Phosphorus Release in Aerobic Sludge Digestion

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Publication Date

Fall 2005


The objectives of this study are to examine the phosphorus release in aerobic sludge digestion and to better understand its governing mechanisms. In this study, phosphorus release was examined using the secondary sludge from both conventional and biological nutrient removal processes. The experiments were carried out at room temperature (22 ± 2°C), with or without automatic control of pH (4.5 to 7.8), and under three aeration schemes: fully aerobic (dissolved oxygen [DO] at 3 to 4 mg/L), low DO (0.2 to 0.8 mg/L), and cyclic (with alternate on/off aeration). The released phosphorus concentrations were 20 to 80 mg/L for the conventional sludge and 60 to 130 mg/L for the biophosphorus sludge. Higher phosphorus release also occurred at low pH (<6.0). As for the effect of DO, fully aerobic digestion caused higher phosphorus release than the low-DO and cyclic operations. For better understanding, the solid phosphorus in sludge was conceptually categorized into three forms: inorganic phosphorus precipitates, organic cellular phosphorus, and polyphosphate (poly-P) in polyphosphate-accumulating organisms. Dissolution of inorganic phosphorus precipitates is controlled by physical and chemical conditions, with pH being the most important in this study. Lowering the pH to 4 to 6 clearly promoted the release of inorganic phosphorus. Polyphosphate hydrolysis, on the other hand, was found to be regulated biologically (sensitive to occurrence of anaerobic conditions) and was insignificant in the glutaraldehyde-fixed sludge. Phosphorus release from organic phosphorus should correlate with the volatile solid (VS) digestion, which lyses the cells and frees the phosphorus covalently bonded with the organic matters. The amounts of phosphorus released per unit VS digested (ΔP/ΔVS) were therefore calculated for experiments with long periods of constant pH (to minimize interferences from dissolution/precipitation of inorganic phosphorus). The results suggested that some poly-P was hydrolyzed and released accompanying the aerobic VS digestion, but at rates far lower than those under anaerobic conditions.





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