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Overview of Anaerobic Treatment: Thermophilic and Propionate Implications - Keynote Address—Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors—78th Annual Water Environment Federation Technical Exposition and Conference, Washington, D.C., Oct. 29–Nov. 2, 2005

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Difficulties in achieving low propionate concentrations in anaerobically treated effluents are frequently reported in the literature (Ahring, 1994; Kugelman and Guida, 1989; Rimkus et al., 1982), especially at thermophilic temperatures, with concentrations as high as 1000 to 9600 mg/L sometimes produced. This paper will detail the effect of several variables on the performance of both mesophilic and thermophilic regimes. Studies concerning the effect of the following four important factors on performance are included: reactor configuration, inorganic nutrient supplementation, substrate characteristics, and the unique role of microbial consortia proximity in enhancing performance. Reactor configuration modifications, essential nutrient additions, and the importance of close microbial proximity were all found to contribute to improvement in thermophilic anaerobic digestion in all the studies. It was found that, in substrates that shunt significant amounts of the electron donor through propionate, performance was critically related to reactor optimization, with propionate removal efficiency considerably improved using intact upflow anaerobic sludge blanket granules, less so in a homogenized granule slurry blanket, and noticeably reduced even more when the completely stirred reactor configuration of homogenized granules was used. The critical importance of extremely close microbial consortia proximity in maintaining hydrogen intermediates at very low levels to efficiently convert propionate to hydrogen and acetate was demonstrated. Compared to mesophilic digestion, thermophilic digestion manifested elevated levels of propionate, except in the nonmixed reactors, which had close microbial consortia proximity. The reactor configuration with the best results was the anaerobic digestion elutriated phased treatment (ADEPT) scheme, in which the raw sludge was elutriated of its fermenting volatile fatty acids, as they are generated in a short 5- to 8-day solids retention time (SRT) in one reactor and the elutriate then metabolized by passing up through a methanogenic granule or slurry blanket (with its close microbial consortia proximity) in a separate reactor with a 20- to 50-day SRT. Loading rates and performance of the ADEPT reactor configuration were superior to the standard continuously stirred tank reactor, and ADEPT thermophilic temperatures allowed higher organic loading rates without high propionate concentrations in the effluent.
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Keywords: anaerobic digestion; anaerobic digestion elutriated phased treatment; microbial consortia proximity; propionate; thermophilic digestion

Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: 2006-05-01

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