A major limitation of anaerobic sludge digestion is the long hydraulic retention time (HRT) required for satisfactory stabilization which results in large digester size. This study explored a possibility of operating digesters at shortened HRTs by sonication pretreatment of secondary sludges. Four identical digesters designated D1, D2, D3 and D4 were fed with untreated and sludge sonicated at densities of 0.18 W/ml, 0.33 W/ml and 0.52 W/ml, respectively. All digesters were operated at three HRTs of 8-day, 4-day and 2-day. Comparing with the control digester (D1), total solids removal efficiencies improved by 12–19%, 17–36% and 20–39% in digesters D2, D3 and D4, respectively. The volatile solids removal was also increased by 11–21%, 17–33% and 19–36% in the respective digesters. The improved solids degradation corresponded with increase in biogas production by 1.4–2.5, 1.9–3.0 and 1.6–3.1 times, respectively. Increase in methane composition by 2–17% was also noted in all digesters fed with sonicated sludge. An analysis indicated that sonication pretreatment could enhance degradation of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur substances in the digestion. The study suggested that sonication of sludge is a possible pretreatment to shorten the digester operating HRT with improvement in solids degradation, biogas production and methane content. It can be deduced that to maintain a consistent solids loading at a desire performance, sludge digester with smaller size can be designed.

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