The sludge age is the most fundamental and important parameter in the design, operation and control of biological nutrient removal (BNR) activated sludge (AS) systems. Generally, the better the effluent and waste sludge quality required from the system, the longer the sludge age, the larger the biological reactor and the more wastewater characteristics need to be known. Controlling the reactor concentration does not control sludge age, only the mass of sludge in the system. When nitrification is a requirement, sludge age control becomes a requirement and the secondary settling tanks can no longer serve the dual purpose of clarifier and waste activated sludge thickeners. The easiest and most practical way to control sludge age is with hydraulic control by wasting a defined proportion of the reactor volume daily. In AS plants with reactor concentration control, nitrification fails first. With hydraulic control of sludge age, nitrification will not fail, rather the plant fails by shedding solids over the secondary settling tank effluent weirs.
Keywords: biological nutrient removal, control, design, nitrification, operation, sludge age