Efficient Lagoon Aeration: Part I Design Conditions

Having efficient lagoon aeration is important to any wastewater treatment lagoon because aeration typically accounts for 50–60% of energy costs. With this in mind, we have developed a 3-part blog series on lagoon aeration efficiency. This first article focuses on the design conditions that affect the aeration calculations when one is developing a basis of design. Efficient Lagoon Aeration: Part II Field Conditions focuses on the adjustments that need to be made to the design to account for factors in the field, and the third article, Efficient Lagoon Aeration: Part III, focuses on layout and how to design an efficient lagoon aeration system.

The designer of an aeration system for wastewater treatment lagoons must take into account many different factors to achieve an optimal design. These factors vary by system, often competing against one another. For example, increasing the amount of air going through each diffuser lowers the total number of diffuser units needed and subsequent capital costs. However, this can increase the backpressure at the blower and drive up power costs. What is the optimal flow rate per diffuser? The system designer must understand the relationship between these tradeoffs, how to calculate them, and their relative importance to the wastewater lagoon system. This brief discussion will highlight each of the key factors and qualitatively describe their effect on the efficiency of a lagoon aeration system.


What is SOTE? SOTE stands for Standard Oxygen Transfer Efficiency. It is the measurement of how much oxygen is transferred by a given aerator in clean water under the American Society of Civil Engineers’ testing standards. It is commonly used in aeration calculations to determine how much air is required to provide the necessary pounds/kilograms of oxygen needed for treatment. The higher the percentage SOTE number, the less air that is needed to transfer the required amount of oxygen to water.

What aeration factors determine SOTE? Bubble size is the single biggest factor in determining SOTE. The smaller the bubble, the higher the efficiency. This is due to the ratio of the bubble’s surface area to its volume, as well as the speed at which it rises through the water (the larger the bubble, the faster it rises).

SOTE has a role to play in lagoon aeration efficiency because if less air is needed to provide the necessary oxygen, then potentially a lower blower horsepower is required. This can lead to lower energy costs. However, it is important to realize that SOTE alone is not a measure of energy efficiency: backpressure together with the air requirement determines horsepower needed. For example, one fine bubble diffuser could have an SOTE of 3% per foot of depth, but have a higher operational backpressure than an alternative diffuser that is capable of 2% per foot. In that case, while the first diffuser will require less air to provide the necessary pounds of oxygen, it could require the same amount of horsepower/energy consumption as the second.

2. SAE

SAE, or Standard Aeration Efficiency, is intended to help the designer compare the operating costs of different aerators. Measured in terms of pounds of oxygen per horsepower hour, it incorporates both SOTE and blower horsepower. As a result, it is a more complete metric that allows different aerators’ energy efficiencies to be compared side by side. While SAE is rarely factored into the actual aeration calculations, it is a good metric for comparing the energy efficiency of different technologies in an “apples to apples” fashion.

efficient lagoon aeration

Different lagoon aeration systems have different Standard Aeration Efficiency based on the depth of a lagoon. Generally, fine bubble aerators are the most efficient type of lagoon aerator.

Difficulties with SOTE and SAE

There are a number of difficulties in making apples-to-apples comparisons of different aerators based solely on SOTE or SAE. For starters, there are different standards and methods for testing, both within the United States (ASCE), and abroad. Secondly, many aerator manufacturers advertise high SOTEs with very little data to back them up. (We’ve seen independent test results that came in at one-third to one-half of the manufacturer’s claims). An aeration system designer should never select equipment without certified independent lab results to back up the manufacturer’s claims. Preferably, the tests should be conducted by the same lab under the same conditions.

Moreover, the purpose of aeration in a wastewater lagoon system is more than just to add the necessary oxygen to water; it is also to mix. Mixing ensures that the organic matter, bacteria and oxygen all come into contact with each other, thereby facilitating the wastewater treatment process. Without proper mixing, your lagoon could have the most energy-efficient aeration possible, but still not achieve your effluent objectives. For more information on mixing see our article on Causes and Effects of Wastewater Lagoon Sludge.

3. Fine vs. Coarse Bubble vs. Surface Aeration

less efficient lagoon aeration

There are three different types of fine bubble diffusers for aerated lagoons

Fine bubble aeration: Fine bubble diffusers generally produce bubbles of about an eighth of an inch in diameter, or less. They are usually fairly consistent and regular in size. These smaller bubbles have more contact area per volume of air, and they tend to climb the water column more slowly. This results in more oxygen transferred, more efficient lagoon aeration overall, and thus a higher SOTE and SAE.  For fine bubble diffusers, the SAE can range from 4–7.0 lbs, or more, of oxygen per horsepower hour. For more information see our article on Pros & Cons of Fine Bubble Aeration.

less efficient lagoon aeration

Coarse Bubble Static Tube Aerator

Coarse bubble aeration: Coarse bubble diffusers produce bubbles larger than a quarter of an inch in diameter. They are usually irregular and inconsistent, sometimes producing very large bubbles of an inch or two, interspersed with smaller ones. Some coarse bubble diffusers employ various methods of mechanical separation, fixed or moving, to try to split up the larger bubbles. Generally, coarse bubbles are regarded as effective mixers; however, they are less efficient than fine bubbles at providing the necessary oxygen. For coarse bubble diffusers, the SAE tends to be about 2–3 lbs. of oxygen per horsepower hour. See our article on the Pros & Cons of Coarse Bubble Aeration for more information.

less efficient lagoon aeration

Mechanical Surface Aerator

Surface aeration: Mechanical surface aerators sit on the surface of a lagoon and are designed to mix and churn the water into the air. This air/water contact promotes oxygen transfer. Surface aerators are among the least efficient of lagoon aeration alternatives due to the high horsepower and energy requirements. A typical SAE for surface aerators is approximately 1.5–2.25 lbs of oxygen per horsepower hour. Our article on the Pros & Cons of Surface Aeration has more detailed information on this lagoon aeration alternative.

4. Flow Rate

The amount of air pushed through a diffuser has an effect on the efficiency at which it operates. For example, if airflow per unit is increased, aeration efficiency decreases because backpressure generally goes up and the blower needs to consume more energy to provide the required air. Contrarily, running an aerator at the low end of the design range can create very efficient SOTE; however, this will likely result in the need for more aerators. More aerators will increase capital cost for purchasing the diffusers in addition to extra piping infrastructure for delivering air. In addition, more aeration equipment leads to a higher installation labor cost and increases the long run maintenance costs.

Generally there is an optimal airflow rate for each diffuser technology; see below some examples of the different flow rates you can expect to find with wastewater lagoon aeration systems:

type airflow
Fine bubble aerators 5–10 cfm
Coarse bubble aerators up to 15 cfm
Triplepoint MARS Lagoon Aerator 35 cfm

The MARS Lagoon Aerator has a higher airflow capacity per unit due to its combination of both fine and coarse bubble in one portable unit.

5. Depth

For diffused aeration systems, the deeper the aerator, the more efficient it is. While not perfectly linear, many aerators provide their SOTE as a measure of depth. For example, a good coarse bubble diffuser may produce 1% of SOTE per foot of depth, while a good fine bubble diffuser may produce about 2% of SOTE per foot of depth.

There is a tradeoff between depth, energy efficiency, and capital costs. For example, if a lagoon is 15 feet vs. 10 feet deep, less air and aeration equipment is required to provide oxygen needed; however, the backpressure will be higher requiring a larger blower that will consume more energy. Contrarily, if the depth is 5 feet, then the backpressure is lower, but there is more air and aeration equipment required to diffuse that air, driving up capital costs. Generally, optimal aeration design for a fine bubble system is between 8 and 10 feet depth.

For surface aerators, this relationship is not as clear. A surface aerator in a deep lagoon of 15 feet or more will struggle to provide enough mixing than it would in a shallow lagoon of 5 feet or less. However, it will not use any more power either. Generally it is understood that surface aerators, depending on their style and horsepower, are only capable of mixing the first 5–6 feet of the water column.

In conclusion, when designing an efficient lagoon aeration system, it is important to be aware of the pitfalls and tradeoffs involved during design. SOTE does not equal energy efficiency, and, while SAE is a way to compare the relative energy efficiencies of each aeration unit, it ultimately fails to account for the importance of mixing. In addition, the interplay between depth, airflow per diffuser unit, and blower backpressure all play a role in determining blower horsepower and energy consumption. By understanding the determining factors and tradeoffs involved, you will better be able to balance them in order to design an efficient lagoon aeration system.

Contact Triplepoint for Assistance Designing an Efficient Lagoon Aeration System—we can provide you with design calculations, budgetary costs, preliminary layouts and lifecycle cost analysis.

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