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Biological water treatment: Anaerobic vs Aerobic

25 April 2024

When integrating biological treatment processes, distinguishing between anaerobic and aerobic methods is crucial as they serve different roles and have unique benefits and requirements. Depending on the organic pollution, different treatment methods can be used.

When integrating biological treatment processes, distinguishing between anaerobic and aerobic methods is crucial as they serve different roles and have unique benefits and requirements. Depending on the organic pollution, different treatment methods can be used. With high-strength wastewater (Dairy, Potato, Brewing effluent) anaerobic treatment can unlock the energy potential hidden in the organic pollution. Where the organic load is less, aerobic treatment will be a suitable solution to comply with discharge regulations or prepare the effluent for reuse. But combinations often result in best of both solution.

Anaerobic Treatment:

  • Process Description: Anaerobic treatment involves the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen by anaerobic bacteria. It typically takes place in a closed reactor known as an anaerobic digester.
  • Biogas Production: One of the major benefits of anaerobic digestion is the production of biogas, which is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. This biogas can be captured and used as a fuel source, providing an energy recovery aspect to the wastewater treatment.
  • High Organic Load Efficiency: Anaerobic processes are highly effective at treating wastewater with high organic loads, such as those found in dairy effluents, making them economically favorable.
  • Lower Sludge Production: Compared to aerobic processes, anaerobic treatment produces less biological sludge, reducing the burden and cost associated with sludge handling and disposal.
  • Operational Considerations: Requires careful control of pH, temperature, and toxicity to maintain microbial health and activity. The process is slower than aerobic treatment and may require pretreatment to remove inhibitors.

Aerobic Treatment:

  • Process Description: Aerobic treatment uses oxygen and aerobic bacteria to decompose organic matter in wastewater. This process often takes place in an activated sludge system, where air or oxygen is bubbled through a mixture of wastewater and sludge.
  • Sludge Handling: Aerobic processes generate more sludge than anaerobic processes. This sludge needs to be regularly removed and treated, which can increase operational costs.
  • Energy Requirements: Aerobic treatment requires significant energy to aerate the wastewater, which can make it more costly than anaerobic treatment in terms of energy consumption.
  • Faster Process: The aerobic process is generally faster than anaerobic digestion and can be more effective at reducing pathogens in the effluent.
  • Application Suitability: Best suited for lower-strength wastewaters and is commonly used as a secondary treatment step following anaerobic digestion for further reduction of organic matter.

Combined anaerobic-aerobic treatment plants.

In a dairy water recovery plant, these processes might be used in tandem:

  1. Anaerobic First Stage: Anaerobic digestion can serve as the primary treatment for high-strength dairy wastes, reducing the organic load significantly while also generating biogas for energy recovery.
  2. Aerobic Second Stage: Following anaerobic treatment, the effluent can be further treated aerobically to remove any remaining organic material and to polish the effluent to meet discharge standards or be suitable for reuse.

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