Aeration has been a primary method for treating wastewater for over a century. It is a natural way to reduce biological oxygen demand (BOD) and control odors. In the sequencing batch reactor (SBR) process, aeration helps foster nitrification by bubbling air through the mixture of wastewater and activated sludge, encouraging the multiplication of aerobic microbes, which consume nutrients and convert ammonia into nitrites and nitrates.
The two technologies used for the SBR process are bubble diffused aeration and jet aeration. In bubble diffused aeration, oxygen is introduced as air bubbles pumped through a grid of diffusers arrayed across the bottom of the tank. In jet aeration, this is done at high speed and pressure through a row of mixing nozzles, which provide a mixing capability independent of and in addition to aeration.
Fine bubble membrane diffusers are known for high oxygen transfer efficiency, but bubble diffusion technology has evolved from a simple pipe with air holes to coarse bubble designs to today’s fine bubble designs that use ceramic, membrane and other diffuser materials. Fine bubble diffusion systems tend to be more energy efficient than their coarse bubble predecessors.
Reduce SBR Maintenance Costs
Membrane diffusers achieve high oxygen transfer efficiency by producing the fine bubbles that offer more air/water surface interface, and thus more oxygen transfer, for a given power input. Properly maintained, they can provide high efficiency and low energy costs.
The activated sludge environment, and SBR particularly, is not kind to diffusers since biomass finds the membrane surface an ideal place to grow. New diffusers lose 35% to 50% efficiency in wastewater compared to clean water. Subsequent fouling can degrade efficiency an additional 30% to 50%. Accordingly, fine bubble diffusers must be monitored and cleaned frequently, requiring that tanks be taken out of service and drained at six-month to two-year intervals. In addition, membranes wear out and must be replaced every four to 10 years. These operations must be performed in-basin, with associated hazardous confined space and safety requirements.
Advantages of Jet Aeration
Jet aeration combines high oxygen transfer efficiency with a wide range of other features that can provide significant life cycle advantages in SBR applications.
Jet aeration systems used in SBR systems are driven by pumped mixed liquor recirculated through each nozzle of the many compound jet assemblies. Air is delivered to the outer nozzle of each jet by conventional blowers. The system has the flexibility to aerate (pump and blower) or mix (pump only). Air to the system can be infinitely varied or completely shut off, and the pumps will provide the required mixing action, enhancing process control. The denitrification achievable can cut aeration power demands by more than 35%.
In applications requiring nitrogen removal (denitrification), fine bubble diffuser systems require a separate mixer for anoxic mixing. Jet aeration’s ability to provide either aeration or anoxic mixing, independently, eliminates this need. Further, jet aerators can receive any amount of air flow from zero to 80 standard cubic feet per meter (SCFM) per nozzle in the normal course of operation.
Jet aeration can accommodate a wide range of aeration gassing rates without damage. Fine bubble diffuser membranes may be subject to stretching or tearing if badly fouled or sent excessive gassing rates. Any breach in diffuser membranes or piping can allow mixed liquor to enter the diffuser grid system, causing clogging and potential catastrophic failure as solids plug pipes and other membranes. Further, fouled diffusers impose as much as 0.7 pounds per square inch (psi) additional head loss on the blower discharge pressure, increasing total power more than 10%.
Conversely, the jet aeration system is designed to be filled with mixed liquor routinely. The mixed liquor is simply pushed out through the nozzles when the pump and blower are turned back on.
Clean & Dirty Water Transfer
Fine bubble diffusers are an efficient aeration technology available in clean water. However, much of that efficiency may be negated in dirty water (i.e., field conditions). The ratio of field-to-clean-water aeration efficiency is the alpha value. Various factors suppress efficiency of diffusers, including:
- the surfactants and dissolved organics found in wastewater
- increasing mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) levels
- membrane fouling
Diffuser performance is minimal in highly loaded (higher F:M [Food: Microorganism]) reactors or during aerated fill in batch reactors, when soluble organics and surfactants are most concentrated. It is critical to test wastes for the suppressive alpha effect on diffusers, where efficiency reductions up to 75% can occur due to surfactants or defoamers. In these instances, the diffuser efficiency is never greater than that of an old, uncleaned membrane system in a municipal aeration basin.
Jet aerators typically exhibit only mild reductions in efficiency in various wastewaters. This is due to the high local liquid velocities in the jet air/liquid discharge plumes, which strips away accumulated surfactants from the air/water interface, allowing oxygen transfer to continue. In fact, some industrial wastes have been shown to actually increase jet aeration efficiency by intensifying jet shearing action and forming massive quantities of micron-sized bubbles.
One of the evaluation methods used in Great Britain applies a standard aeration efficiency test but adds 5 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of anionic detergent to clean test water in order to closely reproduce actual wastewater aeration conditions.
Extensive testing in this medium concluded alpha factors for jet aeration at 0.9 (or 10% suppression of oxygen transfer) and for fine bubble diffusers at about 0.5 (or 50% suppression). The English test data is reflected in the commonly recognized alpha values for fine bubble diffusion of 0.4 to 0.6, compared to 0.7 to 0.9 for jet aeration.
Test results reported by Mike Stenstrom, Ph.D., at the University of California Los Angeles, one of the world’s premier independent experts on aeration, found 40% immediate aeration loss for clean diffusers, followed by a further 30% efficiency loss within the first year. Since jets require a recirculation pump and diffusers require mixers (in SBRs), the net power usage is similar, if diffusers are cleaned regularly.
Jet aeration systems fabricated with fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) or 316 stainless steel (SS) offer lifetimes of 50 years or more, minimal maintenance and high efficiency. Thus, fine bubble diffusers can be more efficient if cleaned annually. According to Stenstrom, associated costs include:
- typically one week per basin for draining/cleaning/refilling
- an extra batch reactor basin or a flow diversion lagoon to serve while the cleaned basin is out of service
- a diffuser headloss-and-efficiency off-gas monitoring system to alert the operator when cleaning is required
As stated, fine pore diffusers may lose 40% efficiency the day they are placed into service, require annual maintenance, and need to be replaced every four to seven years. The rate of performance degradation depends on temperature, mixed liquor solids concentration, the presence of surfactants or other chemicals in the wastewater, gassing rates, mineral composition of wastewater and many other factors. Further, the additional mixers required are located in the basin and must be removed for maintenance.
Jet aerators should require little routine maintenance other than a 5-minute monthly flushing, which is typically automated and performed when the jets are not required. Flow passages are large and smooth and are not subject to biofouling. Jets can have a life expectancy in excess of 50 years with no reduction in oxygen transfer efficiency. Jet recirculation pumps do require occasional oil or bearing changes, and pump impellers sometimes need to be changed after a number of years.
Because a typical jet aeration system has no electromechanical parts or membranes to maintain within the basin, any routine maintenance can be automated and is performed outside of the basin, with no interruption of SBR operation. In an SBR layout, this allows all electromechanical equipment to be located inside one building near the tanks, along with the process control system. This configuration also allows for flat or domed tank covers when desired.
What Option Is Best?
The aeration and mixing system is the heart of any activated sludge process. Selection of an aeration and mixing technology for an SBR system must take into account the facility’s effluent permit, its overall energy requirements, maintenance costs and implications, and day-to-day performance.
In most applications, jet aeration combines high efficiency with flexibility, minimal installation and maintenance costs, low energy costs and long-term reliability.