The municipal sewage treatment plant (STP) of the city of Ghent (Belgium) has to be retrofitted to a 43%-increase in the nitrogen treatment capacity and to phosphorus removal. Cold weather, dilute sewage and a critical COD over N ratio make the retrofit a challenge for full biological nutrient removal. The potential for fermentation of primary sludge to alter those critical feed sewage characteristics was experimentally evaluated. The idea was that the pinpoint introduction of fermentate could optimise the available reactors by achieving high-rate denitrification and enhanced biological phosphorus removal.

The fermentation process was evaluated with a bench scale apparatus. At 20°C (heated process), the hydrolysis yield - expressed in terms of soluble COD - varied from 11% to 24% of the total sludge COD. The fermentation yield expressed in VFA COD varied from 8% to 13% of the total sludge COD. The efficiency of heated fermentation of primary sludge was lower during cold and wet weather, due to the different sewage characteristics, as a result of extended dilution periods and low temperature.

The raw sewage, the primary effluent and the fermentate were fractionated according to the requirements for the IAWQ Activated Sludge Model No. 2d. The results clearly show that fermentation in the sewer played an important role and temperature was the driving parameter for the characteristics of the dissolved COD. Instead, the weather flow conditions were the driving parameter for the characteristics of the suspended COD.

The results of the detailed fractionation were used as background for process evaluation. The final scenario choice for the retrofit depends on a cost-efficiency calculation.

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