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F/M Ratio

In order for the activated sludge process to operate properly there must be a balance between the
food (BOD5, COD, or TOC) entering the biological system, and the microorganisms in the
aeration basin. A high F:M ratio means there is a greater quantity of food relative to the quantity
of microorganisms available to consume that food. When the F:M ratio is high, the bacteria are
active and dispersed and they multiply rapidly. But with a high F:M ratio the bacteria will not
form a good floc. Operating the activated sludge process with a high F:M ratio will typically
result in a poor settling sludge in the clarifier and a turbid effluent.
A low F:M ratio means there are many microorganisms but there is a limited amount of food.
Only when the food supply is limited do bacteria begin to develop a thicker slime layer, lose
their motility, and begin to clump together to form floc that will settle well in the clarifier. Figure
2 shows graphically how the bacterial population relates to the food supply. As you can see, a
very high F:M ratio, or a very low F:M ratio will result in dispersed floc that will not settle well
in the secondary clarifier

In order to calculate the F:M ratio two quantities are required: 1) the pounds of
organic material entering the aeration basin and 2) the pounds of microorganisms in
the aeration basin, as indicated by simple aeration basin schematic shown below in
Figure 3.

The standard equation for calculating the food-to-mass (microorganism) ratio is shown in
Equation 1. Note that in this equation the organic load, the food, is based on the five-day
biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5) concentration and the microorganism concentration is
based on the mixed liquor volatilesuspended solids concentration. This is the most common form
of the F:M ratio equation.


Q denotes the influent flow rate to the oxidation ditch in units of million gallons per day
Aeration volume is in units of million gallons
Equation 2 shows a variation of the standard F:M ratio calculation. In this equation two
variables have been changed. In the numerator, instead of BOD5, the calculation uses the organic
load based on the chemical oxygen demand (COD). In the denominator, the microorganism
population is based on the mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) rather than the mixed
liquor volatile suspended solids (MLVSS). The organic loading parameter was changed because
this particular plant measures the organic strength of the wastewater in terms of COD rather than
BOD5. In addition, it is assumed that MLSS data is more readily (and frequently) available than
is the associated MLVSS data.
The recommendation is to calculate the F:M ratio using Equation 2.

The MLSS consists of microorganisms, inert suspended matter, and non-biodegradable

suspended matter. The mixed liquor volatile suspended solids (MLVSS) will typically comprise
70 to 85% of the mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS). Also, though COD/BOD5 ratios are
very site-specific, it can be assumed, until data is available showing otherwise, that the COD =
2.1 BOD5, as shown in Table 2, above.
There is no ideal F:M ratio that will work for all activated sludge treatment systems. Every
wastewater treatment system is different and each system has its own ideal or optimal F:M ratio.
The best F:M ratio for a particular system depends on the type of activated sludge process and
the characteristics of the wastewater entering the system. As shown in Table 1, the recommended
range for the F:M ratio in an oxidation ditch is 0.04 to 0.10. Every wastewater plant needs to
calculate their F:M ratio each day if COD and MLSS (or MLVSS) data is available. This value

then needs to be correlated with effluent COD and TSS values. It will not take long for an
optimal F:M ratio value or range to be determined that will be specific to the Petro 1 and Petro 2
wastewater treatment systems.
In going from Equation 1 to Equation 2, two variables were changed. Where Equation 1 uses the
mixed liquor volatile suspended solids (MLVSS) concentration to more accurately measure the
microorganism population, Equation 2 uses the mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS)
concentration. And where Equation 1 uses the BOD concentration to measure the organic load,
Equation 2 uses the COD concentration. Most industrial wastewater plants will have more COD
and MLSS data available than theyll have BOD and MLVSS. All weve done here is make an
adjustment to the F:M formula to take advantage of data that is more readily available.