Aerobic granular sludge technology has been extensively studied over the past 20 years and is regarded as the upcoming new standard for biological treatment of domestic and industrial wastewaters. Aerobic granules (AG) are dense, compact, self-immobilized microbial aggregates that allow better sludge-water separation and thereby higher biomass concentrations in the bioreactor than conventional activated sludge aggregates. This brings potential practical advantages in terms of investment cost, energy consumption and footprint. Yet, despite the relevant advances regarding the process of AG formation, instability of AG during long-term operation is still seen as a major barrier for a broad practical application of this technology. This paper presents an up-to-date review of the literature focusing on AG stability, aiming to contribute to the identification of key factors for promoting long-term stability of AG and to a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Operational conditions leading to AG disintegration are described, including high organic loads, particulate substrates in the influent, toxic feed components, aerobic feeding and too short famine periods. These operational and influent wastewater composition conditions were shown to influence the micro-environment of AG, consequently affecting their stability. Granule stability is generally favored by the presence of a dense core, with microbial growth throughout the AG depth being a crucial intrinsic factor determining its structural integrity. Accordingly, possible practical solutions to improve granule long-term stability are described, namely through the promotion of minimal substrate concentration gradients and control of microbial growth rates within AG, including anaerobic, plug-flow feeding and specific sludge removal strategies.
- Aerobic granules
- Extracellular polymeric substances
- Long-term operation
- Mass transfer limitation
- Microbial growth rate