Recognition of the advantages of anaerobic wastewater treatment induced the development of high rate processes, i.e. reactors designed to allow an efficient treatment of even diluted streams. The performance of these advanced reactors is mainly dependent on the retention within the reactor of high bacterial concentrations. The prevailing mechanism is either the formation of bacterial aggregates with good settling characteristics, the development of methanogenic biolayers at the surface of inert carriers or both.
During the past decade information on the biology of methanogenic ecosystems became available at an increasing rate. From a practical point of view it can be stated that the biological conversion of organic compounds to methane is reasonably well understood. However the current knowledge on the aggregation and adhesion of methanogenic consortia remains very limited. In most cases reactor start-up procedures are rather long and appear to be more empirical than rational.
This paper is a brief presentation on the current knowledge of methanogenic aggregates and biofilms. The fundamental aspects of bacterial adhesion and the modelling of anaerobic biofilms growth are presented elsewhere.