Aerobic Granular Sludge: Effect of Salt and Insights into Microbial Ecology

  • Zhongwei Wang

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Aerobic granular sludge (AGS) technology is a next-generation technology for the biological treatment of wastewater. The advantages of AGS in terms of small footprint, low operation and capital cost and high effluent quality makes it a strong candidate for replacing conventional biological wastewater treatment based on activated sludge (CAS) process, and potentially become the standard for biological wastewater treatment in the future. Saline wastewater is generated from many industrial processes as well as from the use of sea water as a secondary quality water for non-potable use such as toilet flushing to mitigate shortage of fresh water in some coastal cities. Salt is known to inhibit biological wastewater treatment processes in terms of organic and nutrient removal. In the first part of my dissertation, I conducted three lab-scale experiments to 1) evaluate the effect of salt on granulation and nutrient removal in AGS (330 days); 2) develop engineering strategies to mitigate the adverse effect of salt on nutrient removal of AGS (164 days); and 3) compare the effect of salt on the stoichiometry and kinetics of different phosphate accumulating organisms (PAO) clades (PAOI and PAOII) and to determine the effect of potassium and sodium ions on the activities of different PAO clades (225 days). Like other artificial microbial ecosystems (e.g. CAS plant and anaerobic digester), a firm understanding of the microbial ecology of AGS system is essential for process design and optimization. The second part of my dissertation reported the first microbial ecology study of a full-scale AGS plant with the aim of addressing the role of regional (i.e. immigration) versus local factors in shaping the microbial community assembly of different-sized microbial aggregates in AGS. The microbial communities in a full-scale AGS plant in Garmerwolde, The Netherlands, was characterized periodically over 180 days using Illumina sequencing of 16S ribosomal RNA amplicons of the V3-V4 regions. Overall, the discovery of this PhD study sheds light on the application of AGS for the treatment of saline wastewater and deepens our understanding on the microbial ecology of AGS systems, which is essential for process design and optimization.
Date of AwardDec 2017
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorPascal Saikaly (Supervisor)


  • Aerobic granule sludge
  • salt effect
  • microbial ecology
  • nutrient removal
  • Phosphate accumulating organisms

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