Anaerobic technologies have proved successful in the treatment of various high strength wastewaters with perceptible advantages over aerobic systems. The applicability of anaerobic processes to treat low strength wastewaters has been increasing with the evolution of high-rate reactors capable of achieving high sludge retention time (SRT) when operating at low HRT. However, the performance of these systems can be affected by high variations in flow and wastewater composition. This paper reports on the comparative study carried out with two such high rate reactors systems to evaluate their performances when used for the treatment of low strength wastewaters at high hydraulic rates. One of the two systems is the most commonly used upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor in which all reactions occur within a single vessel. The other is the granular bed baffled reactor (GRABBR) that encourages different stages of anaerobic digestion in separate vessels longitudinally across the reactor. The reactors, with equal capacity of 10 litres, were subjected to increasing organic loading rates (OLRs) and hydraulic retention times (HRTs) of up to 60 kg COD m−3 d−1 and 1 h respectively. Results show that the GRABBR has greater processes stability at relatively low HRTs, whilst the UASB seems to be better equipped to cope with organic overloads or shockloads. The study also shows that the GRABBR enables the harvesting of biogas with greater energetic value and hence greater re-use potential than the UASB. Biogas of up to 86% methane content is obtainable with GRABBR treating low strength wastewaters.

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