A bench-scale horizontal-flow anaerobic immobilized biomass (HAIB) reactor was assayed aiming to verify its potential use for phenol degradation. The HAIB reactor consisted of a bore-silicate tube (100 cm long; 5.04 cm diameter) filled with polyurethane foam matrices containing immobilized anaerobic sludge. Before being subjected to phenol, the reactor was fed with synthetic substrate at the influent chemical oxygen demand (COD) of 1,028 mg.l−1 achieving 98% of COD removal efficiency. Thereafter, phenol as the sole carbon source was added under step-increasing concentrations from 50 to 1,200 mg.l−1. Phenol degradation was evaluated by gas chromatographic analysis of influent and effluent samples. Process monitoring included determinations of pH, volatile acids, alkalinity and COD. The HAIB reactor was operated at a constant hydraulic detention time (HDT) of 12 hours. After 33 days with 50 mg/l of phenol in the influent, the reactor achieved 98% of COD removal efficiency. Successful phenol degradation (efficiency removal of 99%) occurred for influent concentrations of 100, 300, 600, 900 and 1,200 mg.l−1 after 148, 58, 47, 29 and 7 days, respectively. The predominance of Methanosaeta-like, rods and methanogenic cocci could be observed in all the operating conditions, besides the presence of phenol oxidizing microorganisms as irregular rods. The results indicate that phenol degradation at very high rates can be accomplished in HAIB reactors containing acclimatized biomass.

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