Floc characteristics were studied at a full scale activated sludge treatment plant with a unique process solution incorporating pre-denitrification with post-nitrification in nitrifying trickling filters. Since greater nitrogen removal is achieved when more secondary settled wastewater is recirculated to the trickling filters, the secondary settlers are always operated close to their maximal capacity. The flocculation and settling properties are therefore crucial and have an effect on the overall plant performance. Since the plant is operated at a short sludge age, these properties change quickly, resulting in variable maximal secondary settler capacity. The dynamics in floc structure and microbial community composition were studied and correlated to the secondary settler performance. Fluorescence in situ hybridisation was used to investigate the microbial community structure and their spatial distribution. The floc structure could to some extent be related to the flocculation and settling properties of the sludge. Even small differences had an influence suggesting that colloidal properties also play a significant role in determining the floc properties. No correlation between microbial community composition and settling properties could be established with the group-specific probes investigated.

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