Optimizing biological effluent organic matter removal for subsequent micropollutant removal

Gijn, K. van; Chen, Y.L.; Oudheusden, B. van; Gong, S.; Wilt, H.A. de; Rijnaarts, H.H.M.; Langenhoff, A.A.M.


Wastewater treatment plant effluent is an important point source for micropollutants emissions into the environment. These micropollutants can pose risks for ecosystems and humans; therefore, wastewater treatment plants should be upgraded to improve their micropollutant removal. Micropollutant removal can be improved by implementing tertiary treatment such as ozonation or activated carbon filtration. However, organic matter in the wastewater treatment plant effluent interferes with the micropollutant removal in these tertiary treatments, resulting in high energy demand and costs. To decrease the energy demand of tertiary treatment, biological pre-treatment can be introduced to remove effluent organic matter in an energy efficient manner. This biological pre-treatment was optimized by comparing three types of bioreactors; biological activated carbon, sand filter, and moving bed bioreactor. The reactors were operated at five flow rates (0.25, 0.5, 1, 2 and 4 L/h) in a continuous setup. The biological activated carbon filter achieved higher effluent organic matter removal than the sand filter and moving bed bioreactor (up to 72%, 41%, and 21% respectively). Additionally, effluent organic matter removal was negatively correlated to the flow rate in the biological activated carbon filter and the sand filter. The biological activated carbon filter also achieved average removal of 85% for the 18 analyzed micropollutants, although how long this high micropollutant removal can be sustained is unclear. To conclude, the biological activated carbon filter as pre-treatment can achieve high effluent organic matter removal, which would decreases the energy demand and cost of subsequent treatment for micropollutant removal.