Difficulties met in the anaerobic treatment of olive oil mill effluents (OME) suggest the use of a chemico-physical pretreatment for the removal of biorecalcitrant and/or inhibiting substances (essentially lipids and polyphenols) as selectively as possible before anaerobic digestion. Laboratory scale experiments were carried out in order to identify pretreatment type and conditions capable of optimizing OME anaerobic digestion in terms both of kinetics and methane yield. Ultrafiltration, even if it allowed very high removals of lipids and polyphenols, was affected by poor selectivity (indeed, large amounts of biodegradable COD were also removed). Centrifugation turned out to be preferable to sedimentation owing to smaller volumes of separated phase. Results of great significance were obtained by adding Ca(OH)2 (up to pH 6.5) and 15 g/l of bentonite, and then feeding the mixture to the biological treatment without providing an intermediate phase separation. Indeed, the biodegradable matter adsorbed on the surface of bentonite was gradually released during the biotreatability test, thus allowing the same methane yield (referred to the total COD contained in untreated OME) both in scarsely diluted (1 : 1.5) pretreated OME and in very diluted (1 : 12) untreated OME. Application of a continuous process combining pretreatment (with Ca(OH)2 and bentonite) and anaerobic digestion without intermediate phase separation is suggested.

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