Floc formation and settleability is critical for effective solid–liquid separation in many wastewater treatment processes. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between particle size distribution and nutrient conditions in different bioreactor configurations. Size distribution profiles of flocs that formed in continuous (B1), continuous with clarifier and return sludge (B2) and SBR (B3) reactors were investigated in parallel under identical nutrient conditions. An eight-fold dilution of the influent COD of a synthetic dairy processing wastewater resulted in a ‘feast and famine’ regime that triggered significant effects on the biomass and flocculation characteristics. Floc size analysis of reactor MLSS revealed a shift in floc sizes when reactors were fed with the minimum (famine) COD wastewater feed (0.61 g L−1). Increasing floc size distributions were detected for all reactors during the minimum COD feed although different size patterns were observed for different reactor configurations. These increases corresponded with variations in aggregation and EPS quantities. The SBR yielded comparatively larger flocs when operated under both COD feeds as indicated by d(0.9) values (90% of particles ≤ d in size). Overall the results indicated that floc formation and floc size are mediated by nutrient concentrations and represents an important step towards improved solid–liquid separation.

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