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Ecological Engineering 36 (2010) 489494

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Ecological Engineering
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ecoleng

Wastewater treatment performance of a vermilter enhancement by a

converter slagcoal cinder lter
Su Wang a,b , Jian Yang a, , Shan-Jie Lou a , Jian Yang a
State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control and Resource Reuse, Key Laboratory of Yangtze River Water Environment,
College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Tongji University, Shanghai 200092, Peoples Republic of China
Shanghai Qingpu Water Affairs Bureau, Shanghai 201700, Peoples Republic of China

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The study aimed at investigating rural domestic wastewater treatment performance through vermilter
Received 3 December 2008 enhancement by a converter slagcoal cinder lter. The research was carried out by column experiments
Received in revised form in a lab scale. Results showed the average removal rate of TCOD, BOD, ammonia nitrogen (NH4 + -N) and
10 November 2009
phosphorus removal by the system were 78.0%, 98.4%, 90.3%, 62.4%, respectively at a hydraulic loading rate
Accepted 23 November 2009
of 4 m3 m2 day1 . Vermiltration was effective for insoluble organic matter and suspended solid removal,
and the converter slagcoal cinder lter played an important role in phosphorus removal. The molecular
weight of particles in the inuent and efuents from every unit of the system were distributed in a wide
Domestic wastewater
range between 0.1 kDa and 10,000 kDa with predominance of values between 10 kDa and 300 kDa; the
Rural community major portion of soluble material are high MW compounds. In addition, the optimal design parameters for
Vermilter vermiltration and converter slag and coal cinder lters, respectively, were studied in the experiments.
Molecular weight distribution 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Converter slag
Phosphorous removal

1. Introduction equipment, high treatment efciency, low excess sludge produc-

tion and low operating and capital costs (Liew Abdullah et al., 2005;
With the improvement of economic conditions in China, the Saktaywin et al., 2005; Sato et al., 2006).
water quality in the country is constantly becoming worse in most Vermiltration (or lumbriltration) is a relatively new tech-
of the regions (Zhang et al., 2007). In recent decades, after effective nology to process organically polluted water using earthworms.
abatement of point source pollution, non-point source contribu- It was rst advocated by the late Professor Jose Toha at the Uni-
tion has become a major cause of water quality deterioration in versity of Chile in 1992 (Aguilera, 2003; Bouch and Qiu, 1998).
China (SEPAC, 2000). Fertilizer and pesticide abuse, manure spread- Vermiltration may be a competitive method for wastewater treat-
ing and direct sewage discharge are considered to be the principal ment in rural area of China due to cost saving and ecological
causes of non-point source pollution (Wang et al., 2004). Moreover, characteristics. However, compared to the customary output from
it is estimated that more than 50% of non-point source pollution wastewater treatment systems, the concentrations of contami-
was from rural sewage in China (Chai et al., 2006). However, con- nants in the efuent of vermiltration are still high for reuse (Li
ventional municipal wastewater technologies are unsuitable for et al., 2008). A converter slagcoal cinder lter could be used as a
rural sewage disposal because of imperfect sewer networks and secondary step for improving the quality of the treated wastewa-
lack of funds in Chinese rural areas (Aiyuk et al., 2004; Behling et ter from vermiltration. Converter slag is a by-product produced
al., 1997). There is a tremendous need to develop reliable tech- in the steel making industry and has been shown to have a high P-
nologies for the treatment of domestic wastewater in rural areas of sorption capacity due to the Fe-, Ca-and Al-oxides contents (Drizo
developing countries. Such treatment systems must fulll many et al., 2002; Yim and Kim, 2004; Shilton et al., 2006; Westholm,
requirements, such as simple design, use of non-sophisticated 2006). Coal cinder is an inorganic waste produced in coal com-
bustion. It is often mixed with other materials, e.g. red clay, in
soil treatment systems for improving the permeability of soil and
enhancing nitrogen removal (Zhang et al., 2005; Li et al., 2005).
Corresponding author. Present address: College of Environmental Science and
The mixture of coal cinder and converter slag as lter media for
Engineering, Tongji University, Shanghai 200092, Peoples Republic of China.
Tel.: +86 21 65984275. wastewater treatment could not only exert the higher phospho-
E-mail address: tjenvironment101@163.com (J. Yang). rous removal ability of converter slag, but also improve the efuent

0925-8574/$ see front matter 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
490 S. Wang et al. / Ecological Engineering 36 (2010) 489494

quality by removing ammonium nitrogen and organic matter (Yang Determinations of chemical oxygen demand (total COD and
et al., 2009). Moreover, converter slag and coal cinder are staple soluble COD) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), suspended
solid wastes in China and their utilization makes sense for waste solids (SS), volatile suspended solids (VSS), total nitrogen (TN),
reuse. ammonia nitrogen and total phosphorus (TP), soluble TP and phos-
The objective of this study is to develop a new wastewater phate ions were carried out according to standard methods (SEPAC,
treatment technology for rural areas of China. For this purpose, 2002a).
a vermilter enhancement by a converter slagcoal cinder lter In order to understand the change of molecular weight distri-
system is operated for more than three months. The experiment bution before and after treatment, gel permeation chromatograph
provides a systematic performance assessment of the small-scale (GPC) was used. GPC was performed using a Shimadzu LC-
system. In addition, the optimal design parameters for vermil- 10 ADVP system, which was equipped with a pump LC-10
tration and converter slag and coal cinder lters, respectively, are ADVP, refractive-index detector RID-10A, a controller SCL-10AVP,
studied. The experiment identies factors that will affect the per- and a TSK-GELPW series column (G4000PWXL, 30 mm 7.8 mm)
formance and application of the ltration technology and provides (TOSOH Co.).
the basis for further in-depth studies.

3. Results and discussion

2. Materials and methods

3.1. Wastewater characteristics

Raw domestic wastewater was taken from Shanghai Quyang
wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Two vermilters (V1 and V3)
The experimental lters were started in July 2007 and detailed
and a lter without earthworms (V2) were operated in parallel.
experiments were conducted from September to November in
The upper parts of V1, V2 and V3 were constructed of PVC tubes of
2007. Average chemical compositions of inuent and efuents for
60 cm length and 25 cm inner diameter. The lter material in each
this operational period are summarized in Table 2. The average
lter was supported by a perforated PVC plate with 3 mm holes. A
TCOD of 198.7 mg L1 , the COD/N/P ratio of approximately 65/8/1,
stainless steel wire mesh, grid size 1.5 mm 1.5 mm, was placed
and the average SS of 94.8 mg L1 put this wastewater in the class
over the plate to prevent washing of earthworms and lter materi-
of a low-strength domestic wastewater. Approximately 72% of the
als from the reactor during wastewater drainage. At the bottom of
TCOD was present as suspended material.
each lter, a conical sludge chamber was conducted. Raw wastew-
ater was homogenized before being pumped to the trial site, and
subsequently owed down through the lter. In the sludge cham- 3.2. Treatment performance
ber, supernatant liquid was collected and subsequently applied
to converter slagcoal cinder lters, and the settled sludge was The proles of TCOD, SS, NH4 + -N and TP of the efuent from V3
discharged. The lter media were ceramic pellets and the parti- and C1 as a function of operation time are shown in Fig. 2. When the
cle sizes were 35 mm. Eisenia foetida clitellated adults, commonly liquids passed the vermilters and converter slagcoal cinder l-
known as red wigglers, were randomly picked for use in vermil- ters, organic matter and minerals were retained by the system. The
tration. observed decreases in the concentrations of TCOD, SS and NH4 + -N
Two converter slag and coal cinder column lters (C1 and C2) were signicant. The vermilter V3 led to a 67.2% TCOD reduction,
were constructed of PVC tubes of 50 cm length and 15 cm inner an 89.3% SS reduction and a 15.5% TP reduction, while the con-
diameter and lled with a 35 cm layer of the appropriate lter verter slagcoal cinder lter C1 led to an additional 11.2%, 10.7%
material. The bottom of the columns was lled with a 5-cm layer and 46.9% reduction for TCOD, SS and TP, respectively. It can be
of gravel to prevent loss of material from the columns. The particle concluded that the vermiltration was effective for organic matter
size of converter slag and coal cinder used in the study was 48 mm (COD and BOD) and SS removal, and the converter slagcoal cin-
and 510 mm, respectively. der lter was effective for phosphorous removal. Both components
The schematic of vermilter and converter slagcoal cinder l- of the system contributed to the removal of ammonium nitrogen
ter is shown in Fig. 1. from the wastewater. The ammonium nitrogen removal efciency
Vermilter V3 and converter slagcoal cinder lter C1 were was 89.6% in total.
the principal components of the system to be tested for perfor- Vermiltration was effective for suspended organic mat-
mance of the process. The design parameters of vermilters and ter removal due to the biological, physical and chemical
converter slagcoal cinder lters were also evaluated in the exper- reactions, including the adsorption of molecules and ions,
iment. Comparison of vermilter V1 and V2 was made to estimate oxidationreduction of organic matter, the behavior of earthworms
the potential effects of earthworms when the lling height and and their synergetic effects with microorganisms (Bouch and
environmental conditions were same, and the comparison of ver- Soto, 2004). Ammonia was removed from the liquid through rapid
milter V1 and V3 was made to estimate the effect of lter medium adsorption by the biomass and lter media and subsequently
height on wastewater treatment. Considering the different phos- biological nitrication, because it is well known that biological
phorous removal capacities of converter slag and coal cinder, the nitrication is the most effective process for nitrogen removal
volume ratio of converter slag to coal cinder was tested. Column C1 (Henze and Harremoes, 1978). Phosphorus reduction of the ver-
was designed as Vconverter slag :Vcoal cinder = 1:5, and column C2 was miltration was very poor; it was because the particle-phase
designed as Vconverter slag :Vcoal cinder = 1:3. Both of the two columns phosphorus retained in the vermilter was biotransformed to solu-
were fed with the efuent of vermilter V3. The detailed design ble phosphorus in the efuents. The excellent phosphorus removal
information of each reactor is shown in Table 1. efciency of converter slagcoal cinder lters can be attributed to
The inuent and efuent samples were collected once every 2 or the excellent phosphorus adsorption of converter slag (Kim et al.,
3 days for laboratory experiments. All the samples were stored at 2006; Yim and Kim, 2004).
4 C and analyzed within 24 h. The soluble samples were obtained In order to investigate the inuence of earthworm popula-
by centrifuging reactor contents at 1250 G for 10 min, and then l- tion and lling height in vermiltration on wastewater treatment
tering through 0.45 m lter. Hence, the denition of soluble for performance, TCOD and SS removal efciency as a function of oper-
this study was any material passing through a 0.45 m lter. ation time of V1, V2 and V3 are shown in Fig. 3. Selecting the
S. Wang et al. / Ecological Engineering 36 (2010) 489494 491

Fig. 1. The schematic of vermilter and converter slagcoal cinder lter.

Table 1
Parameters and operation conditions of the experimental setup.

Parameters V1 V2 V3 C1 C2

Matrix Ceramic pellet Ceramic pellet Ceramic pellet Vconverter slag :Vcoal cinder = 1:5 Vconverter slag :Vcoal cinder = 1:3
Height (m) 0.3 0.3 0.5 0.35 0.35
Diameter (m) 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.15 0.15
Hydraulic loading rate (m3 m2 day1 ) 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Earthworm population 1000 0 1000

Table 2
Characteristics of efuent from the vermilters and converter slagcoal cinder ltersa .

Parameter (mg L1 ) Raw wastewater V1 efuent V2 efuent V3 efuent C1 efuent C2 efuent

SS 94.8 11.7 14.9 10.1 b b

TCOD 198.7 72.0 82.0 65.3 43.7 46.8
SCOD 56.2 52.4 47.9 46.5 36.9 37.6
BOD5 82.1 21.1 21.3 16.8 5.08 9.00
NH4 + -N 14.4 8.01 8.64 5.73 1.5 1.76
TN 24.4 19.5 21.4 20.4 18.5 19.0
TP 3.03 2.54 2.89 2.56 1.08 1.65
pH 7.53 6.57 6.60 6.55 6.70 7.05
Data represent arithmetic mean of samplings.
It represents data can not be detected.

parameters of organic matter and suspended solid was consider- soluble-phase forms of phosphorous present in the wastewater
ing the effective reduction of them by vermiltration. It can be from the Quyang WWTP. In the efuent of V3, the soluble TP was
seen that TCOD and SS removal efciencies of V2 were almost almost the main component of the TP (98.8%), and the PO4 3 ion
the worst in all times, and that of V3 were the best. We specu- was the main component of the soluble TP (99.2%). It indicated
late that the presence of earworms in V1 explains the better TCOD the vermilter was effective for removing insoluble P-forms in
and SS performance when compared to V2. Earthworms in ver- the wastewater (from 3.03 mg L1 to 2.56 mg L1 ). The increase
miltration can feed on the organic matter and suspended solid of soluble TP (from 2.12 mg L1 to 2.53 mg L1 ) and PO4 3 (from
taken by inuent. They ingest, grind and digest organic waste with 2.03 mg L1 to 2.51 mg L1 ) can be attributable mainly to the con-
the help of aerobic and anaerobic microora in their gut, con- version of earthworms from insoluble phosphorus to much more
verting it into a much ner, humied, microbially active material. soluble forms (Ndegwa and Thompson, 2001).
The difference between V1 and V3 was the lling height. It was The comparing of the efuents from C1 and C2 showed the
obvious that the efuent quality of V3 was better than V1 due quantities of converter slag were a key parameter for the optimal
to the higher lling height. During days 105117 of the exper- P-removal, and more amount of converter slag not always had a
iment, the TCOD removal efciencies of these lters decreased better P-removal. The most optimal match of converter slag to cin-
signicantly. In the same time, sludge yields in three sludge cham- der for phosphorus removal in the test was 1:5 (C1), and other
bers increased signicantly. So it can be seen that a great deal of
biomass fell off from the lling media by metabolism of bacteria.
Table 3
With new biolms forming, the COD removal efciency increased
Variety of the P components in wastewatera .
Two converter slagcoal cinder lters with different materi- Parameter Inuent V3 efuent C1 efuent C2 efuent
als volume mixture were operated in the experiments. Table 3 TP (mg L )1
3.03 2.56 1.08 1.65
shows the phosphorus forms in the inuent and efuents. In Soluble TP (mg L1 ) 2.12 2.53 1.08 1.40
actual wastewater, main phosphorus forms occur both soluble and PO4 3 (mg L1 ) 2.03 2.51 0.98 1.30

insoluble phases. HPO4 2 , H2 PO4 and PO4 3 ions were the main a
Data represent arithmetic mean of samplings.
492 S. Wang et al. / Ecological Engineering 36 (2010) 489494

Fig. 2. Wastewater performance of the process combined vermiltration with converter slag and cinder lter as a function of operation time.

water quality parameters of the efuent (see Table 2) revealed the and the total average removal efciency of SCOD was only 34.3%
same conclusion. (Table 2). The characteristics of the soluble material in the inuent
and efuents were investigated in the study. Results from gel per-
3.3. Molecular weight distribution (MWD) of soluble COD meation chromatography analysis are shown in Table 4. It can be
seen that for the inuent and efuents, the molecular weight was
The soluble COD of efuents from the system were less than distributed in a wide range between 0.1 kDa and 10,000 kDa with
40 mg L1 compared to their inuent concentration of 56.2 mg L1 , predominance of values between 10100 kDa and 100300 kDa

Fig. 3. Organic matter and SS removal efciency of the three vermilters.

S. Wang et al. / Ecological Engineering 36 (2010) 489494 493

Table 4
Molecular weight distribution (MWD) data using gel permeation chromatography
(GPC) for inuent and efuents after treatmenta .

MWD (kDa) Inuent V1 V2 V3 C1 C2

% of SCOD

MW > 300 16.7 14.3 13.3 14.8 14.0 13.8

300 > MW > 100 24.3 21.3 21.0 22.2 20.3 20.1
100 > MW > 10 54.3 56.3 58.7 58.6 60.7 61.5
10 > MW > 1 1.72 5.63 5.59 2.97 3.68 3.23
MW < 1 2.95 2.53 1.50 1.46 1.29 1.35
Data represent arithmetic mean of samplings.

(approximately 80%). This fraction with high molecular weight con-

tained a major portion of soluble microbial products (SMP), such Fig. 5. Molecular weight fractions of soluble organic matter for V1, V2 and V3.
as proteins, polysaccharides, humic and fulvic acids, nucleic acids,
enzymes and structural compounds (Parkin and McCarty, 1981). All 4. Conclusions
the inuent and efuents contained a fraction of high MW mate-
rial (MW > 300 kDa) and this is likely to be cell wall fragments, Vermiltration was effective for TCOD, BOD5 , SS and ammonia
exopolysaccharides, humic substances, nucleic acids and proteins nitrogen removal. Adding earthworms and increasing the lling
(Manka and Rebhun, 1982; Namkung and Rittmann, 1986). Com- height of vermiltration was effective for insoluble organic mat-
paratively little material was found in the 110 kDa range in all the ter removal. Converter slagcoal cinder lters were effective for
samples. These results agreed with some reports in the literature P-removal and advanced water purication for meeting a higher
from bio-treatment processes which indicated that major portion discharge standard. The ratio of converter slag to coal cinder was a
of soluble material are high MW compounds. For example, Grady key factor for the optimal P-removal. The ultimate efuent from the
et al. (1984) found that efuents from activated sludge reactors converter slagcoal cinder lter C1 (Vconverter slag :Vcoal cinder = 1:5)
receiving simple substrates (e.g. glucose) had at least 54% (w/w) of can meet the rst A grade of National Discharge Standard
the soluble organic carbon with a MW > 10 kDa. (GB18918-2002).
In the system, both V3 and C1 was effective for MW more Gel permeation chromatography analysis revealed the molecu-
than 100 kDa and <1 kDa soluble organic matter removal (Fig. 4). lar weight of inuent and efuents from every unit of the system
Comparing with the inuent, the efuent from V3 and C1 with and paralleling groups were distributed in a wide range between
higher fractions (MW more than 100 kDa) decreased from 41.0% 0.1 kDa and 10,000 kDa with predominance of values between
to 37.0% and 34.3%, respectively, and the efuent of V3 and C1 10 kDa and 300 kDa, and the major portion of soluble material
with fractions MW < 1 kDa decreased from 2.95% to 1.46% and are high MW compounds. Both V3 and C1 were successful for the
1.29%, respectively. The removal of high molecular weight solu- removal of soluble organic matters with MW > 100 kDa and <1 kDa.
ble organic matters can be attributed to the sorption, deposition The MW distribution in soluble materials of the vermilters efu-
and biodegradation of the biomasses formed on the lling media. ents did not show signicant difference.
The molecular organic matter as low as 1 kDa might be degraded The factors that affect performance of the vermiltration sys-
by the microorganisms immobilized in the biolm because it was tem identied in this study require further investigation in order to
easy to degrade as carbon and energy source during the ltration. optimize the design of the vermiltration system. The mechanism
The organic matters with MW between 1 kDa and 100 kDa had for the microorganism and earthworms on contaminants removal
an increase with the treatment (Fig. 4). It was most likely to be in vermilters and for phosphorous removal by converter slag and
the products of degradation of high MW material (MW more than coal cinder should be explored further, and the long-term perfor-
100 kDa). mance characteristics of converter slagcoal cinder columns need
Efuents from the different vermilters showed that the MW to be evaluated further before it can be recommended for critical
distribution did not have a signicant difference (Fig. 5). Adding application requiring guaranteed performance. These variables are
of earthworms or increasing the height of lling medial had less the subjects of further study at Tongji University.
inuence on soluble materials, because they were more effective
for insoluble materials removal. Acknowledgments

This study was funded by Science & Technology Items of World

EXPO Shanghai 2010 China (2007BAK27B05) and the Shanghai Sci-
ence & Technology Research Programs (No. 09dz1204107). We
would like to thank Assistant Professor Wu Yi-fan, Wu Min and
Lu Zhi-bo for the suggestions in the tests.


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