Environ Sci Ecotechnol. 2023 Aug 10;17:100310. doi: 10.1016/j.ese.2023.100310. eCollection 2024 Jan.
The retention of dense and well-functioning microbial biomass is crucial for effective pollutant removal in several biological wastewater treatment technologies. High solids retention is often achieved through aggregation of microbial communities into dense, spherical aggregates known as granules, which were initially discovered in the 1980s. These granules have since been widely applied in upflow anaerobic digesters for waste-to-energy conversions. Furthermore, granular biomass has been applied in aerobic wastewater treatment and anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) technologies. The mechanisms underpinning the formation of methanogenic, aerobic, and anammox granules are the subject of ongoing research. Although each granule type has been extensively studied in isolation, there has been a lack of comparative studies among these granulation processes. It is likely that there are some unifying concepts that are shared by all three sludge types. Identifying these unifying concepts could allow a unified theory of granulation to be formed. Here, we review the granulation mechanisms of methanogenic, aerobic, and anammox granular sludge, highlighting several common concepts, such as the role of extracellular polymeric substances, cations, and operational parameters like upflow velocity and shear force. We have then identified some unique features of each granule type, such as different internal structures, microbial compositions, and quorum sensing systems. Finally, we propose that future research should prioritize aspects of microbial ecology, such as community assembly or interspecies interactions in individual granules during their formation and growth.