Enhanced digestion of waste activated sludge using microbial electrolysis cells at ambient temperature
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This study examined the effects of the microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) reactions on anaerobic digestion of waste activated sludge from municipal wastewater treatment under ambient temperature conditions (22-23 °C). Two lab-scale digesters, a control anaerobic digester and an electrically-assisted digester (EAD - equipped with a MEC bioanode and cathode) were operated under three solids retention times (SRT = 7, 10 and 14 days) at 22.5 ± 0.5 °C. A numerical model was also built by including the MEC electrode reactions in Anaerobic Digestion Model No.1. In experiments, the EAD showed reduced concentration of acetic acid, propionic acid, n-butyric acid and iso-butyric acid. This improved performance of the EAD is thought to be achieved by direct oxidation of the short-chain fatty acids at the bioanode as well as indirect contribution of low acetic acid concentration to enhancing beta-oxidation. The VSS and COD removal was consistently higher in the EAD by 5-10% compared to the control digester for all SRT conditions at 22.5 ± 0.5 °C. When compared to mathematical model results, this additional COD removal in the EAD was equivalent to that which would be achieved with conventional digesters at mesophilic temperatures. The magnitude of electric current in the EAD was governed by the organic loading rate while conductivity and acetic acid concentration showed negligible effects on current generation. Very high methane content (∼95%) in the biogas from both the EAD and control digester implies that the waste activated sludge contained large amounts of lipids and other complex polymeric substances compared to primary sludge.
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