A single pass reactor (R1), a leachate recycle reactor (R2) and a coupled solid/liquid bioreactor (R3-Rm) for anaerobic digestion of food waste were comparatively investigated in terms of digestion process and treatment efficiency. The coupled solid/liquid bioreactor is an enhanced two-phase system and distinctive from a traditional two-phase process with an upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor as the methanogenic phase and a circulation of treated leachate between the acidification and methanogenic phases. In comparison with R1 and R2, R3-Rm enhanced the digestion process and increased the methane content of biogas. 100% of the R3-Rm methane yield was from the methanogenic phase with average methane content of 71%. The significant enhancement was also confirmed by the removal of 79% of total organic carbon (TOC), 60% of volatile solids (VS) and 80% of total COD in 12 days running of R3-Rm. However, no active methane fermentation was detected in R1 and R2 during 60 days operation. The results in this laboratory-scale study show that the rapid accumulation of volatile fatty acids (VFAs) due to the rapid acidification of food waste inhibits the development of effective methane fermentation in single pass and leachate recycle reactors. The coupled solid/liquid bioreactor is more efficient in converting food waste into methane and carbon dioxide.

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