A three-dimensional (3-D) diffusion-reaction model was used to assess the effects of nitrifiers growing in cell clusters on the apparent oxygen half-saturation coefficients in activated sludge flocs. The model allows conciliation of seemingly contradictory reports by several research groups. Although intrinsic half-saturation coefficients (i.e., not affected by diffusion) show a better affinity for oxygen for ammonia oxidizing (AOB) than for nitrite oxidizing bacteria (NOB) (KO,AOB <KO,NOB), measurements in flocs often produced reversed apparent values (KO,AOB,app > KO,NOB,app), which can now be explained by the 3-D model with AOB and NOB microcolonies. This effect cannot be described with a conventional 1-D homogeneous model because the reversion of the AOB/NOB apparent KO is caused by the high biomass density and resulting concentration gradients inside the microcolonies. Two main factors explain the reversion of the half-saturation coefficients: the difference in oxygen yields (for NOB lower than for AOB) and the difference in colony size (NOB colonies are smaller than those of AOB). The strongest increase in the apparent half-saturation coefficients is linked to the colony size, rather than to the floc size. For high-density microbial aggregates (i.e., granular sludge), the need for a stratified population (AOB outer shell, NOB inner layers) was revealed in order to outcompete NOB. This study stresses the need for a more detailed description of the biomass distribution in activated sludge, granular sludge and biofilm reactors when elucidating the mechanisms for NOB repression.
- Activated sludge flocs
- Substrate affinity constant