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Refurbishment and upgrade of an industrial biological wastewater

treatment plant a case study

M. Laginestra*

* GHD, 10 Bond Street, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia


A food industry manufacturing facility located in NSW, currently treats their process effluent prior
to discharge to sewer. The wastewater treatment system comprises a grease trap, dissolved air
flotation (DAF) followed by aerobic biological system (series aerated tanks and SBR), with storage
of waste sludge prior to off-site disposal.
The manufacturing plant is due to increase capacity within the next year. However, there were a
number of significant issues for the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) - less than optimal
performance of the plant, and the fees associated with trade waste discharge (mainly centred on
BOD and SS). This prompted the company to undertake investigations into upgrading the WWTP.
A review of the plant was undertaken in early 2006, which found a number of shortcomings,
including lack of appropriate sludge wasting, low aeration capacity at times and periodic
insufficient nutrients to support viable biological treatment. A design for the upgrade of the system
was completed in mid 2006, and fast track installation took place in late 2006. The upgraded plant
includes disinfection to enable recycling of effluent for a number of applications.
This paper discusses the approach taken, issues, commissioning and operation of the plant after the
implementation of the upgrade.
Industrial wastewater; biological treatment; treatment plant upgrade; water recycling

A food industry manufacturing facility located on the Central Coast of NSW, currently treats
their process effluent prior to discharge to sewer. The wastewater treatment system comprises
a grease trap, dissolved air flotation (DAF) followed by aerobic biological system (series
aerated tanks and SBR), with storage of waste sludge prior to off-site disposal.
The plant has a licence agreement with the local sewer authority, but fails to meet this
agreement at times, mainly associated with suspended solids and BOD breaches.
WWTP before augmentation
The Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) involves physical, chemical and biological
treatment, with treated effluent discharging to sewer, and DAF float (chemical sludge) and
waste biological sludges being combined and tankered off-site.
An outline of the installed WWTP process units is as follows:
A grease trap, which removes free oils / greases and heavy solids by physical
separation. The trap is cleaned out every 2 - 3 months;
A flow equalising tank (25 m3), above ground, which is level controlled, and provides
for storage prior to transfer of wastewater to treatment;
Transfer pumps (2 duty, delivering low and high flows), positive displacement dry
mounted type for feeding the dissolved air flotation (DAF) system;

Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) system, with chemical conditioning (ferric chloride
solution and polymer) and pH adjustment (caustic soda). Precipitation and coagulation
of solids takes place, followed by collection of the generated float in a trough;
Gravitation of DAF effluent to a storage tank, from where it is pumped at a fixed rate to
biological treatment;
Two no. bioreactors (in series), continuously aerated;
Manual dosing of nutrients (powder form of urea and phosphate) was undertaken
weekly direct to the continuous bioreactors;
Gravity flow to a sequencing batch reactor (SBR), which goes through a cyclic
operation of aeration (4 hours), settling (1 hour) and decant (1 hour);
Floating decanter in the SBR which contains a submersible pump and transfers the
decanted supernatant (effluent) to the treated effluent storage tank;
Recycle / return activated sludge (RAS) from the SBR to the first aeration tank (via
temporary small pump);
Sewer transfer pumps (duty / standby positive displacement, dry mounted) for effluent;
Waste activated sludge removal from the SBR and discharged to the DAF;
Sludge from the DAF transferred to a sludge holding tank (15 kL), from where
supernatant was decanted off (returned to the equalising tank), and sludge stored for offsite disposal (generally on a weekly basis);
A PLC unit, although this was underutilized (due to failings) and operations personnel
largely control and operate the system on a manual basis.

The influent wastewater had the following characteristics, and as with most industrial
wastewaters typically has a wide variation of quality associated with different product
manufacture and cleaning shift work.
Table 1

Influent Wastewater Characteristics




Flow, m3/d


33 84

COD, mg/L


4,500 66,000

BOD, mg/L


1,700 30,000

SS, mg/L


370 15,000

Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, mg/L


8 360

Total phosphorus, mg/L


4 16


Oil / Grease, mg/L

A process flow diagram of the WWTP appears in Figure 1 below.

Waste Activated Sludge



Liquid sludge to
off-site disposal


bioreactors 1, 2

Return Activated Sludge

Figure 1 Process Flow diagram of WWTP prior to the upgrade


Discharge to

Current Licence Conditions

The facility has a trade waste agreement with the sewer operating authority (Council) and
involves a maximum discharge of 80 m3/d (instantaneous rate < 2.2 L/s). Other parameters in
the licence are contained in table 2 below, and compared to WWTP effluent quality before the
Table 2

WWTP Licence Criteria compared to performance prior to the upgrade


Trade Waste Licence

Actual Effluent Range


< 300 mg/L

10 1,200

Suspended Solids (SS)

< 300 mg/L

160 3,500

Total oil and grease

< 50 mg/L

6 - 49

7 9

7.8 8.4


While some results meet licence conditions, average effluent figures are significantly higher
than trade waste discharge licence limits for BOD and SS and general poor results for the
WWTP have led to licence breaches on a number of occasions.
A summary of operational parameters is presented below in Table 3 below, and compared to
typical design process unit parameters.
Table 3

WWTP Operating Parameters

Process Unit


Average Operation Typical Design

Equalisation Tank

Detention Time

16.8 h

18 24 h

Grease Trap

Detention Time

4.8 hours

0.5 1 hour

SS reduction

15 %

10 %

Grease reduction

99 %

80 %

Loading Rate

0.7 m3/m2.h

2 - 4 m3/m2.h

SS / BOD reduction

61 % / 35 %

70 % / 35 %

Grease reduction

97 %

95 %


2,800 3,500mg/L

2,500 4,500 mg/L


0.6 mg/L

1 2 mg/L

Food to Microorganism ratio

kg BOD /
kg MLVSS . d

0.1 - 0.2 kg BOD /

kg MLSS. d

Detention Time

14 days

3 5 days

SS / BOD reduction

0 / 83 %

80 95 % SS /BOD


(including SBR)

The WWTP suffers, at times, from high effluent solids, which appears largely a reflection of
insufficient sludge wasting and general poor settleability of the mixed liquor flocs (with the
latter likely to be caused by low DO and nutrient imbalance).

In reviewing potential design for the WWTP upgrade, the following was noted:
The grease trap is appropriately sized and would appear to be effective;
Balance Tank, would seem to be marginally small to adequately cater for existing flow
The DAF tank is appropriately sized for existing and future flows, but is not performing
optimally due to peak flows (when 2 feed pumps operate together, which is necessary
because of the lack of capacity of the equalising tank);
Aeration tanks are adequately sized for existing and future flows, although aeration
equipment cannot handle peak loads;
There is a marginal nutrient imbalance in the biological systems;
Sludge removal from the biological system (aeration tanks and SBR) needs to be
practised on a daily basis;
Sludge thickening and dewatering will reduce handling costs significantly for the site;
Electrical, instrumentation and control systems need to be upgraded.
Of all the plant issues, the performance of the aeration tanks and SBR were regarded as the
greatest cause for concern. While there is ample volumetric capacity, DO fluctuates
significantly, and this is likely to be due to variation in BOD loading. Based on average BOD
load, aerators would seem to be have ample capacity. But because of the variations in load, it
was suggested that additional aeration was required. In addition, the lack of sludge wasting
(based on organic loading) was also problematic, and mechanical sludge management is
Other constraints and issues for the WWTP upgrade included:
Location of the existing plant is at the back of the manufacturing facility and is very
tight, with little room for expansion (access is also somewhat limited);
The plant is operated on a single shift for 5 days / week. There are alarms, and this
often necessitates the operator being called out to the site outside hours to fix a
relatively basic problem. Subsequently, an appropriate remote control system was
Plastics and other foreign materials occasionally lead to equipment blockage at the
WWTP, and screening was suggested;
The existing aerators (submersible type) would appear to be appropriate for the tank
arrangement, but as noted, suffer from a shortfall in capacity based on the calculated
The mix of sludge types waste activated and DAF may make management more
The owner of the facility advised that they are considering increased manufacturing
capacity, which was likely to double the average daily inflow to the WWTP.


In developing a design for the WWTP augmentation, the appropriate sizing and relatively good
condition of some tanks and equipment was considered, for a future design flow of 100 m3/day.
Consequently, much of the existing plant was used, with the following refurbishment /
augmentation (taking into account potential future increase in flows):
New balance tank extension (75 m3) to cater for peaks flows;
Inlet screen to remove coarse solids prior to entry to the WWTP (this could be pre or
post the grease trap);
Implementing variable speed pumps to enable relatively even flow through the DAF
and biological systems, and paced with the level in the equalisation tank;

New chemical dosing system downstream of DAF to introduce nutrients in a controlled

automatic basis to the DAF effluent tank, for efficient biological oxidation (about 10
and 1 kg / day of nitrogen and phosphorus respectively);
Replacement of existing aerators in existing bioreactors (20 25 kW) suggested to be
dual speed to enable efficient operation based on incoming BOD;
New return activated sludge pumps (to transfer sludge from SBR to aeration tanks);
New sludge wasting system to remove sludge from all bioreactor tanks;
New thickening system (4 L/s) for waste activated sludge (nominally rotary sludge
New sludge transfer pumps to transfer mixed sludge to dewatering system;
New dewatering system (centrifuge or belt press with sludge conditioning system, i.e.
polymer) to dewater solids for off-site disposal after storage;
Skip for weekly storage of sludge (10 15 m3).
Upgrade of PLC for improved controls of the WWTP.

A process flow diagram for the upgraded WWTP appears in Figure 2 below.
Nutrients (liq)




Return Activated Sludge


Bioreactors 1, 2
(increased aeration)
Waste Activated Sludge

tank #2
Belt press for
sludge dewatering


sludge to offsite disposal

to sewer


Figure 2 Process Flow diagram of upgraded WWTP

Sludge Generation
Based on existing and future loading to the WWTP, sludge to be removed from the bioreactors
(conversion of BOD to sludge) and from the DAF was estimated, and appears in Table 4 below.
Operating the biological system properly, based on correct wastage regimes and adding the
DAF sludge (with appropriate solids reduction) some 60 75 m3 of sludge are expected to be
produced per week, and this will require dewatering to avoid excessive cartage costs. The
previous wastage regime of 20 m3 per week looks significantly undersized and explains the
poor effluent quality.
Table 4

Expected WWTP Sludge Generation




DAF sludge, L/d



Biological sludge
(unthickened) L/d



Biological sludge
(thickened) L/d



Total sludge L/d



For implementing the design, a number of approaches are possible. Undertaking detailed
design, and producing a detailed tender specification and other documentation, is the most
common form of contract for industrial facilities in Australia. However, it was decided to fast
track the implementation, and a different approach was adopted. This involved a design
development only by the consultant engineer, which was described and largely outlined on
drawings (process and instrumentation diagrams, general arrangement) and equipment lists and
control philosophy were also prepared. A contractor was appointed, who was experienced in
wastewater treatment upgrades, without any detailed tender, but broad value estimate only.
A formal agreement between the client (manufacturing company), consultant and contractor
was made to further develop the design and reach agreement for key equipment types. The
client separately engaged an instrumentation and controls contractor (who was familiar with the
site) to work separately to the main WWTP contractor.
In addition, the Principal ordered long lead items, e.g., belt press and aerators, prior to the final
reaching of an agreement with the contractor, which saved additional time.
In furthering the design, a value engineering workshop between the client, consultant and
contractor, was held to ratify approaches, and optimise systems and equipment, and some
modifications to the original design were made, as follows:
Deletion of WAS thickening step and sludge storage. It was decided that WAS from
the bioreactors would be transferred directly to the belt press (single large unit) with
ample width to handle activated sludges, and flexibility to handle a mix of DAF sludge
and WAS sludge;
Adoption of anionic and cationic polymers for sludge conditioning after jar testing
revealed optimal performance for mixed sludges;
2 separate small sized submersible aerators in each of the continuous bioreactors to
augment existing equipment;
Addition of disinfection of effluent to enable reuse of effluent for purposes such as belt
press washing, hose down and screen washing. A UV disinfection system was
subsequently designed, along with a recycled effluent (RE) tank for storage of
disinfected effluent.
While waiting for the arrival of the long-lead items, the Contractor mobilised and began
installation of short lead items (pumps, valves) and pipework.
General standardization of equipment was adopted as part of the design upgrade (with positive
displacement pumps being adopted and manufacturing plant PLC systems being extended to
the WWTP).
The control and operational philosophy for the plant was along the following lines:
Automatic changeover to standby equipment if low / no flow detected;
Level instrumentation working via PLC to control outtake pumps;
Wastewater from the grease trap enters the old flow Equalisation tank, where pH is
monitored. Dosing of caustic occurs in the new equalization tank (mixed), and
wastewater transferred to the fine mesh drum screen, then gravitating to the DAF.
Level in the new Equalisation tank controls the operation and speed of the transfer

The influent to the rotating drum screen is monitored using an electromagnetic flow
Screened inflow enters the pre DAF tank where coagulant is added. Dosed wastewater
from the pre DAF tank is mixed with air saturated recycled wastewater stream to
provide generation of micro-bubbles. Polymer is dosed to the DAF recycle stream;
The DAF sludge pump is fixed speed and feeds the floating sludge (float) to the existing
sludge tank. The pump is set to run when the DAF scraper motor runs. The pump cuts
out when the scraper stops. DAF effluent flows to the transfer tank where nitrogen
(liquid) and phosphorus (liquid) are added based on incoming wastewater flow;
The transfer tank is mixed, and effluent is pumped to the aerated bioreactors based on
level control in the tank;
The DO instruments control the aerators in the bioreactors. Under normal operation,
both aerators operate. If DO is high, one switches off. The other aerator turns back on
if DO drops below 0.5 mg/L;
A dry mounted, positive displacement pump draws off waste sludge from the bottom of
bioreactor to the filter belt press. There is a sequence in place for operation of the
dewatering cycle run by the PLC. This is undertaken on timer basis, but initiated by the
The mixed liquor from the bioreactor, feeds into the SBR, away from the decant trough.
The cycle time for the SBR was changed to 2 hours aeration, 1 hour settle, and 1 hour
decant. The RAS progressive cavity pumps run continuously - at 1.5 L/s during settling
and decant cycles and at 3 L/s during aeration;
Treated effluent is pumped from the storage tank to either the sewer or UV disinfection.
Control valves are used to distribute the flow to either sewer or the new RE storage tank
(depending on the level in the latter);
The UV lamps turn on when the decant effluent pump turns on, and will cut out if no
flow is detected;
The recycled effluent is pumped from the RE tank to the Filter Belt Press on demand.
A second RE pump supplies treated effluent for flushing, hosing and screen washing.

Commissioning Issues
The upgraded plant was commissioned only some 5 months after work was first started on the
site. During commissioning of the system some issues occurred:
Shortfall in RE for belt washing. Because the larger size belt press was adopted to
enable thickening / dewatering of WAS in the units, a high washing capacity was
required. It was found that over 1 hour the whole RE tank was drained. This was
subsequently augmented with a second tank (although use of rainwater as a supplement
was also considered);
With the addition of appropriate nutrients in the correct dose rates, some nitrification
was achieved when BOD of the incoming wastewater was low. Unfortunately this led
to some denitrification incidences in the SBR (and solids were floated and decanted).
To overcome this, nitrogen dose rate was turned down and intermittent aeration
introduced in the second aerated bioreactor (the DO set point was reduced).

The augmented WWTP was commissioned in early 2007, and while there were the usual
teething problems, as noted above, recent results indicate that it has been successful, and the
WWTP readily achieves trade waste licence conditions.
Table 5

Typical Effluent Quality results since commissioning and rectification actions


Current values

COD, mg/L

90 150

BOD mg/L

10 50

SS, mg/L

50 - 100

Total Nitrogen, mg/L


Oil / Grease, mg/L


In addition, dewatering of the WAS and DAF sludge achieved some 18 % dry solids in the final
cake. Happily, there was little odour, and the company is currently negotiating with a local
compost supplier to take the material.
While the actual upgrade cost of the WWTP was of the order of $ 1M, and payback in terms of
saving trade waste charges and use of potable water is greater than 10 years, the company saw
this as an appropriate environmental approach, given the local drought and water restrictions.

Upgrading of an industrial WWTP was implemented largely using the existing plant (which
was deemed to be feasible after a careful and thorough engineering study). Good results have
been achieved after some teething problems, through a common sense engineering design
approach with sludge management.
The following conclusions from the case study are made:
A co-operative approach between owner of a facility, consultant and contractor can
enable optimal systems to be implemented;
It is possible to fast track a contract by pre-ordering equipment and using a contractor
who is experienced with WWTP systems;
A good operator is essential to achieve appropriate commissioning and successful
Recycling of effluent makes good economic and environmental sense, however,
extensive evaluation of storage requirements and consideration of future possible uses is
typically required (it is good to be conservative).
Water recycling at most industrial facilities is possible, and involves cleaner production
Reducing costs to the plant owner from reducing volume of sewer discharge,
Making use of waste by-products (effluent and residuals), and
Reducing use of potable water (and thereby reducing associated cost).
Recycling is considered to be plausible for a wide range of industries, and while payback is
important to the plant owner on a case-by-case approach, long term and social and
environmental factors should be considered. These should be included as part of an overall
assessment, rather than a straight (commonly used) review of financial considerations alone.