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- Rotating Biological Contactors.




M. RAMESH KANNAN. 3rd Year ,Civil




Hindustan College of Engineering, No. F1, Haritha

Rajiv Gandhi Salai, Ganesh Nagar 2nd Main
OMR, Padur, Madipakkam,
Kancheepuram District – 603 103. Chennai – 600 091.
Ph : 044-27474262/27474385/27474395 Phone : 044-22477490
Fax : 044 - 2747 4208 Mobile : 9600129921
E-Mail : hetc@vsnl.com


In this modern world wastewater treatment has become an essential one. There are
many treatment methods like physical, chemical and biological methods. The biological
treatment methods are more efficient in organic matter removal. The various biological
treatment methods, both attached and suspended process, like trickling filter, ASP,
Rotating Biological Contractor (RBC) are employed in current practice. In Biological
process microbes are used for treating wastewater which is of less harm when compared to
that of chemicals.

Among the various biological treatment methods RBC (Rotating Biological

Contactors) provide excellent biological filtration being very cheap and reliable. The
advantages of RBC include a longer contact time (8 to 10 times longer than trickling
filters), a higher level of treatment than conventional high-rate trickling filters, and can
maintain higher biological population than in a conventional activated sludge plant. They
provide surfaces for growth of a biomass which has the ability to absorb, adsorb, coagulate
and oxidize undesirable organic constituents of the waste and change them into
unobjectionable forms of matter. They can be applicable in aerobic as well as in anaerobic
treatment methods.

RBC consists of a series of closely spaced circular disks of polystyrene or

polyvinyl chloride that are placed in wastewater and rotated through it. The contractors are
typically rotated partially submerged in wastewater. As the disc rotates, the inactive film
of micro-organisms slips off and a new active film is regenerated in a naturally continuing
cycle, so that the system always maintains the level of activity necessary to treat the
volume of wastewater fed into the tanks.

RBC is an eco-friendly biological system that would be flexible enough to handle

varying concentration loads, keep costs low, require minimal personal attention and not
occupy too much land.
Water is the elixir of life. Without water there is nothing possible in this world.
Wastewater, the end product of water used for various purposes has to be disposed off or
recycled. The wastewater can be treated by physical, chemical, biological treatment
methods called unit processes. Nowadays unit processes are grouped together to provide
various levels of treatment known as preliminary, primary, advanced primary, secondary,
advanced treatment.

Physical Treatment :
It is the process of treating wastewater by the application of physical forces. It was
the first treatment method which was used earlier to treat wastewater the various physical
treatment processes are screening, coarse solids reduction, flow equalization, flocculation
and mixing, grit removal, sedimentation, high rate clarification, accelerated gravity
separation, oxygen transfer, aeration, volatilization and stripping of volatile organic

Chemical Treatment :
The treatment of wastewater in which change is brought about by means of
chemical reactions or through chemical reactions is known as chemical treatment the
principle chemical treatment processes that are used for wastewater treatment are chemical
coagulation, chemical precipitation, chemical disinfection, chemical oxidation, advanced
oxidation process, ion exchange, chemical neutralization, scale control and stabilization.
The great disadvantage of chemical unit process is that they are additive process
(i.e. something is added for the removal of something else). As a result there is a net
increase in the dissolved constituents. Another disadvantage of chemical unit process is
that the cost of most chemicals is related to cost of energy.

Biological Treatment :
The objectives of biological treatment are
1. Transform dissolved and particulate biodegradable constituents into acceptable end
2. Capture and incorporate suspended and non settleable colloidal solids into a
3. Transform (or) remove nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
4. In some cases remove specific trace organic constituents and compounds.
For industrial wastewater the objective is to remove or reduce the concentration of
organic and inorganic compounds. For agricultural return wastewater the objective is to
remove nutrients specially nitrogen and phosphorous that are capable of stimulating the
growth of aquatic plants.
The removal of dissolved and BOD and the stabilization of organic matter found in
wastewater is accomplished biologically using a variety of microorganisms mainly
bacteria. Microorganisms are used to oxidize the dissolved and carbonaceous organic
matter into simple end product and additional biomass.
The biological decomposition is divided into two types namely aerobic
decomposition (aerobic oxidation) and anaerobic decomposition (putrefaction). The
conventional methods in biological treatment are Trickling filter, ASP, UAF, rotating
biological contactor.

Trickling filters consist of tanks of coarser filtering media over which the sewage
is allowed to sprinkle by means of spray nozzles or rotary distributors. The percolating
sewage is collected at the bottom of the tank through a well designed under drainage
system. The purification of the sewage is brought about mainly by the aerobic bacteria
which form a bacterial film around the particles of the filtering media.


In this the sewage effluent from the primary sedimentation tank which is thus
normally utilized in this process is mixed with 20-30% of known value of activated
sludge, which contains a larger concentration of highly active aerobic microorganisms.


Among the various biological treatment methods RBC provide excellent biological
filtration being very cheap and reliable. RBC consists of a series of closely spaced circular
disks of polystyrene or polyvinyl chloride that are placed in wastewater and rotated
through it. The contactors are typically rotated partially submerged in wastewater. As the
disc rotates, the inactive film of micro-organisms slips off and a new active film is
regenerated in a naturally continuing cycle, so that the system always maintains the level
of activity necessary to treat the volume of wastewater fed into the tanks.

The process consists of larger diameter steel or corrugated plastic media centered
around a horizontal shaft placed in a concrete tank. The media is slowly rotated at any
given time during the rotation about 40% of the media surface area is in wastewater.
Organisms in the wastewater attach and multiply on the rotating media until they form a
thin layer of biomass. This shaggy fixed film growth presents a very large and a very
active population for the biological degradation of organic pollutants. During rotation the
media carries the biomass and a film of wastewater into the air where oxygen is absorbed
the dissolved oxygen and organic materials in the wastewater diffuse into the biomass and
are then metabolized.

Applicability :
The Rotating Biological Contactor (RBC) process may be used where the
wastewater is amenable to biological treatment. The RBC process can be used in many
modes to accomplish varied degrees of carbonaceous and/or nitrogenous oxygen demand
reductions and is simpler to operate than activated sludge since recycling of effluent or
sludge is not required. Special consideration must be given to returning supernatant from
the sludge digestion process to the RBC’s.
The advantages of RBC technology include a longer contact time (8 to 10 times
longer than trickling filters). The RBC process should be designed to remove at least 85%
of the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) from domestic sewage. The process can also be
designed to remove ammonia nitrogen (NH3-N). In addition, effluents and process
wastewater from dairies, bakeries, food processors, pulp and paper mills, and other
biodegradable industrial discharges can be treated by the RBC process.
Process Selection :
Process selection will be influenced by the degree and consistency of treatment
required, type of waste to be treated, site constraints, and capital and operating costs. The
process design of a RBC facility involves an accurate determination of influent, septage
dumps, and side stream loadings, proper media sizing, staging and equipment selection to
meet effluent requirements, air requirements, and selection of an overall plant layout that
shall provide for flexibility in operation and maintenance.
In all RBC systems, the major factors controlling treatment performance are:
a) Organic and hydraulic loading rates;
b) Influent wastewater characteristics;
c) Wastewater temperature;
d) Biofilm control;
e) Dissolved oxygen levels; and
f) Flexibility in operation.

Raw wastewater shall not be directly fed to an RBC system. Primary settling tanks
are required for effective removal of grit, debris, and excessive oil or grease prior to the
RBC process. In some cases, fine screens (0.03-0.06 inches) may be considered. Screening
and comminution are not suitable as the sole means of preliminary treatment ahead of
RBC units.

Basis of RBC Design :

Unit Sizing :
Organic loading is the primary design parameter for the RBC process. This is
generally expressed as the organic loading per unit of media surface area per unit of time,
or in units of pounds BOD5 per thousand square feet per day.
Wastewater temperature above 55 degrees F have minimal affect on organic removal and
nitrification rates; however, below 55 degrees F, various correction factors must be
applied to determine the needed additional media surface area.

In determining design loading rates on RBC’s, the following parameters should be


1. Design flow rates and primary wastewater constituents;

2. Total influent BOD5 concentration;
3. Soluble influent BOD5 concentration;
4. Percentage of total and soluble BOD5 to be removed;
5. Wastewater temperature;
6. Primary effluent dissolved oxygen;
7. Media arrangement, number of stages and surface area of media in each stage;
8. Rotational velocity of the media;
9. Retention time within the RBC tank(s);
10. Influent soluble BOD5 to the RBC system including SBOD from in-plant side
streams, septage dumps, etc;
11. Influent hydrogen sulphide concentrations; and
12. Peak loading, BOD5 max/BOD5 avg.; TKN max/TKN avg.

In addition to the above parameters, loading rates for nitrification will depend upon
influent DO concentration, influent ammonia nitrogen concentration and total Kjeldahl
nitrogen (TKN), diurnal load variations, pH and alkalinity and the allowable effluent
ammonia nitrogen concentration.
Since soluble BOD5 loading is a critical parameter in the design of RBC units, it
should be verified by influent sampling whenever possible.

Loading Rates :
a) When peak to average flow ratio is 2.5 to 1.0 or less, average conditions can be
considered for design purposes. For higher flow ratios, flow equalization should be
b) The organic loading to the first stage standard density media should be in the range
of 3.5 to 6.0 pounds total BOD5 per thousand square feet per day or 1.5 to 2.5
pounds soluble BOD5 per thousand square feet per day. First stage organic
loadings above 6 pounds total BOD5 or 2.5 pounds soluble BOD5 per thousand
square feet per day will increases the probability of developing problems such as
excessive biofilm thickness, depletion of dissolved oxygen, nuisance organisms
and deterioration of process performance. The most critical problem in most
instances is the structural overloading of the RBC shaft(s).
c) For average conditions, the design loading should not exceed 2.5 pounds of soluble
BOD5/1,000 square feet of standard media surface per day on the first stage
shaft(s) of any treatment train. Periodic high organic loadings may require
supplemental aeration in the first stage shafts. High density media should not be
used for the fist stage RBC’s.
d) For peak conditions, the design loading shall not exceed 2.0 pounds of soluble
BOD5/1,000 square feet for the first high density media shaft(s) encountered after
the first two shafts or rows of shafts in a treatment train.
e) For average conditions, the overall system loading shall not exceed 0.6 pounds or
soluble BOD5/1,000 square feet of media. The soluble BOD5 loading at all shafts
should be used to determine the total number of shafts required.

Staging Units :
a) Staging of RBC media is recommended to maximize removal of BOD and
ammonia nitrogen (NH3-N). In secondary treatment applications, rotating
biological contactors shall be designed with a minimum of three stages per flow
path. For combined BOD5 and NH3-N removal, a minimum of four stages is
recommended per flow path. For small installations, multiple stages are acceptable
on a single shaft if interstage baffles are installed within the tank and introducing
the flow parallel to the shaft. Whenever multiple process trains are employed with
three or more shafts in a row; the flow path should be introduced perpendicular to
the shafts, and the wastewater should be distributed evenly across the face of the
b) The organic loading must be accurately defined by influent sampling whenever
possible. For existing facilities that are to be expanded and/or rehabilitated it is
unacceptable to only calculate the expected load to the shafts. Flow and load
sampling must be done to demonstrate the load which is generally accomplished
by composite sampling after primary clarification. To predict effluent quality for a
range of loadings, the influent and effluent soluble-to-total BOD5 ratio can be
assumed to be 0.5.
c) An alternative method of estimating soluble organic removal in the interstages, is
by using a second order reaction equation. The equation may be used for RBC
design during the summer months; however, a temperature correction factor should
be used for the cold winter months. Wastewater temperatures below 15 degree C
decrease shaft rotational speeds and increase loping problems resulting with
insufficient biomass sloughing. The equation is as follows:

Cn = -1 + [Square root (1 + 4kt (Cn – 1)]/2kt

Cn = is the concentration of soluble organics in the nth stage (mg/l);
k = is the second order reaction constant of 0.083 (l/mg/hr);
t is the average hydraulic residence time in the nth stage (hours); and
Cn-1 is the concentration of soluble organics entering the ninth stage (mg/l).

Design Safety Factor :

Effluent concentrations of ammonia nitrogen from the RBC process designed for
nitrification are affected by diurnal load variations. An evaluation of equalization vs.
additional RBC media surface area is required when consistently low ammonia nitrogen
levels are necessary to meet effluent limitations. If flow equalization is not provided then
it may be necessary to increase the design surface area proportional to the ammonia
nitrogen diurnal peaking rates.

Equipment Considerations :
a) RBC shafts are presently limited to approximately 27 feet in length.
b) Shafts shall be fabricated from steel and be covered with a protective coating
suitable for the humid and corrosive conditions. All fabrication during construction
shall conform to American Welding Society (AWS) welding and quality control
standards. Media shafts shall be designed for unbalanced loads and cycle fatigue.
c) The design should provide adequate assurance that the shaft(s), bearings, and
media support structures are protected from structural failure.
d) The design shall specify a load bearing capacity for each shaft considering the
maximum anticipated biofilm growth and to include an adequate margin of safety.

Media :
a) Media materials shall be special manufactured material suitable and durable for the
rotating biological contractor process. Media should be resistant to disintegration,
ultraviolet degradation, erosion, aging, all common acids, alkalies, organic
compounds, fungus, and biological attack.
b) High density media shall not be used on the frits two stages or rows of shafts of a
treatment for the purpose of BOD removal.
c) Media shall be fabricated with corrugations for stiffness and spacing. The media
should not exceed 12 feet in diameter. Standard density media are considered as
media with a surface area of 100,000 to 120,000 square feet and high density
media are considered 150,000 square feet or more.
d) All plastic media shall be adequately supported on or attached to the shaft.
e) Air cups attached around the outer perimeter of the media on an air driven unit
shall be 6 inches in depth.

Drive Systems :
a) Mechanically driven RBC units shall have high efficiency motors and drive
equipment which shall include variable speed capability. The electric motors used
for mechanical drive RBC’s shall be either 5 or 7.5 hp depending upon the actual
energy requirements. To evaluate the actual energy requirements for mechanically
driven units, the design must take into consideration the influences of drive train
efficiency, biofilm thickness, media surface area, temperature, and rotational
b) Air drive RBC units shall have high efficiency motors and blower systems which
shall include variable air flow requirements for rotational speed.
c) All drive components shall be properly aligned.

Bearings :
a) Bearings shall be moisture resistant and self-alighting with oversize grease cups to
increase lubrication intervals.
b) Bearings should be located outside the media covers and protected with cover
plates on the idle end of the shaft.

Miscellaneous Considerations :
1. Stop motion detectors, rpm indicators, and clamp-on ammeters are desirable
monitoring devices for individual RBC shafts.
2. Media, when stored on-site for installation, shall be properly protected from direct
sunlight. Media can also be severely impacted by high wastewater temperatures
above 95oF.
3. An O&M manual shall be provided specifying schedules for reading load cells,
visual inspections of biofilm growth, media integrity, and determining the status of
mechanical and structural components. The manual shall outline remedial
procedures to resolve identified operating problems. The manual shall outline
remedial procedures to resolve identified operating problems. The manual should
include provisions for daily and analytical log recording.
4. All RBC units shall be equipped with appropriate safety features for protection of
operators. Such features shall include drive mechanism enclosures, lighting,
stairways, walkways, handrails, deck gratings, and slip-resistant surfaces.

The typical applications of RBC are municipal wastewater treatment, food and
beverage wastewater treatment including meat packing, bakery, dairy, brewery, landfill
leachate refinery and petrochemical wastewater treatment, pulp and paer wastewater
treatment, Septage treatment and many general industrial wastewaters.

The RBC is an efficient method of treating wastewater because of its simplicity to
maintain and operate, low energy consumption, ability to with stand shock or toxic load,
freedom from odors and good sludge settling properties. RBC energy consumption is
equivalent to or less than extended aeration activated sludge plants, and it requires less
maintenance and operational skill. Therefore, RBC can result in more savings for small


Environmental Engineering (Vol. 1 & 2) by S.K. GARG

• Wastewater Engineering – Treatment and Reuse by Metcalf and Eddy.

• Staff Guidance - Mr. D.Elango, M.E. (Environmental Engg.), Sr. Lecturer,

Hindustan College of Engineering.

• www.wikipedia.org