Startup and stabilization of anaerobic membrane bioreactors at ambient temperature
Tutor / director / evaluatorKjerstadius, Hamse
Document typeMaster thesis (pre-Bologna period)
Rights accessOpen Access
There has been an increasing interest in wastewater treatment in last decades to reduce human footprint. Primarily, anaerobic technology focused on treatment and stabilization of sludge, but now the tendency is to give it a major role in low cost treatment of high/low strength wastewaters, since anaerobic digestion offers energy generation through gas production. Anaerobic membrane bioreactors (AnMBR) combine anaerobic digestion with membrane filtration. They are becoming a feasible option for treating previous unsuitable low-strength wastewaters, decoupling hydraulic and solid retention times, and providing successful treatment with the benefits of biogas production. However, the digestion process is optimal at mesophilic or termophilic (35-37 ºC), requiring heating of reactors. The more inexpensive option to treat the wastewater at its ambient temperature is feasible using AnMBR since this type of reactor can offer long sludge retention times. On the other hand, the digestion equilibrium turns out more sensible and delicate, and performing a proper and robust start-up of AnMBR in ambient temperatures is still challenging. The aim of the thesis was the successful startup and stabilization of AnMBR systems at ambient temperature (25 ºC) and low organic loading rate (OLR). Reactor operation was monitored, and the most relevant process parameters were considered for the aim. Two pilot-scale AnMBR’s (120L) were used with an external membrane configuration. The experiment was carried out in 100 days. Substrate feeding consisted of synthetic dairy wastewater with added nutrients solution. The inoculum was provided from a full-scale anaerobic plant at a digester of BV dairy (UK) treating dairy wastewater at 30ºC. Main operation parameters were monitored every day, along with gas production and methane yield. Laboratory tests were performed twice a week with samples of the reactors and effluent. A number of parameters were analyzed, the most important of which were total solids content (TSS), alkalinity, fatty acids, biogas content and chemical oxygen demand (COD). The startup of the two AnMBR’s differed greatly. In System 1, stable conditions were acquired in one month of operation. System 2 failed after 20 days of function, and did not achieve successful startup. It was not possible to fully recover it during the days of study due to dramatically slow growth of microorganisms and low stability of the process. Thus, satisfactory system performance could be achieved but the ambient anaerobic process was vulnerable to inhibitory conditions. Both systems showed that the delicate process operation required fast corrective measures to prevent digestion failure. Causes of instability and failure were: washout of biomass, high content of VFA, low buffering capacity and poor performance of technical equipment and low pH. However, the digestion could stand a lower pH range than found in literature. In conclusion, the best parameters to control the startup were pH, alkalinity, methane content, biomass content and organic removal. In this sense, low buffering capacity of a reactor makes it vulnerable to inhibition by sudden pH changes, easily solved by systematic addition of a buffering compound. Finally, the use of simple and fast alkalimetric methodologies can give satisfactory process overview compared to complex and more precise techniques for alkalinity measurement.