Temperature is one of the key parameters that affects the reaction kinetics and performance of enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) systems. Although studies agree regarding the effect of temperature on kinetic reaction rates, there are contradictory results in the literature regarding the effect of temperature on EBPR system performance. Early investigators (Sell, Ekama et al., Daigger et al.) reported better performance with lower temperatures, but others have reported partial or complete loss of EBPR functions at low temperatures (McClintock et al., Brdjanovic et al., Beatons et al.). One speculation is that deterioration in the EBPR system performance at cold temperatures can be attributed to rigid-like behavior of the cell membranes. Most cells (not all) on the other hand have the ability to alter their membrane fatty acid composition as temperature changes in order to keep their membrane at nearly the same fluidity despite the temperature changes. This unique ability is known as homeoviscous adaptation. In this study, homeoviscous adaptation by EBPR activated sludge was investigated for a series of temperatures ranging from 20°C to 5°C using a lab scale continuous flow EBPR system fed with acetate and supplemental yeast extract. The fatty acid analysis results suggested that the unsaturated to saturated fatty acid ratio increased from 1.40 to 3.61 as temperature dropped from 20 to 5°C. The increased cis-9-hexadecanoic acid (C16:1) at 5°C strongly indicated the presence of homeoviscous adaptation in the EBPR bacterial community. Thus the cell membranes of the EBPR community were still in a fluid state, and solute transport and proton motive force were operable even at 5°C. It was concluded that loss of EBPR performance at low temperatures is not related to the physical state of the cellular membranes, but is possibly related to the application of unsuitable operational conditions (low SRT, excessive electron acceptors, low anaerobic detention time, non-acclimated sludge, etc.).

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