The stability, capacity, and solids destruction efficiency of single versus two-stage anaerobic digestion was studied in bench-scale reactors using combined waste activated and primary sludge. Laboratory staged mesophilic digesters showed an improved volatile solids and volatile suspended
solids destruction efficiency over a single-stage system (at the same total solids retention time [SRT]) of approximately 3.2 and 5.8 percentage points, respectively. To quantify stability and capacity, a new digester monitoring method was introduced that measured the digester maximum
acetate utilization capacity, Vmax,ac, and was used to investigate the potential for digester instability at different transient loadings. The ratio of the Vmax,ac value to the estimated acetate production rate for a given digester loading was termed the
acetate capacity number (ACN). Values greater than 1.0 indicate excess acetate utilization capacity. The first stage of the laboratory two-stage mesophilic system (10-day SRT for each stage) had an ACN number of 1.3 compared with a value of 1.8 for the single-stage 20-day SRT digester.
Thus, while a staged mesophilic system can improve solids destruction efficiency, it demonstrates a lower capacity for metabolizing highly variable loads.
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