Changes in the characteristics of dissolved organic matter during sludge treatment: A critical review

Keke Xiao, Gudrun Abbt-Braun, Harald Horn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Dissolved organic matter (DOM) of sludge is a heterogeneous mixture of high to low molecular weight organic substances which is including proteinaceous compounds, carbohydrates, humic substances, lipids, lignins, organic acids, organic micropollutants and other biological derived substances generated during wastewater treatment. This paper reviews definition, composition, quantification, and transformation of DOM during different sludge treatments, and the complex interplay of DOM with microbial communities. In anaerobic digestion, anaerobic digestion-refractory organic matter, particularly compounds showing polycyclic steroid-like, alkane and aromatic structures can be generated after pretreatment. During dewatering, the DOM fraction of low molecular weight proteins (< 20,000 Dalton) is the key parameter deteriorating sludge dewaterability. During composting, decomposition and polymerization of DOM occur, followed by the formation of humic substances. During landfill treatment, the composition of DOM, particularly humic substances, are related with leachate quality. Finally, suggestions are proposed for a better understanding of the transformation and degradation of DOM during sludge treatment. Future work in sludge studies needs the establishment and implementation of definitions for sample handling and the standardization of DOM methods for analysis, including sample preparation and fractionation, and data integration. A more detailed knowledge of DOM in sludge facilitates the operation and optimization of sludge treatment technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116441
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Composting
  • Dissolved organic matter
  • Landfill
  • Sludge dewatering
  • Sludge treatment


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