Kinetics of the release and precipitation of phosphorus in anaerobic digesters sequencing biological phosphorus removal systems

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The extent of release and precipitation of phosphorus stored in the poly-phosphate granules of microorganisms present in anaerobic digesters sequencing a biological phosphorus removal (BPR) activated sludge system was examined. The research was conducted at the York River Wastewaster Treatment plant which was converted from a conventional system to a A/O process for biological phosphorus removal. The primary and secondary anaerobic digesters each had a solids retention time of approximately 120 days.

The results indicated that at least 60 percent of the phosphorus in the poly-phosphate granules would be solubilized during endogenous decay and digestion under anaerobic conditions. This is accompanied by the release of potassium, magnesium and limited amounts of calcium.

The release of magnesium and phosphorus in the high ammonium containing environment of the primary digester results in the precipitation of about 1000 mg/L of struvite (MgNH₄PQ₄H₂O), a relatively adhesive and kinetically fast precipitate. Struvite can form on floes of biomass inside the primary digester, on walls, inside pipes, and in areas affected by lower temperatures and higher pH. The phosphorus level in the secondary digester effluent is controlled by the kinetics of formation of competitive precipitates like struvite, calcium-phosphorus compounds and vivianite (Fe₃(PO₄)₂). The formation of vivianite is limited by the competitive precipitation of siderite (FeCO₃ ). The extent to which the compounds are precipitated depends on the solids retention times, ionic strengths, size and amorphous nature of the precipitates and the substitution of foreign ions in the crystal lattice. The effective solubility products of these precipitates, as applicable to anaerobic digesters, were determined.