Effects of salinity on glycerol conversion and biological phosphorus removal by aerobic granular sludge

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Industrial wastewater often has high levels of salt, either due to seawater or e.g. sodium chloride (NaCl) usage in the processing. Previous work indicated that aerobic granular sludge (AGS) is differently affected by seawater or saline water at similar osmotic strength. Here we investigate in more detail the impact of NaCl concentrations and seawater on the granulation and conversion processes for AGS wastewater treatment. Glycerol was used as the carbon source since it is regularly present in industrial wastewaters, and to allow the evaluation of microbial interactions that better reflect real conditions. Long-term experiments were performed to evaluate and compare the effect of salinity on granulation, anaerobic conversions, phosphate removal, and the microbial community. Smooth and stable granules as well as enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) were achieved up to 20 g/L NaCl or when using seawater. However, at NaCl levels comparable to seawater strength (30 g/L) incomplete anaerobic glycerol uptake and aerobic phosphate uptake were observed, the effluent turbidity increased, and filamentous granules began to appear. The latter is likely due to the direct aerobic growth on the leftover substrate after the anaerobic feeding period. In all reactor conditions, except the reactor with 30 g/L NaCl, Ca. Accumulibacter was the dominant microorganism. In the reactor with 30 g/L NaCl, the relative abundance of Ca. Accumulibacter decreased to ≤1 % and an increase in the genus Zoogloea was observed. Throughout all reactor conditions, Tessaracoccus and Micropruina, both actinobacteria, were present which were likely responsible for the anaerobic conversion of glycerol into volatile fatty acids. None of the glycerol metabolizing proteins were detected in Ca. Accumulibacter which supports previous findings that glycerol can not be directly utilized by Ca. Accumulibacter. The proteome profile of the dominant taxa was analysed and the results are further discussed. The exposure of salt-adapted biomass to hypo-osmotic conditions led to significant trehalose and PO43−-P release which can be related to the osmoregulation of the cells. Overall, this study provides insights into the effect of salt on the operation and stability of the EBPR and AGS processes. The findings suggest that maintaining a balanced cation ratio is likely to be more important for the operational stability of EBPR and AGS systems than absolute salt concentrations.