Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

, Volume 67, Issue 1, pp 3–28 | Cite as

Anaerobic digestion and wastewater treatment systems

  • G. Lettinga


Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Bed (UASB) wastewater (pre-)treatment systems represent a proven sustainable technology for a wide range of very different industrial effluents, including those containing toxic/inhibitory compounds. The process is also feasible for treatment of domestic wastewater with temperatures as low as 14–16° C and likely even lower. Compared to conventional aerobic treatment systems the anaerobic treatment process merely offers advantages. This especially is true for the rate of start-up. The available insight in anaerobic sludge immobilization (i.e. granulation) and growth of granular anaerobic sludge in many respects suffices for practice. In anaerobic treatment the immobilization of balanced microbial communities is essential, because the concentration of intermediates then can be kept sufficiently low.

So far ignored factors like the death and decay rate of organisms are of eminent importance for the quality of immobilized anaerobic sludge. Taking these factors into account, it can be shown that there does not exist any need for ‘phase separation’ when treating non- or slightly acidified wastewaters. Phase separation even is detrimental in case the acidogenic organisms are not removed from the effluent of the acidogenic reactor, because they deteriorate the settleability of granular sludge and also negatively affect the formation and growth of granular sludge. The growing insight in the role of factors like nutrients and trace elements, the effect of metabolic intermediates and end products opens excellent prospects for process control, e.g. for the anaerobic treatment of wastewaters containing mainly methanol.

Anaerobic wastewater treatment can also profitably be applied in the thermophilic and psychrophilic temperature range. Moreover, thermophilic anaerobic sludge can be used under mesophilic conditions.

The Expanded Granular Sludge Bed (EGSB) system particularly offers big practical potentials, e.g. for very low strength wastewaters (COD ≪ 1 g/l) and at temperatures as low as 10° C. In EGSB-systems virtually all the retained sludge is employed, while compared to UASB-systems also a substantially bigger fraction of the immobilized organisms (inside the granules) participates in the process, because an extraordinary high substrate affinity prevails in these systems. It looks necessary to reconsider theories for mass transfer in immobilized anaerobic biomass.

Instead of phasing the digestion process, staging of the anaerobic reactors should be applied. In this way mixing up of the sludge can be significantly reduced and a plug flow is promoted. A staged process will provide a higher treatment efficiency and a higher process stability. This especially applies for thermophilic systems.

Key words

UASB anaerobic digestion wastewater EGSB 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Lettinga
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental TechnologyWageningen Agricultural UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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