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Water Res. 2013 Nov 1;47(17):6719-30. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2013.09.009. Epub 2013 Sep 12.

Filtration properties of activated sludge in municipal MBR wastewater treatment plants are related to microbial community structure.

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Department of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Environmental Engineering, Aalborg University, Sohngaardsholmsvej 57, DK-9000 Aalborg, Denmark.


In the conventional activated sludge process, a number of important parameters determining the efficiency of settling and dewatering are often linked to specific groups of bacteria in the sludge--namely floc size, residual turbidity, shear sensitivity and composition of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). In membrane bioreactors (MBRs) the nature of solids separation at the membrane has much in common with sludge dewaterability but less is known about the effect of specific microbial groups on the sludge characteristics that affect this process. In this study, six full-scale MBR plants were investigated to identify correlations between sludge filterability, sludge characteristics, and microbial community structure. The microbial community structure was described by quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization and sludge filterability by a low-pressure filtration method. A strong correlation between the degree of flocculation (ratio between floc size and residual turbidity) and sludge filterability at low pressure was found. A good balance between EPS and cations in the sludge correlated with good flocculation, relatively large sludge flocs, and low amounts of small particles and single cells in the bulk phase (measured as residual turbidity), all leading to a good filterability. Floc properties could also be linked to the microbial community structure. Bacterial species forming strong microcolonies such as Nitrospira and Accumulibacter were present in plants with good flocculation and filtration properties, while few strong microcolonies and many filamentous bacteria in the plants correlated with poor flocculation and filtration problems. In conclusion this study extends the hitherto accepted perception that plant operation affects floc properties which affects fouling. Additionally, plant operation also affects species composition, which affects floc properties and in the end fouling propensity.


Extracellular polymeric substances; FISH; Filterability; Membrane bioreactors; Microbial community structure

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