The effect of returning solids to the digester, after one of three thickening processes, on volatile solids reduction (VSR) and gas production was investigated. Three different thickening methods were compared: centrifugation, flotation and gravitational sedimentation. The amount and activity of retained biomass in thickened recycled sludge affected the efficiency of digestion. Semi-continuous laboratory digesters were used to study the influence of thickening processes on thermophilic sludge digestion efficiency. Centrifugation was the most effective method used and caused an increase of VSR from 43% (control) up to 70% and gas generation from 0.40 to 0.44 L g−1 VS. Flotation and gravitational sedimentation ways of thickening appeared to be less effective if compared with centrifugation. These methods increased VSR only by up to 65 and 51%, respectively and showed no significant increase of gas production. The dewatering capacity of digested sludge, as measured by its specific resistance to filtration, was essentially better for the sludge digested in the reactors with centrifugated and settled recycle. The VS concentration of recycle (g L−1), as reflecting the amount of retained biomass, appeared to be one of the most important factors influencing the efficiency of sludge digestion in the recycling technology.

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