Pulp and paper mills are under increasing pressure to minimize the discharge of phosphate to receiving waters. We investigated the operation of two laboratory sequencing batch reactors (SBR) under low phosphate conditions over a period of eight months. Performance characteristics in terms of COD and TSS removal were similar to the full-scale mill activated sludge operation, but the floc density and structure was improved. Sludge yield as a result of phosphate limitation was routinely lower than 0.15 kg/kg of COD. Aerobic granule formation was established in one of the SBRs by reducing the settling time from 30 min to 2 min and by increasing stirring shear force. Once established, the brown granules which were 1–2 mm in diameter were stable over five months of operation. Extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) analysis of the granules indicated a higher galactose content and lower mannose content than in conventional flocs. The granules generated more quorum sensing compound (acyl homoserine lactone) than conventional flocs, suggesting that quorum sensing could play a role in granule formation. When compared to the conventional SBR, the aerobic granule SBR performed at a higher organic loading, at faster settling velocity, and without filamentous bulking.

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