Drying Beds

This is one of two common methods of dewatering based upon thermaal energy. Drying beds are generally used for dewatering of well digested sludges. Attempts to air dry raw sludge usually result in odor problems. Sludge drying beds consist of perforated or open joint drainage pipe laid within a gravel base. The gravel is covered with a layer of sand. Partitions around and between the drying beds are generally open to the weather but may be covered with ventilated green-house type enclosures where it is necessary to dewater sludge in wet climates. The drying of sludge on sand beds is accomplished by allowing water to drain from the sludge mass through the supporting sand to the drainage piping and natural evaporation to the air. As the sludge dries, cracks develop in the surface allowing evaporation to occur from the lower layers which accelerates the drying process.

There are many design variations used for sludge drying beds, including the layout of the drainage piping, thickness and type of materials in the gravel and sand layers, and construction materials used for the partitions. The major variation is whether or not the beds are covered. Any covering structure must be well ventilated. In the past, some beds were constructed with flat concrete bottoms for drainage without pipes, but this construction has not been very satisfactory. Asphalt concrete (blacktop) has been used in some drying beds. The only sidestream is the drainage water. This water is normally returned to the raw sewage flow to the plant or to the plant headworks. The drainage water is not normally treated prior to return to the plant. Experience is the best guide in determining the depth of sludge to be applied, however, typical application depth is 8 to 12 inches. The condition and moisture content of the sludge, the sand bed area available, and the need to draw sludge from digesters are factors to consider. It is not advisable to apply fresh sludge on top of dried sludge in a bed. The best time to remove dried sludge from drying beds depends on a number of factors, such as subsequent treatment by grinding or shredding, the availability of drying bed area for application of current sludge production, labor availability, and, of course, the desired moisture content of the dried sludge. Sludge can be removed by shovel or forks at a moisture content of 60 percent, but if it is allowed to dry to 40 percent moisture, it will weigh only half as much and is still easy to handle. If the sludge gets too dry (10 to 20 percent moisture) it will be dusty and will be difficult to remove because it will crumble as it is removed. Many operators of smaller treatment plants use wheelbarrows to haul sludge from drying beds. Planks are often laid on the bed for a runway so that the wheelbarrow tire does not sink into the sand. Wheelbarrows can be kept close to the worker so that the shoveling distance is not great. Most plants use pick-up trucks or dump trucks to transport the sludge from the drying bed. Dump trucks have the advantage of quick unloading.

Where trucks are used, it is best to install concrete treadways in the sludge drying bed wide enough to carry the dual wheels since the drying bed can be damaged if the trucks are driven directly on the sand. The treadways should be installed so that good access is provided to all parts of the beds. If permanent treadways have not been installed, heavy planks may be placed on the sand. Large plants will normally utilize mechanical equipment for handling the dried sludge. Some communities have encouraged public usage of the dried sludge. In some cases users are allowed to remove the sludge from the beds, but this may not be satisfactory in many cases. Local regulations should be reviewed before attempting to establish a public utilization program.

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