Chemical inhibitors for biomass yield reduction in activated sludge
Increasing legislation and rising treatment and disposal costs have promoted optimisation of the activated sludge process to encompass reduction of waste biomass. Manipulation of process control such as increasing sludge age and decreasing food to microorganism ratio can lower waste sludge production, but capital works as well as increased operating costs in the form of power requirement for oxygen supply may be required. The need for a cost effective method of biomass reduction without capital expenditure has prompted research into methods beyond process control. The use of chemicals capable of disrupting microorganism metabolic pathways can theoretically allow continuation of catabolic (degradative) paths whilst halting some or all of the anabolic (growth) pathways. This project explored the use of metabolic inhibitors (uncouplers, tricarboxylic acid cycle inhibitors and antibiotics) to reduce the yield of the activated sludge process. Initial respirometric studies identified many chemicals capable of interacting with the activated sludge microorganisms. Increased oxygen uptake rate was taken as an indication of a good uncoupler, and tests highlighted 4 chemicals with significant potential for achieving biomass reduction (trypan blue, rotenone, 2,4 DNP and 4 NP). These chemicals were then tested at a laboratory scale and at bench scale in both batch and continuous simulations. Simulations were carried out using activated sludge and settled sewage feed to obtain as realistic conditions as possible. In batch tests, trypan blue, rotenone and 2,4 DNP successfully reduced mixed liquor suspended solids accumulation with little effect on COD removal compared to controls. In continuous simulations, 2,4 DNP and 4 NP both lowered yield with respect to their relative controls. Rotenone addition did not result in lowered yield. In all cases, any yield reduction was not at the expense of process efficiency in terms of COD and BOD removal. At pilot scale, 2,4 DNP almost halved the observed yield compared to the control whilst having no significant effect on BOD, COD or ammonia removal, nitrite and nitrate production, SVI or CST. Addition of chemical uncouplers had little effect on the species diversity of the activated sludge though a reduction in the floc size was observed in treated samples. Selection of a suitable chemical can result in reduced yield without detrimental effect to process efficiency in the activated sludge process. An increase in oxygen consumption occurred which has an associated cost implication, but this was not found to be significant compared to the savings made by reducing the yield.