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<International Source Book On Environmentally Sound Technologies
for Wastewater and Stormwater Management>

4.2.2 Trickling filtration

A trickling filter is a bed of solid media for bacteria to attach on its surfaces. Wastewater is irrigated on the solid media (Figure 2.25). It is also called a biological filter to emphasise that the filtration process is not mechanical straining of solids, but removal of organic substances by use of bacterial action.

Figure 2.25: Schematic diagram of a trickling or biological filter

The solid media can be stones, waste coal gravel or specially manufactured plastic media. The latter can be corrugated plastic sheets or hollow plastic cylinders, with the main aim being to provide a large surface area for bacteria to attach to, while at the same time allowing free movement of air. Typically the solid media is placed in a tank on a support with openings to allow air to move up by natural convection and for treated wastewater to be collected in the under-drain.

Wastewater has to undergo primary treatment (See Activated Sludge Treatment above, 4.2.1) before trickling filtration, otherwise solids will block the filter. As wastewater trickles over the surfaces of the solid media organic substances are trapped in the layer of bacterial slime. The organic substances are consumed by the bacteria in the same manner as in the activated sludge process, while air diffuses into the slime layer from the air spaces in the bed of the trickling filter. Growth and reproduction of the bacteria take place and result in an increase of thickness of the slime layer, particularly at the top of the biological filter. Periodically bacterial slime sloughs off the surfaces of the filter media and leaves with the treated wastewater.

Solids derived from the sloughing off of bacterial slime are separated from the treated wastewater in a sedimentation tank. Sludge from this sedimentation tank is not returned to the trickling filter, but treated prior to reuse or disposal (Section 2 (6)). Treated wastewater can however be returned to the trickling filter, if this will assist with either treating the wastewater further (second pass) or more generally for a more uniform distribution of water over the trickling filter bed. The trickling filter and associated sedimentation tank is also termed 'secondary treatment'.

The energy requirement for operating a trickling filter is less than for an activated sludge process, because oxygen supply to the bacteria is provided by natural diffusion of air. The area requirement of a biological filter is, however, larger than for an activated sludge process to achieve the same quality of treated wastewater.


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