Biological Treatment

Biological degradation is one of the most promising options for the removal of organic material from dairy wastewaters. However, sludge formed, especially during the aerobic biodegradation processes, may lead to serious and costly disposal problems. This can be aggravated by the ability of sludge to adsorb specific organic compounds and even toxic heavy metals. However, biological systems have the advantage of microbial transformations of complex organics and possible adsorption of heavy metals by suitable microbes. Biological processes are still fairly unsophisticated and have great potential for combining various types of biological schemes for selective component removal.

Aerobic Biological Systems. Aerobic biological treatment methods depend on microorganisms grown in an oxygen-rich environment to oxidize organics to carbon dioxide, water, and cellular material. Considerable information on laboratory- and field-scale aerobic treatments has shown aerobic treatment to be reliable and cost-effective in producing a high-quality effluent. Start-up usually requires an acclimation period to allow the development of a competitive microbial community. Ammonia-nitrogen can successfully be removed, in order to prevent disposal problems. Problems normally associated with aerobic processes include foaming and poor solid-liquid separation.

The conventional activated sludge process (ASP) is defined [35] as a continuous treatment that uses a consortium of microbes suspended in the wastewater in an aeration tank to absorb, adsorb, and biodegrade the organic pollutants (Fig. 1). Part of the organic composition will be completely oxidized to harmless endproducts and other inorganic substances to provide energy to sustain the microbial growth and the formation of biomass (flocs). The flocs are kept in suspension either by air blown into the bottom of the tank (diffused air sy stem) or by mechanical aeration. The dissolved oxygen level in the aeration tank is critical and should preferably be 1-2 mg/L and the tank must always be designed in terms of the aeration period and cell residence time. The mixture flows from the aeration tank to a sedimentation tank where the activated sludge flocs form larger particles that settles as sludge. The biological aerobic metabolism mode is extremely efficient in terms of energy recovery, but results in large quantities of sludge being produced (0.6 kg dry sludge per kg of BOD5 removed). Some of the sludge is returned to the aeration tank but the rest must be processed and disposed of in an environmentally acceptable

Figure 1 Simplified illustrations of aerobic wastewater treatment processes: (a) aerobic filter, (b) activated sludge process (from Refs. 31, and 35-37).

manner, which is a major operating expense. Many variations of the ASP exist, but in all cases, the oxygen supplied during aeration is the major energy-consuming operation. With ASPs, problems generally encountered are bulking [17], foam production, precipitation of iron and carbonates, excessive sludge production, and a decrease in efficiency during winter periods.

Many reports show that ASP has been used successfully to treat dairy industry wastes. Donkin and Russell [36] found that reliable COD removals of over 90% and 65% reductions in total nitrogen could be obtained with a milk powder/butter wastewater. Phosphorus removals were less reliable and appeared to be sensitive to environmental changes.

Aerobic filters such as conventional trickling or percolating filters (Fig. 1) are among the oldest biological treatment methods for producing high-quality final effluents [35].

The carrier media (20-100 mm diameter) may consist of pumice, rock, gravel, or plastic pieces, which is populated by a very diverse microbial consortium. Wastewater from a storage tank is normally dosed over the medium and then trickles downward through a 2 m medium bed. The slimy microbial mass growing on the carrier medium absorbs the organic constituents of the wastewater and decomposes them aerobically. Sludge deposits require removal from time to time. Aerobic conditions are facilitated by the downward flow and natural convection currents resulting from temperature differences between the air and the added wastewater. Forced ventilation may be employed to enhance the decomposition, but the air must be deodorized by passing through clarifying tanks. Conventional filters, with aerobic microbes growing on rock or gravel, are limited in depth to about 2 m, as deeper filters enhance anaerobic growth with subsequent odor problems. In contrast, filters with synthetic media can be fully aerobic up to about 8 m [37]. The final effluent flows to a sedimentation or clarifying tank to remove sludge and solids from the carrier medium.

It is generally recommended that organic loading for dairy wastewaters not exceed 0.28-0.30 kg BOD/m3 and that recirculation be employed [38]. A 92% BOD removal of a dairy wastewater was reported by Kessler [4], but since the BOD of the final effluent was still too high, it was further treated in an oxidation pond.

An inherent problem is that trickling filters can be blocked by precipitated ferric hydroxide and carbonates, with concomitant reduction of microbial activity. In the case of overloading with dairy wastewater, the medium becomes blocked with heavy biological and fat films. Maris et al. [39] reported that biological filters are not appropriate for the treatment of high-strength wastewaters, as filter blinding by organic deposition on the filter medium is generally found.

The rotating biological contactors (RBC) design contains circular discs (Fig. 2) made of high-density plastic or other lightweight material [35]. The discs, rotating at 1-3 rpm, are placed on a horizontal shaft so that about 40-60% of the disc surface protrudes out of the tank; this allows oxygen to be transferred from the atmosphere to the exposed films. A biofilm develops on the disc surface, which facilitates the oxidation of the organic components of the wastewater. When the biofilm sludge becomes too thick, it is torn off and removed in a sedimentation tank. Operation efficiency is based on the g BOD per m2 of disc surface per day [35]. Rusten and his coworkers [40] reported 85% COD removal efficiency with an organic loading rate (OLR) of 500 g COD/m3 hour while treating dairy wastewater.

The RBC process offers several advantages over the activated sludge process for use in dairy wastewater treatment. The primary advantages are the low power input required, relative ease of operation and low maintenance. Furthermore, pumping, aeration, and wasting/recycle of solids are not required, leading to less operator attention. Operation for nitrogen removal is also relatively simple and routine maintenance involves only inspection and lubrication.

The sequencing batch reactor (SBR) is a single-tank fill-and-draw unit that utilizes the same tank (Fig. 2) to aerate, settle, withdraw effluent, and recycle solids [35]. After the tank is filled, the wastewater is mixed without aeration to allow metabolism of the fermentable compounds. This is followed by the aeration step, which enhances the oxidation and biomass formation. Sludge is then settled and the treated effluent is removed to complete the cycle. The SBR relies heavily on the site operator to adjust the duration of each phase to reflect fluctuations in the wastewater composition [41]. The SBR is seen as a good option with low-flow applications and allows for wider wastewater strength variations. Eroglu et al. [42] and Samkutty et al. [43] reported the SBR to be a cost-effective primary and secondary treatment option to handle dairy plant wastewater with COD removals of 91-97%. Torrijos et al. [21] also demonstrated the efficiency of the SBR system for the treatment of wastewater from small cheese-making dairies with treatment levels of >97% being obtained at a loading rate of 0.50 kg COD/m3 day. In another study, Li and Zhang [44] successfully operated an SBR at a hydraulic retention time (HRT) of 24 hours to treat dairy waste with a COD of 10 g/L. Removal efficiencies of 80% in COD, 63% in total solids, 66% in volatile solids, 75% Kjeldahl nitrogen, and 38% in total nitrogen, were obtained.

In areas where land is available, lagoons/ponds/reed beds (Fig. 2) constitute one of the least expensive methods of biological degradation. With the exception of aerated ponds, no mechanical devices are used and flow normally occurs by gravity. As result of their simplicity and absence of a sludge recycle facility, lagoons are a favored method for effective wastewater treatment. However, the lack of a controlled environment slows the reaction times, resulting in

Gridding Waste Water Treatment Plant
Figure 2 Simplified illustrations of aerobic wastewater treatment processes: (a) sequencing batch reactor, (b) rotating biological contactor, (c) treatment pond (from Refs. 35, 40, 42, 45, 47-49).

long retention times of up to 60 days. Operators of sites in warmer climates may find the use of lagoons a more suitable and economical wastewater treatment option. However, the potential does exist for surface and groundwater pollution, bad odors, and insects that may become a nuisance.

Aerated ponds are generally 0.5-4.0 m deep [45]. Evacuation on the site plus lining is a simple method of lagoon construction and requires relatively unskilled attention. Floating aerators may be used to allow oxygen and sunlight penetration. According to Bitton [46], aeration for 5 days at 20°C in a pond normally gives a BOD removal of 85% of milk wastes. Facultative ponds are also commonly used for high-strength dairy wastes [47]. Although ponds/lagoons are simple to operate, they are the most complex of all biologically engineered degradation systems [48]. In these systems, both aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms occur in addition to photosynthesis and sedimentation. Although most of the organic carbon is converted to microbial biomass, some is lost as CO2 or CH4. It is thus essential to remove sludge regularly to prevent buildup and clogging. The HRT in facultative ponds can vary between 5 and 50 days depending on climatic conditions.

Reed-bed or wetland systems have also found widespread application [49]. A design manual and operating guidelines were produced in 1990 [49,50]. Reed beds are designed to treat wastewaters by passing the latter through rhizomes of the common reed in a shallow bed of soil or gravel. The reeds introduce oxygen and as the wastewater percolates through it, aerobic microbial communities establish among the roots and degrade the contaminants. Nitrogen and phosphorus are thus removed directly by the reeds. However, reed beds are poor at removing ammonia, and with high concentrations of ammonia being toxic, this may be a limiting factor. The precipitation of large quantities of iron, manganese, and calcium within the reed beds will also affect rhizome growth and, in time, reduce the permeability of the bed. According to Robinson et al. [49], field studies in the UK have shown that reed beds have enormous potential and in combination with aerobic systems, provide high effluent quality at reasonable cost.

Anaerobic Biological Systems. Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a biological process performed by an active microbial consortium in the absence of exogenous electron acceptors. Up to 95% of the organic load in a waste stream can be converted to biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) and the remainder is utilized for cell growth and maintenance [51,52]. Anaerobic systems are generally seen as more economical for the biological stabilization of dairy wastes [14], as they do not have the high-energy requirements associated with aeration in aerobic systems. Anaerobic digestion also yields methane, which can be utilized as a heat or power source. Furthermore, less sludge is generated, thereby reducing problems associated with sludge disposal. Nutrient requirements (N and P) are much lower than for aerobic systems [37], pathogenic organisms are usually destroyed, and the final sludge has a high soil conditioning value if the concentration of heavy metals is low. The possibility of treating high COD dairy wastes without previous dilution, as required by aerobic systems, reduces space requirements and the associated costs [53]. Bad odors are generally absent if the system is operated efficiently [51,54].

The disadvantages associated with anaerobic systems are the high capital cost, long startup periods, strict control of operating conditions, greater sensitivity to variable loads and organic shocks, as well as toxic compounds [55]. The operational temperature must be maintained at about 33-37°C for efficient kinetics, because it is important to keep the pH at a value around 7, as a result of the sensitivity of the methanogenic population to low values [48]. As ammonia-nitrogen is not removed in an anaerobic system, it is consequently discharged with the digester effluent, creating an oxygen demand in the receiving water. Complementary treatment to achieve acceptable discharge standards is also required.

The anaerobic lagoon (anaerobic pond) (Fig. 3) is the simplest type of anaerobic digester. It consists of a pond, which is normally covered to exclude air and to prevent methane loss to the atmosphere. Lagoons are far easier to construct than vertical digester types, but the biggest drawback is the large surface area required.

In New Zealand, dairy wastewater [51] was treated at 35°C in a lagoon (26,000m3) covered with butyl rubber at an organic load of 40,000 kg COD per day, pH of 6.8-7.2, and HRT of 1-2 days. The organic loading rate (OLR) of 1.5 kg COD/m3 day was on the low side. The pond's effluent was clarified and the settled biomass recycled through the substrate feed. The clarified effluent was then treated in an 18,000 m3 aerated lagoon. The efficiency of the total system reached a 99% reduction in COD.

Figure 3 Simplified illustrations of anaerobic wastewater treatment processes: (a) anaerobic filter digester, (b) fluidized-bed digester, (c) UASB digester, (d) anaerobic lagoon/pond (from Refs. 31, 35, 51, 58, 70).

Completely stirred tank reactors (CSTR) [56] are, next to lagoons, the simplest type of anaerobic digester (Fig. 4). According to Sahm [57], the OLR rate ranges from 1 to 4 kg organic dry matter m- day-1 and the digesters usually have capacities between 500 and

700 m3. These reactors are normally used for concentrated wastes, especially those where the polluting matter is present mainly as suspended solids and has COD values of higher than 30,000 mg/L. In the CSTR, there is no biomass retention; consequently, the HRT and sludge retention time (SRT) are not separated, necessitating long retention times that are dependent on the growth rate of the

Etatron Level Probe
Figure 4 Simplified illustrations of anaerobic wastewater treatment processes: (a) conventional digester, (b) Contact digester, (c) fixed-bed digester (from Refs. 31, 57, 58, 60, 64, 66, 79).

slowest-growing bacteria involved in the digestion process. Ross [58] found that the HRT of the conventional digesters is equal to the SRT, which can range from 15 to 20 days.

This type of digester has in the past been used by Lebrato et al. [59] to treat cheese factory wastewater. While 90% COD removal was achieved, the digester could only be operated at a minimum HRT of 9.0 days, most probably due to biomass washout. The wastewater, consisting of 80% washing water and 20% whey, had a COD of 17,000 mg/L. While the CSTR is very useful for laboratory studies, it is hardly a practical option for full-scale treatment due to the HRT limitation.

The anaerobic contact process (Fig. 4) was developed in 1955 [60]. It is essentially an anaerobic activated sludge process that consists of a completely mixed anaerobic reactor followed by some form of biomass separator. The separated biomass is recycled to the reactor, thus reducing the retention time from the conventional 20-30 days to <1.0 days. Because the bacteria are retained and recycled, this type of plant can treat medium-strength wastewater (200-20,000 mg/L COD) very efficiently at high OLRs [57]. The organic loading rate can vary from 1 to 6 kg/m3 day COD with COD removal efficiencies of 80-95%. The treatment temperature ranges from 30-40°C. A major difficulty encountered with this process is the poor settling properties of the anaerobic biomass from the digester effluent. Dissolved air flotation [61] and dissolved biogas flotation techniques [62] have been attempted as alternative sludge separation techniques. Even though the contact digester is considered to be obsolete there are still many small dairies all over the world that use the system [63].

The upflow anaerobic filter (Fig. 3) was developed by Young and McCarty in 1969 [64] and is similar to the aerobic trickling filter process. The reactor is filled with inert support material such as gravel, rocks, coke, or plastic media and thus there is no need for biomass separation and sludge recycling. The anaerobic filter reactor can be operated either as a downflow or an upflow filter reactor with OLR ranging from 1 to 15 kg/m3 day COD and COD removal efficiencies of 75-95%. The treatment temperature ranges from 20 to 35°C with HRTs in the order of 0.2-3 days. The main drawback of the upflow anaerobic filter is the potential risk of clogging by undegraded suspended solids, mineral precipitates or the bacterial biomass. Furthermore, their use is restricted to wastewaters with COD between 1000 and 10,000 mg/L [58]. Bonastre and Paris [65] listed 51 anaerobic filter applications of which five were used for pilot plants and three for full-scale dairy wastewater treatment. These filters were operated at HRTs between 12 and 48 hours, while COD removal ranged between 60 and 98%. The OLR varied between 1.7 and 20.0 kg COD/m3 day.

The expanded bed and/or fluidized-bed digesters (Fig. 3) are designed so that wastewaters pass upwards through a bed of suspended media, to which the bacteria attach [66]. The carrier medium is constantly kept in suspension by powerful recirculation of the liquid phase. The carrier media include plastic granules, sand particles, glass beads, clay particles, and activated charcoal fragments. Factors that contribute to the effectiveness of the fluidized-bed process include: (a) maximum contact between the liquid and the fine particles carrying the bacteria; (b) problems of channeling, plugging, and gas hold-up commonly encountered in packed-beds are avoided; and (c) the ability to control and optimize the biological film thickness [57]. OLRs of 1-20 kg/m3 day COD can be achieved with COD removal efficiencies of 80-87% at treatment temperatures from 20 to 35°C.

Toldra et al. [67] used the process to treat dairy wastewater with a COD of only 200500 mg/L at an HRT of 8.0 hours with COD removal of 80%. Bearing in mind the wide variations found between different dairy effluents, it can be deduced that this particular dairy effluent is at the bottom end of the scale in terms of its COD concentration and organic load. The dairy wastewater was probably produced by a dairy with very good product-loss control and rather high water use [68].

The upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor was developed for commercial purposes by Lettinga and coworkers at the Agricultural University in Wageningen, The Netherlands. It was first used to treat maize-starch wastewaters in South Africa [69], but its full potential was only realized after an impressive development program by Lettinga in the late 1970s [70,71]. The rather simple design of the UASB bioreactor (Fig. 3) is based on the superior settling properties of a granular sludge. The growth and development of granules is the key to the success of the UASB digester. It must be noted that the presence of granules in the UASB system ultimately serves to separate the HRT from the solids retention time (SRT). Thus, good granulation is essential to achieve a short HRT without inducing biomass washout. The wastewater is fed from below and leaves at the top via an internal baffle system for separation of the gas, sludge, and liquid phases. With this device, the granular sludge and biogas are separated. Under optimal conditions, a COD loading of 30 kg/m3 day can be treated with a COD removal efficiency of 85-95%. The methane content of the biogas is between 80 and 90% (v/v). HRTs of as low as 4 hours are feasible, with excellent settling sludge and SRT of more than 100 days. The treatment temperature ranges from 7 to 40°C, with the optimum being at 35°C.

Goodwin et al. [72] treated a synthetic ice cream wastewater using the UASB process at HRTs of 18.4 hours and an organic carbon removal of 86% was achieved. The maximum OLR was 3.06 kg total organic carbon (TOC) per m3 day. Cheese effluent has also been treated in the UASB digester at a cheese factory in Wisconsin, USA [73]. The UASB was operated at an HRT of 16.0 hours and an OLR of 49.5 kg COD/m3 day with a plant wastewater COD of 33,000 mg/L and a COD removal of 86% was achieved. The UASB digester was, however, only a part of a complete full-scale treatment plant. The effluent from the UASB was recycled to a mixing tank, which also received the incoming effluent. Although the system is described as an UASB system, it could also pass as a separated or two-phase system, since some degree of preacidification is presumably attained in the mixing tank. Furthermore, the pH in the mixing tank was controlled by means of lime dosing when necessary. The effluent emerging from the mixing tank was treated in an aerobic system, serving as a final polishing step, to provide an overall COD removal of 99%.

One full-scale UASB treatment plant [51] in Finland at the Mikkeli Cooperative Dairy, produces Edam type cheese, butter, pasteurized and sterilized milk, and has a wastewater volume of 165 million liters per year. The digester has an operational volume of 650 m3, which includes a balancing tank of 300 m3 [74,75]. The COD value was reduced by 70-90% and 400 m3 biogas is produced daily with a methane content of 70%, which is used to heat process water in the plant.

One of the most successful full-scale 2000 m3 UASB described in the literature was in the UK at South Caernarvon Creameries to treat whey and other wastewaters [76]. The whey alone reached volumes of up to 110 kiloliters (kL) per day. In the system, which included a combined UASB and aerobic denitrification system, COD was reduced by 95% and sufficient biogas was produced to meet the total energy need of the whole plant. The final effluent passed to a sedimentation tank, which removed suspended matter. From there, it flowed to aerobic tanks where the BOD was reduced to 20.0 mg/L and the NH3-nitrogen reduced to 10.0 mg/L. The effluent was finally disposed of into a nearby river. The whey disposal costs, which originally amounted to £30,000 per year, were reduced to zero; the biogas also replaced heavy fuel oil costs. On full output, the biogas had a value of up to £109,000 per year as an oil replacement and a value of about £60,000 as an electricity replacement. These values were, however, calculated in terms of the oil and electricity prices of 1984, but this illustrates the economic potential of the anaerobic digestion process.

The fixed-bed digester (Fig. 4) contains permanent porous carrier materials and by means of extracellular polysaccharides, bacteria can attach to the surface of the packing material and still remain in close contact with the passing wastewater. The wastewater is added either at the bottom or at the top to create upflow or downflow configurations.

A downflow fixed-film digester was used by Canovas-Diaz and Howell [77] to treat deproteinized cheese whey with an average COD of 59,000 mg/L. At an OLR of 12.5 kg COD/ m3 day, the digester achieved a COD reduction of 90-95% at an HRT of 2.0-2.5 days. The deproteinized cheese whey had an average pH of 2.9, while the digester pH was consistently above pH 7.0 [78].

A laboratory-scale fixed-bed digester with an inert polyethylene bacterial carrier was also used by De Haast et al. [79] to treat cheese whey. The best results were obtained at an HRT of 3.5 days, with 85-87% COD removal. The OLR was 3.8 kg COD/m3 day and biogas yield amounted to 0.42 m3/kg CODadded per day. The biogas had a methane content of between 55 and 60%, and 63.7% of the calorific value of the substrate was conserved in the methane.

In a membrane anaerobic reactor system (MARS), the digester effluent is filtrated by means of a filtration membrane. The use of membranes enhances biomass retention and immediately separates the HRT from the SRT [68].

Li and Corrado (80) evaluated the MARS (completely mixed digester with operating volume of 37,850 L combined with a microfiltration membrane system) on cheese whey with a COD of up to 62,000 mg/L. The digester effluent was filtrated through the membrane and the permeate discharged, while the retentate, containing biomass and suspended solids, was returned to the digester. The COD removal was 99.5% at an HRT of 7.5 days. The most important conclusion the authors made was that the process control parameters obtained in the pilot plant could effectively be applied to their full-scale demonstration plant.

A similar membrane system, the anaerobic digestion ultrafiltration system (ADUF) has successfully been used in bench- and pilot-scale studies on dairy wastewaters [81]. The ADUF system does not use microfiltration, but rather an ultrafiltration membrane; therefore, far greater biomass retention efficiency is possible.

Separated phase digesters are designed to spatially separate the acid-forming bacteria and the acid-consuming bacteria. These digesters are useful for the treatment of wastes either with unbalanced carbon to nitrogen (C: N) ratios, such as wastes with high protein levels, or wastes such as dairy wastewaters that acidify quickly [51,68]. High OLRs and short HRTs are claimed to be the major advantages of the separated phase digester.

Burgess [82] described two cases where dairy wastewaters were treated using a separated phase full-scale process. One dairy had a wastewater with a COD of 50,000 mg/L and a pH of 4.5. Both digester phases were operated at 35°C, while the acidogenic reactor was operated at an HRT of 24 hours and the methanogenic reactor at an HRT of 3.3 days. In the acidification tank, 50% of the COD was converted to organic acids while only 12% of the COD was removed. The OLR for the acidification reactor was 50.0 kg COD/m3 day, and for the methane reactor, 9.0 kg COD/m3 day. An overall COD reduction of 72% was achieved. The biogas had a methane content of 62%, and from the data supplied, it was calculated that a methane yield (YCH4/ CODremoved) of 0.327 m3/kg CODremoved was obtained.

Lo and Liao [83,84] also used separated phase digesters to treat cheese whey. The digesters were described as anaerobic rotating biological contact reactors (AnRBC), but can really be described as tubular fixed-film digesters orientated horizontally, with internally rotating baffles. In the methane reactor, these baffles were made from cedar wood, as the authors contend that the desired bacterial biofilms develop very quickly on wood. The acidogenic reactor was mixed by means of the recirculation of the biogas. However, it achieved a COD reduction of only 4%. More importantly, the total volatile fatty acids concentration was increased from 168 to 1892 mg/L. This was then used as substrate for the second phase where a COD reduction of up to 87% was achieved. The original COD of the whey was 6720 mg/L, which indicates that the whey was diluted approximately ten-fold.

Many other examples of two-phase digesters are found in the literature. It was the opinion of Kisaalita et al. [85] that two-phase processes may be more successful in the treatment of lactose-containing wastes. The researchers studied the acidogenic fermentation of lactose, determined the kinetics of the process [86], and also found that the presence of whey protein had little influence on the kinetics of lactose acidogenesis [87]. Venkataraman et al. [88] also used a two-phase packed-bed anaerobic filter system to treat dairy wastewater. Their main goals were to determine the kinetic constants for biomass and biogas production rates and substrate utilization rates in this configuration.

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