The objective of the present work was to evaluate the effect of hydraulic retention time (HRT) on hydrolysis and acidogenesis for the pretreatment processes: acid phase digestion (APD) and autothermal thermophilic aerobic digestion (ATAD) using blended municipal sludge. The effect of the different pretreatment steps on mesophilic anaerobic digestion (MAD) was evaluated in terms of methane yield, keeping the operating conditions of the MAD the same for all systems. Best operating conditions for both APD and ATAD were observed for 2.5 d HRT with high total volatile fatty acids (tVFA), and the highest methane yield observed for MAD. No significant difference was observed between the two processes in terms of overall volatile solids (VS) reduction with same total HRT. The autothermal process produced heat of 14,300 J/g VS removed from hydrolytic and acetogenic reactions without compromising overall methane yields when the HRT was 2.5 d or lower and the total O2 used was 0.10 m3 O2/g VS added or lower. However, the process needs the input of oxygen and engineering analysis should balance these differences when considering the relative merits of the two pretreatment processes. This is the first study of its kind directly comparing these two viable pretreatment processes with the same sludge.
Keywords: acid/gas phase digestion, acidogenesis, ATAD, hydraulic retention time, VFA production