Aeration is the most energy-intensive operation in wastewater treatment, amounting to 45–75% of plant energy costs. Fine-pore diffusers are today almost ubiquitous in municipal wastewater aeration, due to their advantageous aeration efficiency (mass of oxygen transferred per unit energy required). Nevertheless, older municipal treatment facilities and many industrial treatment plants are still equipped with coarse-bubble or surface aerators. Fine-pore diffusers are subject to two major disadvantages: a) fouling, if not cleaned periodically; b) decrease in oxygen transfer efficiency caused by dissolved surfactants. Coarse-bubble and surface aerators are typically not subject to the traditional problems affecting fine-pore diffusers. Nonetheless, they achieve oxygen transfer at the expense of increased energy intensity. The increased biomass concentration associated with high mean cell retention time (MCRT) operations has a beneficial effect on aeration. Nutrient-removing selectors are able to further increase aeration efficiency, as they sorb and utilize the readily available substrate which otherwise would accumulate at bubble surfaces and dramatically decrease aeration efficiency. We summarise here our 30-year long experience in aeration research, and results obtained with clean- and process-water tests are used to show the beneficial effects of high MCRT operations, the beneficial effect of selectors, and the decline of aeration efficiency due to dissolved surfactants.

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