Three laboratory-scale digesters were operated in parallel under anaerobic, anoxic and aerobic conditions to reveal the release mechanisms of phosphorus when digesting enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) sludge. The variation rates of the parameters associated with phosphorus release were calculated and compared with that of a typical EBPR anaerobic process. The results show that both phosphorus-accumulating organisms (PAOs) and denitrifying phosphorus-accumulating organisms (DPAOs) played important roles in the phosphorus release during the digestion processes. Under anaerobic conditions, the PAOs hydrolyzed internal polyphosphorus (poly-P) into PO43−-P concurrent with synthesis of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). Under anoxic or aerobic conditions, PAOs and/or DPAOs assimilated part of the PO43−-P from the digestive liquid using nitrate or oxygen as terminal electron acceptors. Nevertheless, the biological activities of PAOs under anaerobic conditions and DPAOs under anoxic conditions were limited. Moreover, it was the biomass hydrolysis degree that determined the phosphorus release capacity of the sludge, regardless of whether anaerobic, anoxic or aerobic conditions were adopted. Assuming that nitrate was the sole electron acceptor during anoxic digestion of EBPR biomass, the relationship between the consumption of nitrate and uptake of PO43−-P associated with the denitrifying phosphorus removal (DPR) can be expressed as ΔP = 0.11 × ΔN.

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