Common high-rate processes include the activated sludge processes, trickling filters or biofilters, oxidation ditches, and rotating biological contactors (RBC). A combination of two of these processes in series (e.g., biofilter followed by activated sludge) is sometimes used to treat municipal wastewater containing a high concentration of organic material from industrial sources.
i. Activated Sludge
In the activated sludge process, the dispersed-growth reactor is an aeration tank or basin containing a suspension of the wastewater and microorganisms, the mixed liquor. The contents of the aeration tank are mixed vigorously by aeration devices which also supply oxygen to the biological suspension . Aeration devices commonly used include submerged diffusers that release compressed air and mechanical surface aerators that introduce air by agitating the liquid surface. Hydraulic retention time in the aeration tanks usually ranges from 3 to 8 hours but can be higher with high BOD5 wastewaters. Following the aeration step, the microorganisms are separated from the liquid by sedimentation and the clarified liquid is secondary effluent. A portion of the biological sludge is recycled to the aeration basin to maintain a high mixed-liquor suspended solids (MLSS) level. The remainder is removed from the process and sent to sludge processing to maintain a relatively constant concentration of microorganisms in the system. Several variations of the basic activated sludge process, such as extended aeration and oxidation ditches, are in common use, but the principles are similar.
ii. Trickling Filters
A trickling filter or biofilter consists of a basin or tower filled with support media such as stones, plastic shapes, or wooden slats. Wastewater is applied intermittently, or sometimes continuously, over the media. Microorganisms become attached to the media and form a biological layer or fixed film. Organic matter in the wastewater diffuses into the film, where it is metabolized. Oxygen is normally supplied to the film by the natural flow of air either up or down through the media, depending on the relative temperatures of the wastewater and ambient air. Forced air can also be supplied by blowers but this is rarely necessary. The thickness of the biofilm increases as new organisms grow. Periodically, portions of the film ‘slough off the media. The sloughed material is separated from the liquid in a secondary clarifier and discharged to sludge processing. Clarified liquid from the secondary clarifier is the secondary effluent and a portion is often recycled to the biofilter to improve hydraulic distribution of the wastewater over the filter.