Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the preferred option to stabilize sludge. However, the rate limiting step of solids hydrolysis makes it worth modifing the conventional mesophilic AD in order to increase the performance of the digester. The main strategies are to introduce a hydrolysis pre-treatment, or to modify the digestion temperature. Among the different pre-treatment alternatives, the thermal hydrolysis (TH) at 170 °C for 30 min, and the ultrasounds pre-treatment (US) at 30 kJ/kg TS were selected for the research, while for the non-conventional anaerobic digestion, the thermophilic (TAD) and the two-stage temperature phased AD (TPAD) were considered. Four pilot plants were operated, with the same configuration and size of anaerobic digester (200 L, continuously fed). The biogas results show a general increase compared to the conventional digestion, being the highest production per unit of digester for the process combining the thermal pre-treatment and AD (1.4 Lbiogas/Ldigester·day compared to the value of 0.26 obtained in conventional digesters). The dewaterability of the digestate became enhanced for processes TH + AD and TPAD when compared with the conventional digestate, while it became worse for processes US + AD and TAD. In all the research lines, the viscosity in the digester was smaller compared to the conventional (which is a key factor for process performance and economics), and both thermal pre-treatment and thermophilic digestion (TAD and TPAD) assure a pathogen free digestate.
Keywords: anaerobic digestion, sludge, temperature phased, thermal/ultrasound pre-treatment, thermophilic