|Abstract: ||Anaerobic digestion of waste activated sludge can be improved if hydrolysis of particulate substrates is enhanced and available substrate is made more accessible by both breakup of the sludge matrix floc and rupture of the cell wall. Microwave (MW) pretreatment was suggested and studied as a way to improve digestion efficiency. The work done focuses on the effects of MW pretreatment on the characteristics of the sludge, due to thermal and athermal effects. It also evaluates the effects some process variables in the activated sludge process have on the pretreatment efficiency as well as the effect operating conditions in the downstream anaerobic digestion process have on the biodegradability efficiency of those sludges.
Effects of athermal and thermal MW radiation were measured by use of a customized MW oven capable of providing MW radiation with uncoupled thermal and athermal effects. Athermal radiation was capable of increasing substrate present in the soluble phase of sludge, and had a positive effect in the digestion of athermal samples. The increases in biogas production and substrate solubilisation were smaller in magnitude than the increases measured for MW thermal tests. Further refining of the tests with athermal and thermal sludge, involved separation by size class of the solubilized substrate by means of ultrafiltration (UF), and revealed that changes in particle size distribution were significant not only for MW thermal tests, but also for athermal tests, with a particular emphasis in proteins in athermal tests. These changes had an effect on the biodegradability of the sludges by class size, with thermally pretreated sludge producing more biogas for smaller particles size classes but also exhibiting more inhibition.
Tests were made with several combinations of sludge with different ages and subject to different MW pretreatment temperatures. The work showed that sludge age or solids retention time (SRT) has a significant effect on the pretreatment efficiency with maximum biogas improvements measured at different MW pretreatment temperatures depending on the SRT of the sludge tested, and with different behaviour for mesophilic and thermophilic digestion. Mesophilic tests showed greater improvements in terms of digestion effiency on average, but thermophilic tests showed more uniform performance, with a higher baseline efficiency. The presence of an optimum of MW pretreatment temperature and sludge SRT for maximal biogas production is more defined for mesophilic conditions than for thermophilic conditions.
Semi-continuous studies were conducted with several combinations of single and two stage mesophilic and thermophilic digestors treating MW pretreated sludge and non-pretreated sludge. Staging and thermophilic digestion allowed the maintenance of a stable digestion process with high biogas productions and high solids removal efficiencies with production of sludge with good bacteriological characteristics for an very low residence time (5 d).|