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Activated Sludge is a multi-chamber reactor unit that makes use of (mostly) aerobic microorganisms to degrade organics in wastewater and to produce a high-quality effluent. To maintain aerobic conditions and to the keep the active biomass suspended, a constant and well-timed supply of oxygen is required. Different configurations of the Activated Sludge process can be employed to ensure that the wastewater is mixed and aerated (with either air or pure oxygen) in an aeration tank. The microorganisms oxidize the organic carbon in the wastewater to produce new cells, carbon dioxide and water. Although aerobic bacteria are the most common organisms, aerobic, anaerobic, and/or nitrifying bacteria along with higher organisms can be present. The exact composition depends on the reactor design, environment, and wastewater characteristics. During aeration and mixing, the bacteria form small clusters, or flocs. When the aeration stops, the mixture is transferred to a secondary clarifier where the flocs are allowed to settle out and the effluent moves on for further treatment or discharge. The sludge is then recycled back to the aeration tank, where the process is repeated. To achieve specific effluent goals for BOD, nitrogen and phosphorus, different adaptations and modifications have been made to the basic Activated Sludge design. Aerobic conditions, nutrient-specific organisms (especially for phosphorus), recycle design and carbon dosing, among others, have successfully allowed Activated Sludge processes to achieve high treatment efficiencies.
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