The enhanced biological phosphorus removal (bio-P) activated sludge process has a reputation for variable performance. A significant factor contributing to variability in bio-P was found to be related to microbial population dynamics involving the competitive growth of polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) and glycogen accumulating organisms (GAOs). It was found that the key factor in their competitive growth was the specific type of VFA in the influent to the bioreactor. The PAOs seem to have a competitive advantage to use propionate, whereas the GAOs have a competitive advantage to use acetate. Therefore, the secret to achieving reliable biological phosphorus removal was to ensure an adequate supply of propionate, or an alternative substrate such as molasses that can be readily fermented to propionate.

When Noosa WWTP was commissioned in Nov 1997, and for several years afterwards, the bio-P performance was found to be variable. This paper outlines the findings of the research and optimisation program that was carried out, which identified the cause of the variability in bio-P and subsequently lead to implementation of an improved operating strategy. The recent long-term results demonstrate that reliable bio-P can be achieved in full-scale wastewater treatment plants without dosing metal salts. The effluent total phosphorus has been maintained below 0.5 mg/L since Jul 2001 and the 50 percentile result for the last 12 months was 0.2 mg/L.

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