the degree of solid separation achieved in the clarifiers. Limitations in the floc formation process commonly emerge in HRAS systems, with detrimental consequences for the capture of organics. This study pinpointed and overcame floc formation limitations present in full-scale HRAS reactors. Orthokinetic flocculation tests were performed with varying shear, sludge concentration, and coagulant or flocculant addition. These were analyzed with traditional and novel settling parameters and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) measurements. HRAS was limited by insufficient collision efficiency and occurred because the solids retention time (SRT) was short and colloid loading was high. The limitation was predominantly caused by impaired flocculation rather than coagulation. In addition, the collision efficiency limitation was driven by EPS composition (low protein over polysaccharide ratio) instead of total EPS amount. Collision efficiency limitation was successfully overcome by bio-augmenting sludge from a biological nutrient removal reactor operating at long SRT which did not show any floc formation limitations. However, this action brought up a floc strength limitation. The latter was not correlated with EPS composition, but rather EPS amount and hindered settling parameters, which determined floc morphology. With this, an analysis toolkit was proposed that will enable design engineers and operators to tackle activated solid separation challenges found in HRAS systems and maximize the recovery potential of the process.