Environmental Technologies for Contaminated Solids, Soils and Sediments
4th cohort

Martha Minale Yeshanew

Enhanced anaerobic digestion of organic solid waste through thermal pretreatment and biofilm based two-stage reactors

Anaerobic digestion (AD) has been used over a century for an effective treatment of organic wastes. Interest in anaerobic treatment is continually increasing since it presents significant advantages when compared to alternative biological treatments and waste disposal options. This research study was mainly focused on the optimization of the AD process, that was achieved through two different strategies. The first aimed at increasing the substrate biodegradability by a means of thermal pretreatment. The second was focused on the application of a biofilm based system to improve the biogas production rates and minimize the reactor size.

Food waste (FW) was mainly used as a model substrate due to its suitable composition, abundance and renewability. In this thesis the influence of the thermal pretreatment temperature on organic matter solubilization and methane yield of FW under different operational conditions was investigated. Significant improvement of the FW solubilization and biodegradability were observed for all thermally pretreated FW compared to the untreated FW. The highest biodegradability enhancement, i.e. + 28 %, was observed for FW treated at the lowest thermal pretreatment temperature, i.e. 80 ⁰C. The results showed a strong correlation between the substrate type (e.g. carbohydrate, protein and lipid content), the thermal pretreatment temperature and its effectiveness in promoting the biodegradability.

In the second part of the work, a prolonged operation of an integrated two-stage system, including a continuously stirred tank and an anaerobic biofilm reactor, was carried out to produce biohythane (biohydrogen and methane) from the FW. The anaerobic biofilm reactor was employed to overcome biomass wash-out from the reactor. The formation of a well-matured and balanced AD biomass greatly improved the process stability, which was not affected by shortening the hydraulic retention time (HRT) from 6 to 3.7 days in the first reactor and from 20 to 1.5 days in the second reactor. Moreover a two-stage system, comprised of a pilot scale batch dark fermenter and an anaerobic biofilm reactor co-producing hydrogen and methane from the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW), was used to assess the capability of the anaerobic biofilm reactor to face an organic shock load. The results showed a faster recovery of the anaerobic biofilm reactor performance after the shock load events.