The effect of limiting P in activated sludge was investigated in laboratory scale sequencing batch reactors (SBRs) fed effluent from a container board mill. Floc characterization included measurement of hydrophobicity, surface charge, and analysis of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). Reactor performance was assessed by monitoring COD and inorganic P removal, MLSS, and sludge settleability (SVI and batch settling flux) over a period of eight months. Control reactors (BOD:N:P of 100:5:1) were compared to reactors run under P-limited conditions (100:5:0.3; 100:5:0.1). Reactor performance at lower temperatures (14 °C; control = 26 °C) was also studied to assess the impact of P-limitation. Changes in floc structure and the composition of EPS occurred within 1 to 3 days following a reduction in P levels. There was an insignificant increase in SVI; however, gravitational settling velocity and batch settling flux values for low P floc were consistently higher than for floc generated under control conditions. Lower temperatures (14 °C) resulted in a deterioration in floc settling properties at a BOD:N:P of 100:5:1. This impact on settling was significantly reduced at a BOD:P of 100:0.1. Reducing P concentrations in the wastewater treatment system has the potential to improve sludge settleability and reduce final P discharges.

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