This paper presents the development and field evaluation of a partitioned UASB reactor, conceived for the treatment of domestic sewage from small villages and areas with large variation of the daily flowrate. In such situations, conventional single compartment UASB reactors are submitted to very extreme hydraulic conditions, that can disturb the behaviour of the treatment system. In the partitioned reactor, which is constituted of three digestion compartments, three gas separation devices and a single settler compartment, an adequate distribution of the variable incoming wastewater into one, two or three digestion chambers, allows the establishment of more stable up flow velocities and less occurrence of dead zones. As a result, a better contact between substrate and biomass can be achieved and an improved performance of the system can be expected.

The partitioned UASB reactor was evaluated during a period of 16 months of continuous operation. The system presented a vary good performance during most of the operational period, showing very high efficiencies when the reactor was operated at a HRT of 7.5 hours. In this phase, the unit presented COD removal efficiencies around 80% and an average SS concentration in the final effluent of 32 mgSS/L. The research is still going on, focussing on the evaluation of the system under higher hydraulic loads and on the assessment of sludge activity and dehydration potential.

Due to the operational simplicity and low cost of the system, it is believed that this type of reactor can become a very attractive alternative for domestic sewage treatment in small villages, particularly in Brazil where the number of rural areas with wastewater treatment is negligible.

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