Inter-stage thermophilic aerobic digestion may increase organic matter removal from wastewater sludge without decreasing biogas production
Combining aerobic and anaerobic digestion in a two-stage system can improve the degradation of wastewater sludge over the use of either technology alone. But use of aerobic digestion as a pre-treatment before anaerobic digestion generally reduces methane production due to loss of substrate through oxidation. An inter-stage configuration may avoid this reduction in methane production. Here, we evaluated the use of thermophilic aerobic digestion (TAD) as an inter-stage treatment for wastewater sludge using laboratory-scale semi-continuous reactors. A single anaerobic digester was compared to an inter-stage system, where a thermophilic aerobic digester (55 °C) was used between two mesophilic anaerobic digesters (37 °C). Both systems had retention times of approximately 30 days, and the comparison was based on measurements made over 97 days. Results showed that the inter-stage system provided better sludge destruction (52% volatile solids (VS) removal vs. 40% for the single-stage system, 44% chemical oxygen demand (COD) removal vs. 34%) without a decrease in total biogas production (methane yield per g VS added was 0.22–0.24 L g−1 for both systems).