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Trickling Filters

Trickling filters consist of bed of highly permeable media on whose surface a mixed
population of microorganisms is developed as a slime layer. Media used in this
attached growth process can include rock, gravel, sand, redwood, and a wide range
of plastic and synthetic materials. The word “filter” in this case is not correctly used
since there is no filtering action involved in the process.

Process Description
1. The wastewater is distributed over the top area of a vessel containing non-
submerged packing material.

2. Air circulation in the void space, by either natural draft or blowers, provides
oxygen for the microorganisms growing on the media as an attached

3. The attached microorganisms metabolize the organic material in the

wastewater. The microorganisms synthesize these organic materials into new
cellular materials, causing the biofilm layer on the media to thicken.

4. As the biofilm thickens, an aerobic layer is formed on its surface. The

thickness of this aerobic layer is limited by the depth of penetration of
oxygen into the microbial layer.
5. As a result of the increased thickness of the slime layer, the substrate is
metabolized before it can reach the microorganisms near the medium
surface. These microorganisms enter the endogenous phase and begin to
lose their ability to cling to the medium surface. The liquid then washes the
slime off the medium and a new slime layer begins to form. This
phenomenon of losing the slime layer is called sloughing.

6. The sloughed off film and treated wastewater are collected by an

underdrainage which also allows circulation of air through the filter. The
collected liquid is passed to a settling tank.


Trickling filters can be classified by hydraulic or organic loading, as high-rate or low-


The organic load on a filter is the BOD content in pounds applied to the filter. This is
usually expressed as pounds of BOD per day per 1000 cubic feet of filter medium or
pounds of BOD per day per acre foot. The hydraulic load, including recirculation
flow if used, is the gallons of flow per acre of filter surface per day.

Low-rate filters are relatively simple treatment units that normally produce a
consistent effluent quality even with varying influent strength. Depending upon the
dosing system, wastewater is applied intermittently with rest periods which
generally do not exceed five minutes at the designed rate of waste flow. With
proper loadings the low-rate trickling filter, including primary and secondary
sedimentation units, should remove from 80 to 85 percent of the applied BOD and
produce highly nitrified effluent. It is suitable for treatment of low to medium
strength domestic wastewaters. While there is some unloading or sloughing of solids
at all times, the major unloadings usually occur several times a year for
comparatively short periods of time.

High-rate filters are usually characterized by higher hydraulic and organic loadings
than low-rate filters. The higher BOD loading is accomplished by applying a larger
volume of waste per acre of surface area of the filter. The high rate trickling filter,
single stage or two-stage are recommended for medium to relatively high strength
domestic and industrial wastewater. The BOD removal efficiency is around 75 to
90% but the effluent is only partially nitrified. High-rate trickling filters have been
used advantageously for pretreatment of industrial wastes and unusually strong
wastewaters. When so used they are called "roughing filters". With these filters the
BOD loading is usually in excess of 110 pounds of BOD per 1000 cubic feet of filter

The primary factors that must be considered in the design of trickling filters
include: (1) the type of filter media to be used, (2) the type and dosing
characteristics of the distribution system, and (3) the configuration of the
underdrain system.
Filter Media. Ideally, the filter medium should be a material that has a high surface
are per unit volume, low in cost, has high durability and does not readily clog. The
choice for filter media is greatly influenced by materials that are locally available
like gravel, anthracite stone, and blast furnace slag. The minimum size for the filter
media particles is considered to be 2.5 inches in diameter and the upper size limit
of 4 inches is recommended. Stones less than one inch in diameter cannot provide
enough pore space and results in plugging of the media and ponding. Larger stones
tend to prevent ponding but have less surface area per unit volume.

Distribution System. When trickling filters were first developed, fixed spray nozzles
were used as a distribution system. The nozzles were attached to pipes laid in the
filter medium and were fed intermittently from a siphon controlled dosing tank. By
this method, wastewater is applied to the filter for short periods of time. Between
applications the filter has rest periods while the dosing tank is filling. Even after
many types and shapes of nozzles were
developed to attain the best even
distribution of wastewater over the
filter’s entire surface, some design
problems still went unanswered. At
best, the distribution was not even and
there were areas of the filter on which
very little wastewater was sprayed. In
addition, due to the greater number of
nozzles used for the distribution of the
wastes, clogging and increased
operational and maintenance problems
were encountered.

Now, for reliability and ease of

maintenance, most trickling filter
processes employ the rotary distributor.
The rotary distributor consists of a
hollow vertical center column carrying
two or more radial pipes or arms, each
of which contains a number of nozzles
or orifices for discharging the
wastewater onto the bed. All of these
nozzles point in the same direction at
right angles to the arms and the
reaction of the discharge through them
cause the arms to revolve. The
necessary reaction is furnished by a head of 18" to 24". The speed of revolution will
vary with the flow rate, but it should be in the range of one revolution in 10 minutes
or less for a two-arm distributor. A dosing tanks and siphon should be provided for
standard rate trickling filters to shut off the flow when the head falls below that
necessary to revolve the arms at the required speed. In some cases positive drive
mechanisms are being used.

Underdrain System. The underdrain system in trickling filters serves two purposes:
(a) to carry the wastewater passing through the filter and the sloughed solids from
the filter to the final clarification process, and (b) to provide for ventilation of the
filter to maintain aerobic conditions. The underdrains are specially designed
vitrified clay blocks with slotted tops that admit the wastewater and yet support the
media. The blocks are laid directly on the filter floor, which is sloped toward the
collection channel at a 1 to 2 percent gradient. Since the underdrains also provide
ventilation for the filter it is desirable that the ventilation openings total at least
20% of the total floor area. Normal ventilation occurs through convection currents
caused by a temperature differential between the wastewater and the ambient air
temperature. In deep filters or heavily loaded filters, there may be some advantage
in force ventilation.

Efficiency Calculations

Generally trickling filter design is based on empirical relationships to find the

required filter volume for a designed degree of wastewater treatment. Types of

1. NRC equations (National Research Council of USA)

2. Rankins equation
3. Eckenfilder equation
4. Galler and Gotaas equation

NRC and Rankin's equations are commonly used. NRC equations give satisfactory
values when there is no re-circulation, the seasonal variations in temperature are
not large and fluctuations with high organic loading. Rankin's equation is used for
high rate filters.

NRC equations: These equations are applicable to both low rate and high rate
filters. The efficiency of single stage or first stage of two stage filters, E2 is given by

E2= 100

For the second stage filter, the efficiency E3 is given by

E3= 100
[(1+0.44)/ (1- E2)](F2.BOD/V2.Rf2)1/2

where E2= % efficiency in BOD removal of single stage or first stage of two-stage
filter, E3=% efficiency of second stage filter, F1.BOD= BOD loading of settled raw
sewage in single stage of the two-stage filter in kg/d, F2.BOD= F1.BOD(1- E2)= BOD
loading on second-stage filter in kg/d, V1= volume of first stage filter, m3; V2=
volume of second stage filter, m3; Rf1= Recirculation factor for first stage, R1=
Recirculation ratio for first stage filter, Rf2= Recirculation factor for second stage,
R2= Recirculation ratio for second stage filter.
Rankins equation: This equation also known as Tentative Method of Ten States
USA has been successfully used over wide range of temperature. It requires
following conditions to be observed for single stage filters:

1. Raw settled domestic sewage BOD applied to filters should not exceed 1.2 kg
BOD5/day/ m3 filter volume.
2. Hydraulic load (including recirculation) should not exceed 30 m3/m2 filter
3. Recirculation ratio (R/Q) should be such that BOD entering filter (including
recirculation) is not more than three times the BOD expected in effluent. This
implies that as long as the above conditions are satisfied efficiency is only a
function of recirculation and is given by:

E = (R/Q) + 1
(R/Q) + 1.5

One method of increasing the efficiency of a trickling filter is to incorporate

recirculation. Recirculation is a process by which the filter effluent is returned to
and reapplied onto the filter. This recycling of the effluent increases the contact
time of the waste with the microorganisms and also helps to "seed" the lower
portion of the filter with active organisms.

When recirculation is used, the hydraulic loading per unit area of filter media is
increased. As a result, higher flow velocities will usually occur causing a more
continuous and uniform sloughing of excess growths. Recirculation also helps to
minimize problems with ponding and restriction of ventilation.

Recirculation can be continuous or intermittent. Return pumping rates can either be

constant or variable. Sometimes recycling can be practiced during periods of low
flow to keep the distributors in motion, to prevent the drying of the filter growths,
and to prevent freezing during colder temperatures. Also, recirculation in proportion
to flow may be utilized to reduce the organic strength of the incoming wastes, and
to smooth out diurnal flow variations.

Recirculation can be accomplished by various techniques. Some of which are as


Biofilter: The bio-filter is a high-rate filter, usually 3 to 4 feet in depth, employing

recirculation at all times. The recirculation in this case involves bringing the effluent
of the filter or of the secondary sedimentation tank back through the primary
settling tank. The secondary settling tank sludge is usually very light and can be
continually fed back to the primary settling tank where the two types of sludges are
collected together and pumped to the digester.
Accelo-Filter: The accelo-filter includes recirculation of unsettled effluent from the
filter back to the inlet of the filter distributor. It is used for both low-rate and high-
rate filters, the former being applicable if a well nitrified effluent is required.

Aero Filter: The aero-filter is still another process which distributes the
wastewater by maintaining a continuous rain-like application of the wastewater over
the filter bed. For small beds, distribution is accomplished by a disc distributor
revolving at a high speed of 260 to 369 rpm set 20" above the surface of the filter
to give a continuous rain-like distribution over the entire bed. For large beds a large
number of revolving distributor arms, 10 or more, tend to give more uniform
distribution. These filters are always operated at a rate in excess of 10 million
gallons per acre of surface area per day.
High-rate trickling filters, including primary and secondary sedimentation, should,
under normal operation, remove from 65 to 85 percent of the BOD of the
wastewater. Recirculation should be adequate to provide continuous dosage at a
rate equal to or in excess of 10 million gallons per acre per day. As a result of
continuous dosing at such high rates, some of the solids accumulated on the filter
medium are washed off and carried away with the effluent continuously.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Generally, most organic wastes can be successfully treated by trickling filtration.
Normally food processing, textile, fermentation and some pharmaceutical process
wastes are amenable to trickling filtration.

Since the organisms growing on the media are temperature dependent, climatic
changes will affect the filter's performance. The organisms’ metabolic rate
increases with increasing temperature and warmer weather. Therefore, higher
loadings and greater efficiencies are possible in warmer temperatures and climates,
if aerobic conditions can be maintained in the filter.

Some industrial wastewaters which cannot be treated by trickling filtration are those
which contain excessive concentration of toxic materials, such as pesticide residues,
heavy metals, and high acidic and alkaline wastes.

Some common problems encountered in the operation of a trickling filter include:

Ponding is normally the result of: (a) excessive organic loading without a
corresponding higher recirculation rate, (b) use of media which is too small, (c)
clogging of underdrain system, (d) non-uniform media size or breaking up of media,
and (e) trash or debris in filter voids. Ponding can cause odors and decrease filter

Odors. Since the trickling filter is an aerobic process, no serious odors should exist.
If foul odors are present, anaerobic conditions are the most likely cause. Anaerobic
conditions usually predominate next to the media surface.
If the surface of the slime growth is aerobic, odors should be minimal. If odors are
present, corrective action should be taken immediately or the condition could get

Filter Flies are a nuisance to plant personnel and nearby neighbors. These tiny,
gnat-size flies are called psychoda. They are occasionally found in great numbers,
preferring an alternate wet and dry environment for development. The flies are
most frequently found in low or standard rate filters with an intermittent dosing

Weather Problems.

• Cold weather can cause an occasional build-up of ice on the media, walls,
distributor arms and orifices, resulting in operating problems and loss of
efficiency. During cold temperatures, the organism's metabolic process slow
down and as a result efficiency decreases.
• Warm weather creates its own unique problem areas:
o Ponding resulting from sloughings due to excessive organism growth,
odors resulting from anaerobic conditions. The dissolved oxygen
demand is higher in warmer weather due to higher organism activity.
o Filter Flies
o Degradation of final effluent due to excessive loading from sloughings
on final sedimentation tanks.


”Trickling Filters.”

 “Trickling Filter Systems Design and Application.” Brentwood Industries, Inc.

”Trickling Filters.” Lecture.

University of San Carlos

Chemical Engineering Department

Trickling Filters

Submitted by

Kobayashi, Kay Kimberly

Lagarbe, Mieljoy

Lopez, Paul Rheniel

Pepito, Racquel Avien

Terrado, Francis Cesar A.

January 13, 2009