Surface properties of sludge and their role in bioflocculation and settleability
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The influence of sludge retention time (SRT) on the extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) and physicochemical properties (hydrophobicity and surface charge) of sludge was studied using laboratory-scale sequencing batch reactors (SBRs) fed a synthetic wastewater containing glucose and inorganic salts. Sludge surfaces were more hydrophobic (larger contact angle) and less negatively charged at higher SRTs (16 and 20 d) than at lower SRTs (4 and 9 d). The ratio of proteins to carbohydrates within the EPS of the sludges increased as the SRT increased from 4 to 12 d corresponding to the changes in the physicochemical properties of the sludge. The protein:carbohydrate ratio remained constant at SRTs of 16 and 20 d. A transition in sludge properties appeared to occur between the upper range of low- (9 d) and lower range of high-SRTs. The total EPS content, however, was independent of the SRT. A higher sludge volume index (SVI), an indication of poorer settleability or compression, was associated with a larger amount of total EPS but no significant correlation between SVI and the surface properties of sludge was observed. A more hydrophobic and less negatively charged surface corresponded to lower levels of ESS. These results indicate that it is the surface properties, hydrophobicity, surface charge and composition of EPS, of sludge, rather than the quantity of EPS, that govern bioflocculation. In contrast, the EPS content is more important in controlling the settleability of sludge.
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