Trickling filter and trickling filter-suspended growth process design and operation: A state-of-the-art review

Glen T. Daigger, Joshua P. Boltz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


The modern trickling filter typically includes the following major components: (1) rotary distributors with speed control; (2) modular plastic media (typically cross-flow media unless the bioreactor is treating high-strength wastewater, which warrants the use of vertical-flow media); (3) a mechanical aeration system (that consists of air distribution piping and low-pressure fans); (4) influent/recirculation pump station; and (5) covers that aid in the uniform distribution of air and foul air containment (for odor control). Covers may be equipped with sprinklers that can spray in-plant washwater to cool the media during emergency shut down periods. Trickling filter mechanics are poorly understood. Consequently, there is a general lack of mechanistic mathematical models and design approaches, and the design and operation of trickling filter and trickling filter/suspended growth (TF/SG) processes is empirical. Some empirical trickling filter design criteria are described in this paper. Benefits inherent to the trickling filter process (when compared with activated sludge processes) include operational simplicity, resistance to toxic and shock loads, and low energy requirements. However, trickling filters are susceptible to nuisance conditions that are primarily caused by macro fauna. Process mechanical components dedicated to minimizing the accumulation of macro fauna such as filter flies, worms, and snail (shells) are now standard. Unfortunately, information on the selection and design of these process components is fragmented and has been poorly documented. The trickling filter/solids contact process is the most common TF/SG process. This paper summarizes state-of-the art design and operational practice for the modern trickling filter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)388-404
Number of pages17
JournalWater Environment Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Biofilm
  • Design
  • Nitrification
  • Operation
  • Trickling filter
  • Trickling filter/solids contact
  • Trickling filter/suspended growth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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