Biological phosphorus removal was studied in two full-scale waste stabilisation ponds (WSP). Luxury uptake by microalgae was confirmed to occur and in one pond the biomass contained almost four times the phosphorus required by microalgae for normal metabolism. However, the phosphorus content within the biomass was variable. This finding means that assumptions made in prior publications on modelling of phosphorus removal in WSP are questionable. While fluctuations in microalgal growth causes variation in many water quality parameters, this further variation in luxury uptake explains the high degree of variability in phosphorus removal commonly reported in the literature. To achieve effective biological phosphorus removal high levels of both luxury uptake and microalgal concentration are needed. The findings of this work show that while high levels of these parameters did occur at times in the WSP monitored, they did not occur simultaneously. This is explained because accumulated phosphorus is subsequently consumed during rapid growth of biomass resulting in a high biomass concentration with a low phosphorus content. Previous laboratory research has allowed a number of key considerations to be proposed to optimise both luxury uptake and biomass concentration. Now that is has been shown that high levels of biomass concentration and luxury uptake can occur in the field it may be possible to redesign WSP to optimise these parameters.
Keywords: luxury uptake, phosphorus removal, polyphosphate, waste stabilisation ponds