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J Appl Microbiol. 2001 Jul;91(1):168-75.

Microscopic observation of aerobic granulation in sequential aerobic sludge blanket reactor.

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Environmental Engineering Research Center, School of Civil and Structural Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798.



This paper attempts to provide visual evidence of how aerobic granulation evolves in sequential aerobic sludge blanket reactors.


A series of experiments were conducted in two column-type sequential aerobic sludge reactors fed with glucose and acetate as sole carbon source, respectively. The evolution of aerobic granulation was monitored using image analysis and optical and scanning electron microscopy. The results indicated that the formation of aerobic granules was a gradual process from seed sludge to compact aggregates, further to granular sludge and finally to mature granules with the sequential operation proceeding. Glucose- and acetate-fed granules have comparable characteristics in terms of settling velocity, size, shape, biomass density and microbial activity. However, the microbial diversity of the granules was associated with the carbon source supplied. In this work, an important aerobic starvation phase was identified during sequential operation cycles. It was found that periodical aerobic starvation was an effective trigger for microbial aggregation in the reactor and further strengthened cell-cell interaction to form dense aggregates, which was an essential step of granulation. The periodical starvation-induced aggregates would finally be shaped to granules by hydrodynamic shear and flow.


Aerobic granules can be formed within 3 weeks in the systems. The periodical starvation and hydrodynamic conditions would play a crucial role in the granulation process.


Aerobic granules have excellent physical characteristics as compared with conventional activated sludge flocs. This research could be helpful for the development of an aerobic granule-based novel type of reactor for handling high strength organic wastewater.

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