In the present study, the influence of a changing feeding pattern from continuous to pulse feeding on the characteristics of activated sludge was investigated with a wastewater from the petrochemical industry from the harbour of Antwerp. Continuous seed sludge, adapted to the industrial wastewater, was used to start up three laboratory-scale sequencing batch reactors. After an adaptation period from the shift to pulse feeding, the effect of an increasing organic loading rate (OLR) and volume exchange ratio (VER) were investigated one after another. Remarkable changes of the specific oxygen uptake rate (sOUR), microscopic structure, sludge volume index (SVI), SVI30/SVI5 ratio, and settling rate were observed during adaptation. sOUR increased two to five times and treatment time decreased 43.9% in 15 days. Stabilization of the SVI occurred after a period of 20 days and improved significantly from 300 mL·g−1 to 80 mL·g−1. Triplication of the OLR and VER had no negative influence on sludge settling and effluent quality. Adaptation time of the microorganisms to a new feeding pattern, OLR and VER was relatively short and sludge characteristics related to aerobic granular sludge were obtained. This study indicates significant potential of the batch activated sludge system for the treatment of this industrial petrochemical wastewater.

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