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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Oct;79(20):6491-500. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01730-13. Epub 2013 Aug 16.

Methanosarcinaceae and acetate-oxidizing pathways dominate in high-rate thermophilic anaerobic digestion of waste-activated sludge.

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Advanced Water Management Centre, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia.


This study investigated the process of high-rate, high-temperature methanogenesis to enable very-high-volume loading during anaerobic digestion of waste-activated sludge. Reducing the hydraulic retention time (HRT) from 15 to 20 days in mesophilic digestion down to 3 days was achievable at a thermophilic temperature (55°C) with stable digester performance and methanogenic activity. A volatile solids (VS) destruction efficiency of 33 to 35% was achieved on waste-activated sludge, comparable to that obtained via mesophilic processes with low organic acid levels (<200 mg/liter chemical oxygen demand [COD]). Methane yield (VS basis) was 150 to 180 liters of CH4/kg of VS(added). According to 16S rRNA pyrotag sequencing and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), the methanogenic community was dominated by members of the Methanosarcinaceae, which have a high level of metabolic capability, including acetoclastic and hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis. Loss of function at an HRT of 2 days was accompanied by a loss of the methanogens, according to pyrotag sequencing. The two acetate conversion pathways, namely, acetoclastic methanogenesis and syntrophic acetate oxidation, were quantified by stable carbon isotope ratio mass spectrometry. The results showed that the majority of methane was generated by nonacetoclastic pathways, both in the reactors and in off-line batch tests, confirming that syntrophic acetate oxidation is a key pathway at elevated temperatures. The proportion of methane due to acetate cleavage increased later in the batch, and it is likely that stable oxidation in the continuous reactor was maintained by application of the consistently low retention time.

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