ATAD sludge morphology
Laser scanning confocal microscopy
AEROBIC DIGESTION ATAD
EXTRACELLULAR POLYMERIC SUBSTANCES
SOLIDS RETENTION TIME
Autothermal thermophilic aerobic digestion (ATAD) is a biological wastewater treatment process used for stabilisation of domestic, animal, food and pharmaceutical sludges, and wastewater. It produces a high-quality effluent due to thermophilic processing conditions, however the stabilised sludge has poor settling characteristics, a high water content, low compaction capacity and is difficult to dewater by mechanical processes alone. These factors impact transport and disposal of processed ATAD sludge. We have carried out a detailed morphological characterisation of ATAD sludge at all stages of the ATAD process in an attempt to determine key characteristics of the sludge that might be responsible for its poor dewatering and settleability. A number of microscopic techniques including electron, optical, wide field and laser scanning confocal microscopy were applied to fresh, fixed or embedded sludge taken at various stages during a full scale ATAD process treating domestic sludge. The spatial distributions of structural sludge matrix components were determined and suggested a highly dynamic sludge morphology during the overall process. Large amounts of fibres were observed in the feed sludge, whereas thermophilic sludge liquor with low settleability was shown to have a lower protein to polysaccharide ratio (1:0.9) compared to the easily settled fraction where ratio values were in the range of (1:1.14-1:1.7) with a prevalence of protein constituents. ATAD sludge was also shown to contain colloids, slime, cellulose micro-particles and multiple hydrophobic droplets in the bulk liquor, factors that may markedly impact on sludge dewaterability characteristics. Laser scanning confocal microscopy demonstrated a superior ability to identify composition and spatial localisation of structural constituents in such a dispersed, high water content sludge. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.