Sludge accumulation and the characteristics of anaerobic digestion in sludge had been investigated in a primary anaerobic lagoon. Methanogenic potential of sludge was evaluated by an anaerobic digestion test which measured the methane production rate. Sludge was sampled at several points in the lagoon to determine spatial variations and with a monthly frequency from the start-up of the lagoon to observe the development of anaerobic degradation. Maximum amounts of sludge accumulated near the inlet. The mean methane production of sludge was 2.9 ml gVS–1 d–1. Sludge near the outlet presented a greater methanogenic activity and a lesser concentration of volatile fatty acids than near the inlet. The different stages of anaerobic degradation were spatially separated, acidogenesis near the inlet and methanogenesis near the outlet. This staged distribution seemed to increase efficiency of anaerobic fermentation compared with septic tanks. Methane release at the surface of the lagoon was estimated to be very heterogeneous with a mean of 25 l m–2 d–1. The development of performance and sludge characteristics showed the rapid beginning of methanogenesis, three months after the start-up of the anaerobic lagoon. Considering the volume of accumulated sludge, it could however be expected that methanogenic activity would further increase.

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