Journal article

Sulfur flows and biosolids processing: using Material Flux Analysis (MFA) principles at wastewater treatment plants

27 Apr 2017


  • Sulfur flows were mapped through biosolids processing at six WWTPs.
  • Flows analysed in thickening, digestion, dewatering and odour control.
  • High recovery of sulfur in biosolids linked to efficient solids recovery.
  • Higher iron content in digesters linked to lower sulfur flows in biogas.

High flows of sulfur through wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) may cause noxious gaseous emissions, corrosion of infrastructure, inhibit wastewater microbial communities, or contribute to acid rain if the biosolids or biogas is combusted. Yet, sulfur is an important agricultural nutrient and the direct application of biosolids to soils enables its beneficial re-use. Flows of sulfur throughout the biosolids processing of six WWTPs were investigated to identify how they were affected by biosolids processing configurations. The process of tracking sulfur flows through the sites also identified limitations in data availability and quality, highlighting future requirements for tracking substance flows. One site was investigated in more detail showing sulfur speciation throughout the plant and tracking sulfur flows in odour control systems in order to quantify outflows to air, land and ocean sinks. While the majority of sulfur from WWTPs is removed as sulfate in the secondary effluent, the sulfur content of biosolids is valuable as it can be directly returned to soils to combat the potential sulfur deficiencies. Biosolids processing configurations, which focus on maximising solids recovery, through high efficiency separation techniques in primary sedimentation tanks, thickeners and dewatering centrifuges retain more sulfur in the biosolids. However, variations in sulfur loads and concentrations entering the WWTPs affect sulfur recovery in the biosolids, suggesting industrial emitters, and chemical dosing of iron salts are responsible for differences in recovery between sites.

Chapter or Part: 
1 August 2017
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