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Quantification of specific microbial populations in wastewater treatment plants in relation to process function.

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Russell Davenport


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Generally, biological wastewater treatment plants work effectively, but occasionally fail unexpectedly. Under current legislation, more treatment plants are under increasingly stringent consent limits, especially with regards to nutrient removal, making compliance difficult and process failure costly. Existing and future biological treatment systems need to operate more efficiently to meet these requirements. An understanding of the microbiology of such systems could provide a way in which to improve process reliability and avoid such failure. In the last decade there has been a revolution in microbiology centred on the ability of cultivation-independent techniques to give new insights into the extent of microbial diversity, and the abundance of specific microbial populations in the environment. Biological treatment systems, in particular, have been the focus of attention for much of this research, although such potentially groundbreaking science has thus far had little impact on the design, operation and monitoring of these systems. One possible reason for this lack of progress is that microbiologically generated data is largely perceived to be qualitative and observational. In addition, the techniques largely remain in the hands of a few highly skilled laboratories with a microbiological, rather than engineering, background. Quantification is central to testing ecological theories that may describe microbial population behaviour, and for monitoring specific microbial populations in empirically-driven research. The potential of quantitative molecular techniques is slowly being realised by incorporating data produced in this way into simple models. We aim to show this by presenting data on microbial populations associated with specific process problems and functions, namely, foaming, nitrification and phosphorus removal in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP). This data demonstrates that there are abundance thresholds for specific microbial populations, above or below which the particular process functions that they mediate are likely to fail.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Davenport RJ, Che-Man HB

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Proceedings of the Third Chartered Institute for Water and Environmental Management National Conference

Year of Conference: 2005

Number of Volumes: 2

Pages: 461-472

Sponsor(s): Yorkshire Water; YARA; Anders Elite; WMH