In general, mesophilic anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge is more widely used compared to thermophilic digestion, mainly because of the lower energy requirements and higher stability of the process. However, the thermophilic anaerobic digestion process is usually characterised by accelerated biochemical reactions and higher growth rate of microorganisms resulting in an increased methanogenic potential at lower hydraulic retention times. Furthermore, thermal pre-treatment is suitable for the improvement of stabilization and could be realized at relatively low cost especially at low temperatures. The present study investigates the effect of the pre-treatment at 70 °C on thermophilic (55 °C) anaerobic digestion of primary and secondary sludge in continuously operated digesters. Thermal pre-treatment of primary and secondary sludge at 70 °C enhanced the removal of organic matter and the methane production during the subsequent anaerobic digestion step at 55 °C. It also greatly contributed to the destruction of pathogens present in primary sludge. Finally it results in enhanced microbial activities of the subsequent anaerobic step suggesting that the same efficiencies in organic matter removal and methane recovery could be obtained at lower HRTs.

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