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ANAEROBIC TREATMENT OF WASTEWATER

Organic matters are one of the most undesired pollutants in wastewaters since they are detrimental to the bodies of water when present in significant concentration. A high concentration of organic matter translates to a high biological oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) of the wastewater leaving less oxygen for the living organisms in that body of water. As a result, the organisms could die. That is why industries are really investing a lot of money in removing such contents in their wastewater. Organic pollutants are removed by means of biological treatments that can be classified as aerobic or anaerobic. The former was the first to be used however it was expensive and it requires a lot of mechanization whereas the latter can remove as much organic matter at lower cost. Anaerobic treatments could be classified as suspended film or fixed film which are represented by Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) and Attached-growth process, respectively.

Anaerobic waste treatment Anaerobic treatment, also known as anaerobic digestion (AD), is a treatment that degrades waste in the absence of oxygen using anaerobic microorganisms producing a biogas (mainly methane and carbon dioxide). The treatment is as old as septic tanks. Anaerobic treatment is commonly employed when the waste is organic in nature usually the effluents from food processing factories and factories of related products. It is used also to stabilize concentrated organic solids removed from settling tanks and from aerobic biological treatment systems. It cannot be used when toxic materials are present in significant amount. The equipment used for such digestion is called anaerobic digester or methane digester. It is an airtight tank that is usually cylindrical, made of concrete and equipped with mixersa. The most common depth is 20 ft but it can go as deep as 100 ft or more in terms of diameter. Meanwhile, the AD process in general is comprised of four stages: the pretreatment, waste digestion, gas recovery and residue treatment (refer to Figure 1). Pretreatment is necessary to achieve homogenous feed stock and to remove any non-digestible materials such as stone, glass, metals and stone, (though occurrence of such in industrial effluents is rare). Screen or bars maybe used in removing undesired materialsbut if the effluent is expected to contain a lot of non-digestible materials, source or mechanical separation may be needed and as well as shredding. Pre-acidification may also be essential to control the pH of the feed since pH is an important parameter in the digestion. In the digester, the feed maybe diluted to attain the required solid content. Clean water or recirculated water can be used for dilution. The wastewater is then retained in the digester for digestion. But prior to that, the waste is heated to 95 oF.
1

Some anaerobic treatment doesnt have mechanical mixers such as the UASB.

In waste digestion stage, three sets of anaerobic microorganisms are used. The first group of microorganisms hydrolyzes the large soluble and insoluble molecules such as proteins, fats and oils and carbohydrates into simple amino acids, fatty acids and simple sugars, respectively. This sub stage is ofimportance because it could be the rate limiting step; that is why some operators make use of chemicals to enhance hydrolysis. The following are the reactions: Lipids Fatty Acids Polysaccharides Monosaccharides Protein AminoAcids Nucleic Acids Purines &Pyrimidines The smaller compounds are then degraded by acetogenic bacteria (acid-forming)producing acetic acid, propionic acid, butyric acid, ethanol and carbon dioxide. Below is an acetogenesis reaction: C6H12O6 2C2H5OH + 2CO2
Sugar Ethanol Carbon dioxide

The last group of bacteria is the methanogens (methane-forming) which cleaves acetic acid to form methane and carbon dioxide and reduces the carbon dioxide with hydrogen to form methane and water. The reactions are shown below: CH3COOH
acetic acid

CH4

CO2

methane carbon dioxide

CO2

4H2

CH4 + 2H2O

carbon dioxide hydrogen methane water

2C2H5OH + CO2 CH4 + 2CH3COOH


Ethanol

Higher methane could be produced from the second reaction however because of the inadequate amount of hydrogen, the reaction is limited; and the bulk of the methane is produced from the first reaction. The digested waste undergoes gas recovery or degasification wherein the sludge (agglomerated organic matter and organisms) is separated from the treated water. The biogas can be scrubbed from the digested waste or a cascade degasifier (vacuum is used) and sludge separator (for settling purposes) can be used to attain separation. For residue treatment, the settled sludge can be returned to the digester as seed and theunrecycled solids are aerobically cured to obtain a compost product. The effluent can also be recycled back to the digester for dilution.

Figure 1.Diagram of an anaerobic digestion process. Anaerobic digestion produces a biogas with 50-80 % of methane, 20-50% of carbon dioxide and 0.2-0.4% of hydrogen sulfide (which is together with water vapor makes biogas corrosive) depending on the nature of the waste; and microbial cells. The conversion rate is up to 90% of the degradable organics. To obtain the maximum conversion the temperature during digestion must be maintained at 95 oF, though 80-100 oF (35-37 oF) can still give a good conversion. The temperature is maintained by an external heat exchanger installed on the vessel. Mixing1 is also vital to enhance contact between the microorganisms and the organic waste. Moreover, pH must be monitored since acidic environment inhibits the methane-forming bacteria; that is why pre-acidification maybe necessary for highly acidic wastes and the volatile acids formed during digestion must be destroyed immediately as they are produced. The latter can be achieved by uniform loading of feed. Alkalinity, on the other hand is maintained at 3000-5000ppm to ensure the optimum pH range of 6.5-7.5. Beyond this range, free ammonia toxicity occurs which is undesired. The hydraulic retention time (HRT) is 10-30 days, more than seven times the minimum HRT which is 3-4 days (based in kinetic theory and values of pseudo constants for methane bacteria) to balance the load discrepancies and to provide a safety factor. Anaerobic treatment of waste is cheaper than the aerobic ones since it does not require aeration which increases the operational cost of the latter. Also, the plant could be self-sufficient because it produces biogas which supplies its energy requirements. Moreover the production of microbial mass is quite low compared to the latter. It also produces less air and solid emissions than
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Mixing can be through mechanical mixers or gaseous mixing.

other treatments such as incineration and easy and faster to build. Furthermore the digested waste produced is very stable and with less odor. However, in an anaerobic treatment, it is difficult to start and to adjust to shifting operating conditions because of the slow bacterial growth rate. Also, it needs elevated temperature for higher conversion, and dilute wastes cannot produce sufficient biogas for heating. The treated wastewater from an anaerobic treatment still needs to undergo another treatment to remove pathogens, hence it is usually a secondary treatment. The treatment is strongly recommended for concentrated wastes with BODs exceeding 10000 ppm.

Attached Growth System or Fixed-film system Attached-growth (also known as biofilters) utilizes anaerobic process in treating wastewater. As the name implies, the biomass is attached since a substrate or packing (plastic or rocks) is provided for the bacteria to grow on. The packing materials include rock, gravel, sand and plastics and other synthetic material and can be completely or partially submerged, with air space above the biofilm liquid layer (http://www.thewatertreatments.com/waste-water-treatment-filtration-purify-seprationsewage/secondary-treatment). The treatment compensates for the weakness of the general anaerobic processes since it can be used to treat wastewater that is relatively cold (15 25C) and dilute (0.5% or less volatile solids)because their solids residence time (SRT)/hydraulic residence time(HRT) ratio is over 50. Since the biomass is attached, it is stable and free from sludge separation and recycle problems. It also able to handle shock loading and offers resistance to toxic materials which are limitations of the general anaerobic processes. Compared to suspended solids or growth systems, the removal rate of BOD and suspended solids is higher. Furthermore, it maintains a high density of biomass population, increases the efficiency of the system without the need for increasing the mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) concentration, and eliminates the cost of operating the return activated sludge (RAS) line (http://www.thewatertreatments.com/waste-water-treatment-filtration-purify-seprationsewage/secondary-treatment). However with such system, clogging due to the influent solids is inevitable. There are two types of attached growth reactors: stationary medium biofilter and fluidized-bed biofilters.Stationary medium biofilter addresses the problem of clogging with its oriented type of packing (the other type israndom or dumped). Plastic packing is also employed to enhance contact and retain solids. Moreover, the flow motion can be upflow or downflow wherein the former is commonly used while the latter is used for higher solids stream.

On the other hand, fluidized bed biofilters, as the name implies, takes advantage of the fluidized state of its media (sizes ranges from 0.3mm to 50mm) which can be inert (sand) or reactive (carbon) in treating the wastewater. This biofilters increase the surface area for microbial growth, allow higher loading and offers greater resistance to toxics. However, the treatment requires higher amount of energy since recycle ratios are from 0.5-10, even greater, to attain fluidization. Specific examples of this system are trickling filters and biological towers, wherein the feed wastewater is sprayed over the rocks or plastics with adsorbed biomass. The water then trickles down through the attached biomass, where the organic pollutants are removed through sorption and biodegradation. Though it was discussed that attached-growth reactors operate anaerobically, it can also employ aerobic waste treatment.

Upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) In contrast with the attached growth reactors, UASB has its biomass suspended within the reactor without any attachments. As the name implies, UASB promotes an upward flow motion of the influent and treats waste water through an anaerobic sludge bed or blanket. The process is illustrated below:

Figure 2.An Upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor.


Source: http://www.uasb.org/discover/agsb.htm#uasb

The wastewater enters the tank from the bottom through several inlets. The influent then flows upward and passes through an active sludge bed where it comes in to contact with the anaerobic microorganisms producing biogas (methane, carbon dioxide and traces of other gas). The active sludge is comprised of the influent solids and the growing microorganisms; which comes to maturation after several months (about 3 months). The sludge bed forms into granules as it matures which is more favorable for digestion. It is also heavier than the bed form which brings more stability and resistance to wash out. The biogas produced is released as gas bubbles. The bubbles then flow upward causing hydraulic turbulence which serves as the mixing mechanism in the reactor. At the top of the reactoris a gas-liquidsolids (GLS) separator, which separates the water phase from sludge solids and gas. The three-phaseseparator is a gas cap with a settler situated above it. Below the gas capare baffles whichare used to deflect gas to the gas-cap opening and prevent the solids from escaping. The figure below shows the zones within a UASB reactor. The digestion zone is where the sludge bed blanket or granules are; the transition zone is where the separation commences; and the settling zone is where separation completes. In the settling zone, the gas must be first collected before the treated water is released.

Figure 3.The different zones in a UASB reactor.

As mentioned earlier, methanogenic bacteria are pH sensitive, hence pH must be controlled from 6.3-7.8 to ensure good conversion. Hydrogen carbonate buffer is often utilized for this purpose. COD, temperature and flow rate are also important considerations in optimizing the treatment. COD must be over 250 mg COD/l and the optimum concentration is >400 mg COD/l, though the maximum limit is not yet known.Temperatureshould be within 35-38oC (though 30-42 oC is still allowable). A degree drop below this range will correspond to 11% decrease in conversion. And the influent flow must maintained constant but if in case of great variations, buffer tanks must be place prior the UASB to ensure constant feeding. In South America, there had been a study relating the COD reduction and COD loading per volume for UASB. In average, loading ranges from 5-20 kg COD/m3day. Upflow velocity or superficial velocity, another important parameter, should also be kept within 0.2-1 m/h. Moreover, the HRT which is vital degradation rate should be at least two hours. If the desired operating conditions are not met, the activity of methanogenetic bacteria will be inhibited. To monitor such situation these following parameters are monitored because they indicateinhibition in the digestion: reduction in methane yield, increase in volatile acids concentration, fall in COD removal efficiency, fall in pH and sluggish response to stop/start conditions and poor stability against overload. The first two parameters are primary indicators. The methane yield normally is from 0.34-0.36 m3 CH4 per kg COD removed at 35 oC and with BOD5: COD ratio of greater than 0.5 but if less than 0.5 theyield should range from 0.91-0.93. On the other hand, the volatile acid concentration must be between 250 ppm and 500ppm. Concentration greater than this, means too much amount of food to microorganisms or the process is inhibited. Meanwhile, the efficiency of BOD degradation can reach as high as 95 %, while both COD and degradation rate ranges from 60 % to 80 %. On the other hand, nutrient degradation is almost negligible. UASB produces biogas, treated water and sludge. Biogas generation was observed to range from 0.4-0.6 m3/ kg COD removed composed of methane at 60-80%, CO2 at 20-40% and traces of H2S, N2, H2 and other gasses. The treated waste water after post-treatment can be used as irrigation water or for substrate moisturizing while the sludge are used as fertilizer or soil conditioner. UASB is not capable of removing pathogens and nutrients in the wastewater, hence the effluent still needs to undergo another treatment usually those which are aerobic in nature. The most common post treatment is maturation pond. UASB is utilized commonly as secondary treatment. The reactor itself, like any other anaerobic reactors is an airtight vessel. It could rectangular, cylindrical or mixed in shape. Its ideal height is about 6m. The biggest advantage in application of UASB process is if power failure occurs, the process does not suffer since it is already anaerobic in nature and little electrical equipments are involved. Advantages low land demand reduction of CH4 emissions from uncontrolled disposal/open treatment (ponds) due to enclosed treatment and gas collection reduction of CO2 emissions due to low demand for foreign (fossil) energy and surplus energy production lowodour emissions in case of

optimum operation hygienic advantages in case of appropriate post-treatment low degree of mechanisation few process steps (sludge and wastewater are treated jointly) low sludge production, high sludge quality low demand for foreign exchange due to possible local production of construction material, plant components, spare parts low demand for operational means, control and maintenance correspondingly low investment and operational costs

Disadvantages demand for know-how insufficientstandardisation and adaptation for several implementation possibilities economically not feasible in colder climates with sewage temperature lower than 15C methane and odour emissions (also of end-products) in case of inappropriate plant design or operation insufficient pathogen removal without appropriate post-treatment sensitivity towards toxic substances long start-up phase before steady state operation, if activated sludge is not sufficiently available uncertainties concerning operation/ maintenance due to still low local availability of know-how and process knowledge

SUMMARY Biological waste water treatments are used to degrade organic pollutants in wastewaters that can be detrimental to the bodies of water. It can be either anaerobic or aerobic wherein the former degrades without oxygen while the latter requires one. Anaerobic treatment, also called anaerobic digester, is cheaper and has high conversion rate which can reach up to 90%. It also produces biogas which supplies its own energy needs and minimal amount of sludge. However, start-up is difficult and high temperature is needed to optimize the conditions. Anaerobic treatment can be classified as fixed film and suspended film. An example of the former is an attached-growth system while for the latter is UASB. Attached growth system can operate at relatively lower temperature, highly-diluted influent and conversion is higher than the suspended type. On the other hand, UASB operates at higher temperature and high-concentrated effluents, cheaper than the attached former in terms of operational cost and it still has higher conversion rate.