Anaerobic / Aerobic Digestion for Enhanced Solids and Nitrogen Removal

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Virginia Tech


Anaerobic digestion of wastewater sludge has widely been in application for stabilization of sludge. With the increase in hauling cost and many environmental and health concerns regarding land application of biosolids, digestion processes generating minimized sludge with better effluent characteristics is becoming important for many public and wastewater utilities.

This study was designed to investigate the performance of anaerobic-aerobic-anaerobic digestion of sludge and compare it to anaerobic-aerobic digestion and single stage mesophilic digestion of sludge. Experiments were carried out in three stages: Single-stage mesophilic anaerobic digestion (MAD) 20d SRT; Sequential Anaerobic/Aerobic digestion (Ana/Aer); and Anaerobic/Aerobic/Anaerobic digestion (An/Aer/An). The Anaerobic/Aerobic/Anaerobic digestion of sludge was studied with two options to determine the best option in terms of effluent characteristics. The two sludge withdrawal options were to withdraw effluent from the anaerobic digester (An/Aer/An – A) or withdraw effluent from the aerobic digester (An/Aer/An – B). Different operational parameters, such as COD removal, VS destruction, biogas production, Nitrogen removal, odor removal and dewatering properties of the resulting biosolids were studied and the results were compared among different processes.

From the study, it was found that An/Aer/An – B (wastage from aerobic reactor) provided better effluent characteristics than An/Aer/An – A (wastage from anaerobic reactor), Ana/Aer or conventional MAD. The study also shows that the Anaerobic/Aerobic/Anaerobic (An/Aer/An, with wastage from the aerobic or anaerobic digester) digestion of the sludge can improve the biosolids quality by improving the dewatering capabilities, with lower optimum polymer dose, reduced CST and increased cake solid concentration, and reduce the odor generation from the biosolids.

Both An/Aer/Ana – A and An/Aer/An – B gave 70% VS removal, compared to 50% with single MAD and 62% with only Ana/Aer. COD removal of both An/Aer/An – A and An/Aer/An – B was 70%, while it was 50% and 66% for single MAD and Ana/Aer respectively. In the aerobic reactors of Ana/Aer and An/Aer/An - B, nitrification and denitrification with removal of nitrogen was observed. The An/Aer/An – B system had more ammonia and TKN removal (70%) than Ana/Aer (64%).

The effluent from each stage was analyzed for dewatering ability, cake solid concentration and odor production potential. Compared with a single Ana/Aer system, the extra anaerobic step in An/Aer/An – A and – B reduced polysaccharides in the effluent. The Ana/Aer system released less protein than the conventional MAD system and the addition of the second anaerobic step - especially with system An/Aer/An – B (discharge from aerobic reactor) - greatly reduced protein, resulting in improved dewaterability and less polymer demand. An/Aer/An (both of the options: A and B) had lower CST than single MAD (both 15d and 20d SRT) and Ana/Aer. Compared to Ana/Aer, a reduction of 52% for An/Aer/An – A and 20% for An/Aer/An – B in polymer dose requirement was observed, indicating improved dewatering characteristics. The An/Aer/An – B has higher biosolid cake concentration than MAD or Ana/Aer. The results showed that An/Aer/An (both options: A and B) biosolid had lower odor generation potential than single MAD (15d and 20d SRT) or Ana/Aer. Of all the stages,the An/Aer/An – A and – B system, generated odor which peaked at shorter time and lasted for shorter duration of time.



aerobic digestion, solids removal, dewatering and biosolids odors, mesophilic anaerobic digestion