Increased Anaerobic Digestion Efficiency via the Use of Thermal Hydrolysis

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Virginia Tech

Waste sludge is frequently treated by anaerobic digestion to kill pathogens, generate methane gas and reduce odors so the sludge can be safely land applied. In an attempt to reduce sludge volumes and improve sludge dewatering properties, the use of thermal hydrolysis (TH), a sludge pretreatment method, has been adopted by numerous wastewater treatment plants, among them being the District of Columbia Water and Sewage Authority (DC WASA).

The use of anaerobic digestion in collaboration with thermal hydrolysis has been shown to increase VS removal, COD removal and biogas production. The sludge generated also dewaters to a higher cake solids than from conventional anaerobic digestion. Unfortunately, DC WASA has found that the use of thermal hydrolysis had brought about two major issues. These are: (a) does thermal hydrolysis increase destruction of fats, oils and greases compared to conventional digestion? and (b) is the mixing method used at Virginia Tech (recirculating gas mixing) capable of stripping ammonia from the digester? Therefore the main purpose of this study is to evaluate these issues which occur with the use of the thermal hydrolysis process.

Experiments were conducted in two phases. The first phase was to assess the performance of anaerobic digesters via their biogas production with and without long chain fatty acid addition
and with or without thermal hydrolysis. This research was further carried out in two stages. First a mixture of unsaturated long chain fatty acids (hydrolyzed and unhydrolyzed) was used. The fatty acid mixture included oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids, which contain one, two and three double bonds, respectively.

In the second stage, the effect of a single unsaturated fatty acid (hydrolyzed and unhydrolyzed) was analyzed. If extra gas is generated, grease addition to the digesters will be implemented. If thermal hydrolysis produces more gas, the greases will be added through the thermal hydrolysis unit rather than being added directly to the digester. The results showed that addition of long chain fatty acids greatly increased gas production and the long chain fatty acids that were thermally hydrolyzed generated more gas than the untreated long chain fatty acids, although the gain was not large.

The second phase of the study was carried out by alternating the type of recirculating gas mixing (partial and continuous) in the anaerobic bioreactor. To achieve this goal, short-term anaerobic bioreactor studies were conducted by varying the frequency of the gas. The result showed that continuous gas recirculation at the bottom of the digester was responsible for stripping ammonia from the system. It appeared that up to 500 mg/L of ammonia was being stripped from the digester operating at 20 day solids retention time. This suggests that ammonia can be stripped if a reduction of ammonia in the digester was desired.

mesophilic, anaerobic digestion, aerobic digestion, solids removal