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Anaerobic sewage treatment: state of the
art, constraints and challenges
ARTICLE in REVIEWS IN ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND BIO/TECHNOLOGY · SEPTEMBER 2015
Impact Factor: 3.33 · DOI: 10.1007/s11157-015-9377-3

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Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol
DOI 10.1007/s11157-015-9377-3

REVIEW PAPER

Anaerobic sewage treatment: state of the art, constraints
and challenges
C. A. L. Chernicharo . J. B. van Lier . A. Noyola .
T. Bressani Ribeiro 

Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Abstract The interest in high-rate anaerobic (pre)treatment of sewage using UASB reactors is steadily
growing since its introduction in the mid-1980s.
Today there are hundreds of full-scale plants in
operation in various parts of the tropical world,
notably in Latin America and India. The main
advantage of UASB technology is the very low or
even zero energy demand, leading to an up to tenfold
drop in operational costs compared to activated
sludge. This paper presents a literature review
focussing on current design criteria and post-treatment
options, alongside discussing the centralized and
decentralized approach. The current limitations and

C. A. L. Chernicharo (&)  T. Bressani Ribeiro
Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering,
Federal University of Minas Gerais, Av. Antoˆnio Carlos,
6.627, Pampulha, Belo Horizonte, MG 31270-901, Brazil
e-mail: calemos@desa.ufmg.br
J. B. van Lier
Section Sanitary Engineering, Department of Water
Management, Faculty of Civil Engineering and
Geosciences, Delft University of Technology,
PO Box 5048, 2600 GA Delft, The Netherlands
J. B. van Lier
Unesco - IHE, PO Box 3015, 2601 DA Delft,
The Netherlands
A. Noyola
Instituto de Ingenierı´a, Universidad Nacional Auto´noma
de Me´xico, Circuito Escolar, Ciudad Universitaria,
04510 Coyoaca´n, Mexico, D.F., Mexico

constraints regarding temperature, nutrients, pathogen
removal, odour nuisance, operational constrictions
and methane emissions are also presented and discussed. Further, recent challenges in relation to energy
recovery from biogas, sludge and scum are discussed,
alongside with advances related to recovery of
dissolved methane and sludge management. Finally,
the paper provides some outlooks for upcoming
developments.
Keywords Anaerobic digestion  Domestic
wastewater  Anaerobic sewage treatment  Biogas 
Full-scale reactors  UASB reactor

1 Introduction
With the emergence of the upflow anaerobic sludge
blanket (UASB) technology in the 1980s (Lettinga
et al. 1980), several countries, especially those in Latin
America and India, began to adopt anaerobic sewage
treatment technology to the flowsheets of sewage
treatment plants (STP). Anaerobic sewage treatment,
in various cases followed by units of aerobic posttreatment systems, was regarded an alternative to the
traditional wastewater treatment systems used historically, such as the mechanized activated sludge and the
land-based pond systems. The favourable climate
conditions and the large investments in research and
development, made Latin America, notably Brazil,

123

Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol

Colombia and Mexico, to become the present frontrunner in the proper use of UASB reactor systems for
the treatment of municipal wastewater.
In Brazil, the use of UASB reactors for wastewater
treatment was introduced in the early 80s, when
research by several groups of academics and engineers
in the area of wastewater treatment started. During its
introduction, the inappropriate use of UASB reactors
damaged the credibility of this technology within state
water companies and environmental protection agencies. However, this has been restored in recent decades
as a result of the intensification of studies and research in
the area, and also due to the experience gained in the
operation of full-scale plants. Undoubtedly, a great
contribution to the consolidation and dissemination of
the anaerobic technology for the treatment of domestic
sewage in Brazil came from the National Research
Programme on Basic Sanitation—PROSAB, which was
carried from 1997 to 2007 (Chernicharo et al. 2001).
Likewise, the Indian government launched an
important programme to improve the water quality
of the Yamuna River basin in 1990, called Yamuna
Action Plan—YAP, which was based on the previous
experience with the Ganga Action Plan. Under this
YAP, the government decided to implement 16 fullscale UASB reactors with a total capacity of
598,000 m3 day-1, recognizing the technology as a
standard method for sewage treatment in India (Uemura and Harada 2010).
A recent survey in the Latin American region
(Noyola et al. 2012) identified three major technologies
for municipal wastewater treatment: stabilization
ponds, activated sludge (extended aeration and conventional processes) and UASB reactors. A survey of 2734
treatment facilities was carried out in six countries in the
region (Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic,
Guatemala and Mexico). The distribution by number of
these three technologies were 38, 26 and 17 %,
corresponding altogether to 81 % of the surveyed
facilities (Fig. 1a). It is worth noticing that the UASB
system, although a newcomer in the field of municipal
sewage treatment with no more than 25 years of
application within this specific market, took the third
place, behind more than a century old processes.
However, this picture changes when the technologies
in Latin America are ordered by treatment capacity
(design flow). In such case, both versions of activated
sludge turn out to be the most important, followed by
stabilization ponds, enhanced primary treatment and

123

UASB in the fourth place, i.e. 58, 15, 9 and 7 % of the
total design flow in the sample (Fig. 1b). It is clear that
stabilization ponds, and even UASB, are widely applied
in the region, but in small facilities. In fact, the survey
also found that 67 % of the STPs in Latin America are
small, with design flows of less than 25 L s-1, and 34 %
are very small, less than 5 L s-1.
UASB reactors used for the treatment of domestic
wastewater are now considered a consolidated technology in Latin America, where several large fullscale plants, treating a population equivalent up to one
million inhabitants (Onc¸a STP, Belo Horizonte,
Brazil), have been in operation for more than 10 years.
The costs of a treatment plant with UASB reactor
followed by aerobic biological treatment usually allow
capital expenditures (CAPEX) savings in the range of
20–50 % and operational expenditures (OPEX) savings above 50 %, in comparison with a conventional
activated sludge plant (von Sperling and Chernicharo
2005; Chernicharo 2006). This is considered one of the
reasons for the increase in wastewater treatment
coverage in Latin America. The cost-effectiveness of
UASB technology was demonstrated, not only at the
expense of activated sludge processes but also in
comparison to pond systems (Oomen and Schellinkhout 1993). In fact, land based treatment systems are
considered very expensive near urban areas where
land prices are high. For that reason, large-scale pond
systems are hardly applied near the urban areas in
India. Similarly, the Dutch consultant DHV performed
an economic assessment for the best possible treatment solution for the urbanised centres in the irrigated
agricultural sites of the Fayoum, 80 km south of Cairo,
Egypt. In this study, pond systems were rapidly
discarded because of a too high demand of valuable
agricultural land. Comparing conventional activated
sludge with a UASB system followed by a stone-filled
trickling filter showed 40 % less CAPEX and about
90 % less OPEX, mainly related to avoidance of fossil
energy use for sewage treatment.
Table 1 summarizes the recent literature reports on
the performance of full-scale municipal anaerobic
sewage treatment plants, notably employing UASB
reactors.
In the last 10 years, several review papers have
been published discussing the anaerobic sewage
treatment feasibility (Aiyuk et al. 2006; Foresti et al.
2006; Gomec 2010; Chong et al. 2012). This review
article focuses on practical aspects of the most

a Distribution of treatment technologies according to their type.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Fig. Source: Noyola et al.1 Current design criteria Given the increasing importance of the UASB reactor for sewage treatment. notably in full-scale applications. as well as operational constraints. i. the UASB reactor. 1 Major technologies for municipal wastewater treatment in Latin American region. bringing together compiled information regarding design criteria and current limitations and constraints. challenges and perspectives regarding treatment and recovery of nutrients. One of the most important aspects of the anaerobic process applying UASB reactors is its 123 . (2012) employed anaerobic system treating domestic wastewater. several measures should be taken in relation to the adequate design and operation of the system. The paper also evaluates matters regarding odour and methane emissions reported in the literature. 2 State of the art of anaerobic sewage treatment 2.e. b accumulated flow treated per each type of technology.

(2010) India UASB 285 121 357 46 41 49 – van Lier et al. available funds.000 Franco (2010) India UASB 145–250 Colombia UASB – 60 Brazil UASB 170 66 75 Brazil UASB 247 97 112 62 67 54 – van Lier et al.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Table 1 Performance of the more recently installed full-scale anaerobic sewage treatment plants treating municipal sewage in different parts of the world Location STP Effluent concentration COD (mg l-1) BOD (mg l-1) India UASB 202 60 India Brazil UASB ST ? AnF 139–567 473 57–159 – – Removal efficiency Population equivalent (inhabitants) References TSS (mg l-1) COD (%) BOD (%) TSS (%) 150 63 67 70 93. In order to cope with this. some factors such as local practice. (2013) Brazil UASB 283 132 58 – 49 3. (2005) Brazil Brazil UASB UASB 237 202 64 – 127 80 60 67 69 – 52 61 3. 123 Therefore. under the code ABNT NBR . (2006) Jordan UASB 632 – 180 58 – 62 – Halalseh et al.000 Rosa et al. etc. 2 can be considered as a standardised concept. (2012) Brazil UASB 251 98 85 65 74 71 24. From the foregoing. (2006) India UASB – – – 61 61 66 – Khalil et al.000–570. (2009) Pen˜a et al.500 Pandey and Dubey (2014) 72–452 190 29–75 39 45–79 – 40–70 36 – 2.000 WERF (2010) 58 68 56 544. (2011) – – 77 – 320.141 Khan et al. (2006) Bare´a and Alem Sobrinho (2006) Colombia UASB 144 Brazil UASB 181 – 75 81 58 – 65 – 127 64 74 51 24. contractor’s experience. (2014) Silva et al. (2000) 70–80 – – – Monroy et al. (2013) Brazil UASB 114 38 132 79 84 59 70.000 Colombia UASB 177 Mexico UASB – 69 – 72 – 66 78 69 9. determined the exact configurations and dimensions of the functional units at specific sites (van Lier et al. (2006) India UASB 403 130 380 47 50 7 55. 2010).000 Carraro (2006) Brazil UASB 161 66 – 77 78 – – Tachini et al.000 Oliveira and von Sperling (2011) India UASB 515 115 113 41 50 47 – Mungray and Patel (2011) India UASB 405 153 167 44 40 36 – Mungray and Patel (2011) 55–75 160–240 45 60 34 – Walia et al. (2000) ability to develop and maintain sludge with excellent settling characteristics. (2010) Brazil UASB 190 70 60 60 65 61 1.047 Silva et al. Notwithstanding.000.000 Chernicharo et al.719 Brazil UASB 106 69 – 72 72 – 150.000 Sato et al. (2001) Pen˜a et al.000 Busato (2004) Florencio et al. effluent requirements. The most critical design aspects are well explained by van Haandel and Lettinga (1994) and von Sperling and Chernicharo (2005). the scheme of a UASB sewage treatment plant (STP) as depicted in Fig. (2006) Middle East UASB 221 83 63 71 70 85 – Nada et al.808 18. the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards has recently published a technical standard ‘‘Hydraulic and sanitary engineering design for wastewater treatment plants’’. when designing a UASB system a number of parameters need to be evaluated.

Post-treatment options for anaerobically pre-treated sewage is well discussed in the literature.2 Current post-treatment facilities Considering the intrinsic limitations associated with the anaerobic systems and the stringent discharge standards. the reactor is always designed based on the volumetric hydraulic load and not on the organic load (von Sperling and Chernicharo 2005). such as grit removal systems and screens. Table 3 summarizes the design criteria and basic assumptions used in the Indian UASB reactor designs. The biogas pipeline must be designed with a maximum velocity of 5 m s-1 from the average gas flow. 2005a). In the case of typical domestic sewage. Source: van Lier et al.3 m above the bottom. there should be discharge pipes with a minimum diameter of 100 mm at two different heights. as well as post-treatment units are of crucial importance for the overall performance of the STP.5 kgCOD m-3 day-1. and a minimum diameter of 50 mm. pre-treatment functional units. in many arid climate countries with limited water supply. Therefore. close to the bottom and between 0. In addition. Specifically in the case of UASB reactors. one as backup. the aforementioned standard recommends at least one discharge point per 100 m2 bottom area. consequently. with the 123 . 2.0 to 3. without gas utilization. in high upflow velocities. 2 General process configuration of a UASB based STP. In addition.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Fig. among other technologies. in addition to the UASB tank itself. it is recommended that STPs with average flow capacity above 250 l s-1. in view of the public health risks and limitations imposed on the use of treated effluents in agriculture. Since the use of higher volumetric organic loading rates would result in excessive hydraulic loads and. the polishing stage has the purpose to improve the microbiological quality of the effluents. the post-treatment need to guarantee the effluent quality in terms of organic matter and nutrients. In an environmental approach. usually below 1000 mgCOD l-1. (2010) 12209:2011. it is imperative to include a post-treatment stage for the effluents from anaerobic reactors.8 and 1. Regarding the Indian experience. Regarding the excess sludge withdrawal. sewage concentrations can be much higher. Meanwhile. and therefore the resulting applied volumetric organic load is also very low. This standard was updated and for the first time included hydraulic and process engineering design criteria for UASB reactors. (2010). the concentration of organic matter is low. the need to develop technologies that are more appropriate to the reality of developing countries is still a concern. As reported by van Lier et al. With respect to the management of biogas. most of the times ranging from 2. the main design criteria can be summarized as shown in Table 2. must have at least two flares. up to 2500 mgCOD l-1 (Halalsheh et al. in view of the environmental damages caused by the discharge of these remaining pollutants into the receiving surface water. Resulting implications are below discussed in the topic Temperature Constraints.

5 and 1.6 5 Values at average flow Feed inlet density m2 per feed point 4 Maximum feed inlet density Angle of gas collector Degrees 50 Centre-to-centre distance between gas domes m 4. These alternatives allow the achievement of the necessary efficiencies to comply with the discharge standards in most of developing countries.3–1. revealing the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative (Chernicharo 2006.0 Gas hood width m 0.0 The minimum inlet pipe internal diameter shall be 75 mm Angle of gas collector Degrees C50 The UASB reactors must have scum removal device Based on above design criteria and typical characteristics of Brazilian sewage. such as: UASB ? Polishing Ponds.9 US$/inhabitant. according to national standard ABNT NBR 12209:2011 Parameter Unit Value Comment Hydraulic retention time (HRT) h 6–10a.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Table 2 Main design criteria adopted in Brazilian UASB reactors.7 Less than 1. 2011. 2012). the UASB per capita costs usually vary between 15 and 25 US$/inhabitant for the construction costs and 1.13. Khan et al. UASB ? Wetlands. 2009. 123 UASB ? Activated Sludge (AS). UASB ? Trickling Filter (TF). 2010.0–3.15 Settling zone surface % 75 The clear distance between gas domes shall be 3. and UASB ? Flotation Unit (von Sperling and Chernicharo 2005). UASB ? Overland Flow System. Chong et al. .5–0. respectively Feed inlet density m2 per feed point 2.0 m Percentage of total surface Adapted from van Lier et al.b 6 h for sewage temperature [25 C 7 h for sewage temperature 22–25 C 8 h for sewage temperature 18–21 C 10 h for sewage temperature 15–17 C Upflow velocity at average flow m h-1 B 0. Table 4 summarizes the main results regarding demo and full-scale systems and lists the qualitative ranges of effluent concentration and typical removal efficiencies considering systems properly designed and operated (Chernicharo 2006). Chan et al. July 2015) (adapted from von Sperling and Chernicharo 2005) a Values in terms of average flow b This range means a recommended VHL (volumetric hydraulic load) between 2.4 and 4 m3 m-3 day-1 Table 3 Design criteria adopted in most of the Indian UASB reactors Parameter Unit Hydraulic retention time h Value Comment 8–12 HRT at average flow 4 HRT at peak flow Upflow velocity Maximum velocity through the apertures to the settler m h-1 m h-1 0.44 Overlap of gas collector over deflector beam m 0. (2010) various papers addressing the available technologies and discussing important experimental results.5 m.2 m h-1 for the maximum peak flow Useful depth m 4–6 The minimum useful depths of digestion and settling compartments are 2.year for the operation and maintenance costs (basis: US$ 1.00 = R$ 3. It is worth mentioning the most frequently applied flow sheets of the so-called combined systems (anaerobic/aerobic). Foresti 2006. Kassab et al.

1–12. eggs [1 106–107 [1–2] FC – Helm.8] (org/100 ml) FC References Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol 123 .1–9.3 HRT 180–270 5344 (m3) – 455 Size – 803 Polishing ponds – – 2. Walia et al.1 Eff. (2006).4 (day) 20–40 [87–93] 89 [62] (mg l-1) TSS 100–180 [70–83] 184 [59]a (mg l-1) COD 40–70 [77–87] 54 [67]a (mg l-1) BOD 50-80 [73–83] 136 [60]a (mg l-1) TSS [Average removal efficiency (%)] 20–50 [83–93] 16 [94] (mg l-1) BOD Effluent concentration 60–150 [75–88] 127 [84] (mg l-1) COD [Average removal efficiency (%)] Effluent concentration HRT Size OLR – (h) – 6. (mg l-1) COD 180–270 149–510 Eff. Sato et al. (2011) References Chernicharo (2006) Mungray and Patel (2011) – (org/100 ml) Helm.5 35. (h) HRT UASB 8. (m3) Size (mg l-1) COD (h) (m3) (kgCOD m-3 day-1) HRT Size OLR AS UASB Table 4 Main results addressed in review papers regarding the most frequently applied post-treatment flowsheets 10-15 [50–65] – (mg l-1) NH4–N 5–15 [50–85] – (mg l-1) NH4–N Chernicharo (2006) 102–104 [3–5] \1 von Sperling and de Andrada (2006). – 175–49333 (m3) – 1.9.113 UASB—Activated sludge systems (AS) Inf.6–4477 – UASB—Polishing ponds – – (kgCOD m-3 day-1) – 318–1194 Inf.8 – 13. eggs 3 9 105 [5.

8 – 303–532 CW – 8. eggs – (org/100 ml) FC 2 [95] – 19 [27]a (mg l-1) NH4–N 5–15 [50–85] – (mg l-1) NH4–N Green et al. 145–525 Eff. (2006).5 17-22 UASB—Trickling filter (TF) Inf.2 315–1050 Inf.5 UASB—Constructed wetlands (CW) (mg l-1) COD – 43. c b a 6–11 0.46b–1.5–3.4 0.4 Eff.72–2. eggs [1 106–107 [1–2] FC – Helm. (mg l-1) COD Size (kgCOD m-3 day-1) OLR (h) – HRT 180-270 12 Size – 186 (m3) – 523 TF – – 1.2–4. Pontes and Chernicharo (2011) References Chernicharo (2006) Gonc¸alves et al.2 250 107–174 (m3) 9 16.75 Size – – 1. (2008). (2009) References Chernicharo (2006) Almeida et al. Ruiz et al. Trickling filter employing polyurethane sponge media Organic loading rate in kgBOD m-3 day-1 Average values 7–25. Dornelas et al.87–18.346 (h) HRT 20–50 [83–93] – (mg l-1) BOD 20–40 [87–93] 26 [88] (mg l-1) TSS 20–60 [80–93] 10 [97] 8 [91] 23 [84]a (mg l-1) BOD 20–40 [87–93] 20 [91] 45 [74] 14 [90]a (mg l-1) TSS 73 [67]a (mg l-1) COD 16 [85]a (mg l-1) BOD 9 [84]a (mg l-1) TSS [Average removal efficiency (%)] Effluent concentration 70–180 [73–88] 50 [88] 68 [76] 63 [79]a (mg l-1) COD [Average removal efficiency (%)] Effluent concentration 60–150 [75–88] 80 [85] (mg l-1) COD [Average removal efficiency (%)] Effluent concentration 25 [22]a (mg l-1) 4.95 (h) HRT – 2 – 2. (2002) References Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol .4–78 (m3) Size (kgCOD m-3 day-1) OLR 180–270 1.85 (h) – 180 13.7–8.7 9 105 a FC (org/100 ml) – Helm. (mg l-1) Size COD (h) (kgCOD m-3 day-1) HRT Size (m3) OLR SAB UASB Table 4 continued 1. (m3) UASB 7.6 (h) HRT – 0. (2009).6 (m3) UASB 9 35 UASB—Submerged aerated biofilms (SAB) Inf. (2011)c Almeida et al. (2013)c Takahashi et al. eggs [1 106–107 [1–2] [15 [\50] NH4–N – – – – – – (org/100 ml) Helm.123 Eff.87 HRT – 450 94 3.

the permeate of AnMBRs should be of interest for agricultural use. By addressing this large point source. the first STPs were located at the central outfall of the sewerage prior to discharge to open surface waters. The main drawbacks such as low flux. as well as the relationships among HRT. 2013). In the past decades. 2001a). in terms of effluent quality improvement. high capital and operational costs are still limiting the economic feasibility of AnMBRs. maintaining. the sewage outfalls became huge and so also the required STPs. sewerage systems were constructed to convey sanitary flows and urban spills away from populated areas. In the many expanding cities of the 19th and 20th century this indeed improved the hygienic conditions considerably. AnMBRs can provide an alternative strategy for domestic wastewater treatment. most of the research reported is restricted to benchscale experiments. 2012. 2006. However. in terms of COD.2. where hydrolysis of particulate matter is the rate-limiting step (Lettinga et al.1 Advantages • • • There are broad integration possibilities of membranes with different types of anaerobic reactors systems. the environmental impact could be reduced by implementing a single STP.2. were also targeted to be the first served by STPs. developed as a kind of blue print for sanitary systems. Skouteris et al. The latter. as well as fundamental information on cost and energy issues. The latter became industrial complexes consisting of advanced technology. however. this centralized approach also puts a financial burden to authorities for constructing. as well as large trunk sewers in order to collect all the sewage from the expanding cities. SRT and membrane fouling. leading to a drastic drop in waterborne diseases. centralized sewage treatment was borne. 2001b). Ozgun et al. Novel developments using filter cloths instead of real membranes may importantly reduce the capital costs (Ersahin et al. The improved SRT may reduce the start-up period in comparison to other anaerobic systems. was not yet part of governmental regulations. 123 . • The lower limits of HRT and temperature. In addition to reaching a high effluent quality. Smith et al. have yet to be established for an adequate treatment performance. both completely mixed and sludge retention systems. As such. membrane fouling.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Additionally. In most cities. 2. comprising advantages and critical obstacles to full-scale implementation: 2. The large cities. The collected sewage was subsequently discharged to surface waters. since macronutrients are not removed by anaerobic bioprocess. The huge sewage flows of these cities had a tremendous impact on the environmental health of the recipient water bodies. Particularly in hilly areas. This reduced SS load to the membrane minimizes fouling due to cake layer formation and cake compression. with its advantages of economy of scale. In the industrialized countries of Western Europe and Northern America. Based on various review papers focusing different aspects of AnMBRs (Liao et al. and extending these services to all citizens (Lettinga et al. Besides. SS and pathogen counts. especially at low temperatures. being a logic consequence of historic developments. 2014). 2012.2 Critical obstacles • • There is a lack of long term reliability and operability evaluations of AnMBRs in municipal wastewater treatment. it is worth mentioning the treatment potentials of anaerobic membrane bioreactors (AnMBRs). Recent research shows promising potentials of integration with UASB reactors since they provide an SS reduction by entrapment and biodegradation in the sludge bed. the centralized treatment approach. 3 Centralised versus decentralised approach Historically. some points can be highlighted. With the full coverage by multi-tap drinking water supply at household level and the increase in drinking water consumption. sewerage and treatment. environmental regulations were only implemented in the last 3–4 decades of the past century. the centralized sewerage systems require pumping stations and siphons. Lin et al. 2013. threatening the environmental health of the receiving water bodies. which were already served with extensive sewerage systems.

Centralized systems generally consist of sewers that carry both urban sanitation and urban drainage of pluvial waters. out of 123 • concern’). 2008. in which socio-economic factors determine the pallet of sanitation solutions (Letema et al. possibly resulting in discharges of hazardous compounds into the sewer by residents. Recognized constraints of the centralized approach are: • • • • • • • • High investments costs for (trunk) sewers. Sanitation option criteria will finally determine what solution is most adequate at a specific location (Malekpour et al. Furthermore. Generally. The latter is currently being researched . Urban population sense little ownership of centralized services. Central outflow (even if treated) poses a high load of pollutants to the environment. Extensive combined sewerage networks have limited hydraulic capacity. (‘out of eye. pumping stations and siphons. Painful example can be found in the Middle East where stringent environmental laws are indeed met at very few centralized treatment plants in the large urban areas of e. Combined centralized sewer systems in relation to a fully paved urban environment results in the possible exportation of rainwater from the residential areas. van Lier and Lettinga 1999. etc. decentralized systems allow for flexibility in management and a series of processes can be combined to progressively meet treatment goals and address environmental and public health protection requirements (Massoud et al. contaminating the environment. 2009. avoiding large sewage collection and treated water distribution systems (van Lier and Lettinga 1999). are hardly taken into account in sewerage master plans. without having the need to firstly provide a massive sewerage infrastructure (Massoud et al. particularly in seismic sensitive areas. 3. A decentralised approach also provides the opportunity to keep wastes concentrated.1 Optimal degree of decentralisation and existing examples Local conditions fully determine what will be the most proper sanitation approach taking socio-economic and environmental constraints into account. which suffer from limited tap water supply. This has resulted in situations where governments pursue centralized sanitation and high-level treatment but is not able to implement this owing to huge financial constraints (van Lier and Lettinga 1999). 3. decentralisation shows various advantages which. Exceeding this capacity results in sewage overflows. As such. A decentralised approach may help in advancing on localised proper sanitation. minimum flows are not guaranteed.g. facilitating the treatment and recovery of valuable resources from the sewage. In (semi) arid climate countries. leading to decreasing groundwater levels in the urban area. Decentralisation prevents the mixing of wastewaters coming from households and industries. more advanced treatment is required with a higher degree of centralization. whereas the majority of the country is not even served by primary treatment. so far. as depicted in Fig. Proper sanitation is a function of mass flow per area per time unit. 2014). Gravity flow sewer systems require minimum flow conditions to prevent sewer clogging. 2010). also in developing countries. 2009). Up to date the centralized approach is more than often considered as the blue print for adequate sanitation and environmental protection. Toxic discharges will constrain the STP and the possible reuse of treatment by-products. Kujawa-Roeleveld and Zeeman 2006). such as energy and the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus (Zeeman et al. economic considerations determine the pace of sewerage infrastructure investments. 2013). meaning that the poorest regions are often refrained from proper sanitation. This approach results in large flows of contaminated water. providing better opportunities for agricultural reuse (Huibers and van Lier 2005. Limited flexibility owing to long planning horizons. which may result in severe pollution of water reservoirs and aquifers. Lettinga 2006). The discrepancy between the served large areas in industrialized countries and non-served areas in the less prosperous countries became larger and larger.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol requiring highly qualified personnel. Difficult to anticipate on large demographic changes. Decentralisation also offers potentials for localised water reclamation. Al-Shayah and Mahmoud 2008. Cairo. van Lier and Huibers 2004. Regular maintenance is indispensable and renovations are required every 60–70 years. industries. Extensive sewerage systems are vulnerable for ruptures and cracks. With regard to water reuse.

particularly when the black water collection systems is operated with extreme low water volumes. 2008). 2008). By adding a value chain to the sanitary flows.7–1. Florencio et al. the avoidance of fossil energy for sewage and/or slurry treatment is advantageous for any decentralised application. The overall advantages and constraints of anaerobic sewage treatment in comparison to activated sludge processes are listed in Table 5. since the further expansion of the technology and its wider acceptance in the near future can be significantly hindered by sub-optimal functioning UASBs. Adopted from Massoud et al. lowering the threshold for technology implementation. 4 Current limitations and constraints Although the application of anaerobic technology for sewage treatment has significantly expanded in the last two decades (Lettinga and Hulshoff Pol 1991. The main constraints that remain are the potential odor problems and difficulties associated with it. biogas and waste gas management. but also on the increasing demand for nutrient removal in the treatment scheme. Sweden and the Netherlands (Zeeman et al.0 l per flush (Zeeman et al. present research at various locations couples decentralisation to resource recovery. 4. anaerobic digestion plays a central role in stabilising the (concentrated) sewage and/or the faecal matter. The optimal degree and the way that decentralisation is implemented depends on a number of site-specific conditions. irrespective these conditions. 2009). have received most attention. meanwhile converting the organic matter into biogas. moderate biodegradability and low 123 . 3 General objectives of wastewater management reflected on a decentralised sanitation approach. some limitations and constraints still need to be solved and have guided the investigations of many research institutions and operators. 4. as highlighted in Fig. and managerial aspects of UASB reactor systems need improvements. (2009) at demonstration and even full-scale in countries like Germany. as discussed in this section. post treatment and energy recovery. the potentially valuable resources are kept concentrated.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Fig. Particularly for developing countries. By separating the black toilet waters from the household grey waters. Foresti 2001a. instead of purely solving a sanitary problem. the implementation of proper sanitation systems might be enhanced. Chernicharo et al. In the meantime. Research has been focused on topics aiming at improving the design and operation of UASB reactors. Interestingly. operational. Chernicharo and Nascimento 2001. as well as on problems in operation and maintenance as discussed below. 2001. In the above decentralised examples. more rapidly serving a larger share of the population. b. Especially the design. dilution of the most hazardous pollutants is prevented. Wiegant 2001. This can be achieved by using vacuum sewer systems that only use 0.1 Temperature constraints Sewage treatment by anaerobic systems in temperate climates is still considered a challenge since municipal wastewater belongs to the complex wastewater category due to the high fraction of particulate organic material (suspended solids). Particularly research related to scum accumulation.

4 Topics of interest for improvements in UASB reactors treating domestic wastewater. the UASB reactor needs to be extended by a post treatment step to reach effluent requirements The produced methane (CH4) is of interest for energy recovery or electricity production The produced CH4 is partially dissolved in the effluent (depending on the influent COD concentration and the applicable hydraulic flow). making sewage treatment less dependent on the extent of sewage networks The sludge production is low. is relatively small. the range in which the HRT determines the volumetric sizing of the UASB reactor. Vr = HRT. Source: Chernicharo et al. . Therefore. that are dissolved in the effluent may escape causing odor problems The system is compact with HRTs of 6–9 h. minimizing conveyance costs High influent sulfate concentrations may limit the applicability of sewage treatment as it results in the conversion of organic BOD/COD to inorganic BOD/COD. When temperature drops and non-digested sludge starts to accumulate in the sludge bed. However. The suspended solids may constitute 50–65 % of the total COD. the hydrolytic and methanogenic capacity of the sludge will gradually decrease. except for main headwork pumps and fine screens. consequently. The treatment system is less dependent on imported technologies There is little experience with full-scale application at moderate to low temperatures The process is robust and can handle periodic high hydraulic and organic loading rates Reduced gases. Particularly when the sewage temperature drops to \18 C. viz. total COD conversion is largely limited by hydrolysis of particulate matter. the bioreactor.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Fig. suitable for applications in urban areas. requiring in most cases adequate posttreatment to meet the discharge or reuse criteria Potential reductions in investment cost considering that primary clarification. (2013) Table 5 Advantages and constraints of high-rate anaerobic sewage treatment systems over aerobic processes Advantages Constraints Substantial (reaching 90 %) savings in operational costs as no energy is required for aeration The extent of organic matter removal is less than the activated sludge processes. 123 because of the low temperature and the high TSS/COD ratio. it does not require extensive posttreatment The valuable nutrients (N and P) are conserved which give the treated wastewater a high potential for crop ferti-irrigation Adapted from van Lier et al. meaning that organic matter gets degraded meanwhile the sulfate gets reduced to the odorous and corrosive sulfide Small-scale applications allow decentralized treatment. therefore. and is. So far no measures are applied in full-scale plants to prevent CH4 escaping to the atmosphere The collected CH4 is often not utilized for energy generation and in some cases not even flared (contribution to greenhouse gas emissions) The technologies do not make use of high-tech equipment.Q. secondary clarification and the sludge digester are combined into one tank: the UASB reactor. In fact. 2001a). well stabilized and easily dewatered. (2008) strength (Lettinga et al. like H2S. the biological conversion capacity will determine the overall COD removal rather than the prevailing hydrodynamic conditions.

Additionally. 2008). Pilot trials in Amman showed the feasibility of the system as an ideal pre-treatment method for a low cost reduction in the COD-load. (2004) to an external UF membrane for cost-effective water reclamation under low temperature conditions. and eventually leading to reactor failure. south of Cairo. the addition of a separate digester for non-stabilised sludge digestion resulted in an improved filtration 123 . show municipal sewage COD concentrations reaching 2500 mgCOD l-1 at TSS/COD ratio’s of 0. (2015) obtained similar results (87 ± 1 %) with a pilot UASB with ultrafiltration membranes at 18 C. whereas winter temperatures may drop to 15 C. 2011). As a rule of thumb. Mahmoud 2008). the temperate climates in the Middle East and Northern Africa are characterised by cold winters. 2005a. Apparently. Table 6 briefly resumes the most important results of the Jordan Pilot trials (Hallalsheh et al. which should be above a minimum value in order to maintain the methanogenic conversion capacity of the sludge. Since bacterial growth rates are exponentially correlated to the temperature. will affect the hydrodynamics of the system requesting changes in influent distribution for preventing short-circuiting. is the reactor solids retention time (SRT). e. Northern Africa. Mahmoud et al. Martinez-Sosa et al. COD \ 1000 mg l-1 and t [ 20 C. while generating energy for posttreatment. Egypt. as previously discussed. Furthermore. Mahmoud et al. 2004. coupled to a sludge digester (Elmitwalli 2000). Recently. Because of climate constraints. particularly in mountainous areas. this condition will be always met. Alternatively. Therefore. Growth and decay of new sludge. (2013) have observed 92 ± 5 % COD removal in an anaerobic bench-scale CSTR coupled with membranes at 15 C. the prime design criterion. Applying the conventional UASB reactor design. sewage concentrations range between 1000 and 2500 mgCOD l-1. etc. Experiences in Jordan and Palestine. the minimum SRT should always be more than 3 times the doubling time (Td) of the biomass. Filtering capacity of the sludge bed. the use of expanded granular sludge bed reactors (EGSB) in AnMBRs was suggested as a potential technology.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol deteriorating both particulate and soluble COD removal. obviously. Arabic peninsula. the conventional UASB reactor design for municipal wastewater needs reconsideration when the system will be applied at low temperatures and/or when COD concentrations exceed 1000 mg l-1. while Gouveia et al. This. the required SRT will distinctly increase when the sewage temperature drops. Influent suspended solids concentration. whereas the methanogenic activity in the reactor will be increased by a return digested sludge flow. With dilute domestic sewage under tropical conditions. Sludge retention in the settler. With regard to the required higher SRT at low temperatures. the large suspended solids load can be addressed in separate reactor units such as a primary clarifier or enhanced solids removal in upflow filter systems. the HRT needs to be increased reaching values of 20–24 h (Halalsheh 2002). Aside from the current critical obstacles to full-scale implementation. AnMBRs have recently emerged as a potential technology. With the latter system. determined by the applied liquid velocities. is designed for an average HRT of 12 h. which are determined by the applied upflow velocities and sludge characteristics. In many arid climate countries with limited water supply. based on the high COD removal efficiencies even at low temperatures (Chu et al. the full-scale reactor in the Fayoum area. Recently reported research results have demonstrated the potentials for achieving high quality effluents using AnMBR systems under psychrophilic conditions: Smith et al. Withdrawal of excess sludge. Rate of solids digestion in the reactor. The prevailing SRT depends on various sewage characteristics such as: • • • • • • • Sewage temperature. the physical biomass retention provided by the membrane may compensate the decreased specific methanogenic activity (SMA) and biological removal rate at low temperatures (Ho and Sung 2010. even with dilute domestic sewage. which is responsible for the rate-limiting step (van Lier et al. accumulating solids will be digested at higher temperatures.6 (Halalsheh et al. Ozgun (2015) coupled the previously mentioned UASBDigester system of Mahmoud et al. 2004). 2005b). 2003. Middle East.g. A novel approach is to link the UASB reactor to a coupled digester with sludge exchange (Mahmoud 2002. 2005). Where the UF membrane served as an absolute barrier leading to COD removal efficiencies exceeding 90 %.

since the volume of the UASB reactor is already determined by the hydraulic flow.000 m3 day-1. the development of research on post-treatment of UASB effluent should be emphasized. Souza and Foresti 2013. 2011. and (3) the use of electron donors present in the liquid and gaseous phases of the anaerobic chamber for denitrification in an anaerobic-anoxic reactor coupled with a nitrifying reactor (Morgan-Sagastume et al. the anaerobic reactor should only treat a part of the influent raw sewage (possibly no more than 50–70 %).: 16 (winter)—28 (Summer) C Potential CH4 production: 27. 2013). 2010). Kassab et al. The main experiences regarding nitrogen removal have been with the application of activated sludge plants and. also with biological trickling filters packed with sponge-based media (pilot and demoscale).Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Table 6 UASB pilot reactor trials at the Amman—Zarqa. 2013). (4) the use of partial nitrification to nitrite combined with ammonium . associated with low excess sludge production (Tawfik et al. waste stabilisation pond site ‘Khirbet As Samra’. Notably. the sole removal of BOD in the anaerobic reactor certainly causes a negative effect on biological treatment systems aiming at nutrient removal. Takahashi et al. In such case. However. the recycle of nitrified effluents to the UASB reactor for combined methanogenesis—denitrification can be considered (Kassab 2009. The efforts may be on: (1) the simultaneous removal of ammonia and nitrate in structured bed reactor with intermittent aeration (Gadelha et al. Anaerobic systems present good biodegradable organic matter removal.500 mg l-1 TSS: 600–700 mg l-1 SS Removal: up to 80 % Pathogens: negligible NH4?–N: 70–130 mg l-1 CH4 production: 0. Demo-scale experiences in India even showed complete ammonium-N removal as well as 30–40 % total N removal operating a sponge bed trickling filter following a UASB reactor (Uemura and Harada 2010). When considering conventional nutrient removal techniques. eliminating the need for an anaerobic sludge digester. the relevance of such concept can be questioned. the effluent from the anaerobic reactor will have N/COD and P/COD ratios much higher than the values desired for the good performance of the mentioned conventional biological nutrient removal processes. more recently. 1994. Okada and Foresti 2013). as observed 123 in the Middle East (Table 5). aiming at nitrification and denitrification. The remaining part (30–50 %) should be directed to the complementary biological treatment. In this case. As the requirements of environmental agencies will become more restrictive in the near future. Almeida et al. (2) the simultaneous removal of ammonia and nitrate in tertiary aerobic-anoxic fixedbed reactor using biogas as electron donor (PantojaFilho et al.15 Nm3 CH4 kgCOD-1rem N-Kj: 90–200 mg l -1 P-tot: 10–40 mg l-1 Temp. Jordan Average influent characteristics Treatment performance (including post-clarification) Flow: 180. the application of conventional nitrification–denitrification processes are so far selected to complement the UASB reactor. characterised by higher membrane fluxes and a reduced transmembrane pressure (TMP). the big advantage of the use of the anaerobic reactor is to receive and stabilize the sludge generated in the complementary treatment. which achieved up to 90 % ammonium-N removal. 2006. so that there is enough organic matter for the denitrification step. 2013).000 m3 day-1 COD Removal: up to 80 % BOD: 500–700 mg l-1 BOD Removal: up to 85 % COD: 1.2 Restrictions for nutrients When nutrient removal is required to meet the quality standards of the receiving water body. as sewage is in general a low strength wastewater. For concentrated sewage. the use of anaerobic processes preceding a complementary aerobic treatment for biological nutrient removal should be carefully analysed. but the concentrations of N and P in the effluent might even be higher than in the influent. equivalent to a potential power supply of &5 MW-e (assuming 40 % CHP efficiency) performance. When nitrogen removal has to be accomplished. 4. Recycle of effluent would immediately require a bigger reactor volume.

2005). Owing to the open structure of the DHS. 2001) have been mainly applied to treat concentrated nitrogen containing wastewaters. The metabolic routes to remove nitrogen based on partial nitrification and anammox. the effluent is passively fully aerated by improved convective 123 . In addition. with virtually 100 % helminth eggs and protozoan cysts removal. In situations when land availability is limited. The application of the anammox process in the main stream of STPs remains as a challenge for current and future research. The controlled formation of struvite (MgNH4PO46H2O) or MAP (magnesium. owing to the relatively high concentrations of residual organic matter in the UASB effluents. 2001. and 3–6 log units’ removal for bacteria and viruses (von Sperling and Chernicharo 2005). 2013). favouring heterotrophic denitrification (Tawfik et al. as a result. 2014. require a post-treatment stage if pathogen removal is pursued. 2014. should be regarded as an option for the post-treatment. 2006. the so-called anammox reaction (Sa´nchez Guille´n et al. P could be recovered from the concentrated waste stream via precipitation or crystallisation techniques. especially bacteria and viruses. then stabilisation of the excess bio-P sludge in the preceding anaerobic reactor makes no sense since all bound phosphorus will be released. the risk of the formation of disinfectant by-products is very high. instead of the conventional nitrification and denitrification approach. If properly designed and implemented. 2015). For small systems and under proper conditions. the concentrations in municipal sewage are simply too low for a costeffective precipitation process. struvite formation in an anaerobic STP has not been demonstrated so far. 2013). However. Notwithstanding. 4. The success of such deammonification process critically depends on stimulation of ammonium oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and suppression of nitrite–oxidizing bacteria (NOB). phosphorus removal in treatment plants using anaerobic reactors seems only be effective if chemical products are used for P precipitation (iron or aluminum salts). a two-step process like UASBTrickling Filters with polyurethane support media can constitute a promising alternative to remove nitrogen as a low cost process. the ponds also polish the anaerobic effluent in terms of organic matter and oxidize ammonia. Cost-effective pathogen removal along with extensive aeration of residual compounds was obtained in the so-called Downflow Hanging Sponge (DHS) system in combination with a UASB pre-treatment (Uemura and Harada 2010. ammonium.3 Restriction for pathogens and microbiological indicators As with most secondary treatment methods. phosphate) crystallization process has been successfully reported for different kinds of concentrated wastewaters (Liu et al. as means of improving the overall efficiency of pathogen removal. In this context. Possibly. Tandukar et al. Almeida et al. required conditions might be achieved applying an intermittent aeration regime in the mainstream aeration tanks (Wett et al. However. Kubota et al. the solubilized ammonia can be removed mainly through algal uptake or volatilized in the form of ammonium (NH3) due to the high pH as a result of an intense phototrophic activity (Camargo Valero and Mara 2007).Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol oxidation to nitrogen gas. The DHS is in fact a biotower trickling filter with reinforced polyurethane as packing material. 2004). By applying source separation in a decentralised approach. such as chlorination. At present. UV radiation and ozonation. Alternatively. polishing ponds can be a very effective method for improving the microbiological quality of anaerobic effluents (von Sperling et al. The application of biological phosphorus removal in combination with UASB technology is virtually impossible for two main reasons: (1) the effluent of the anaerobic reactor doesn’t contain easily biodegradable matter anymore and (2) if one would be able to cultivate phosphorus-rich sludge in a subsequent bio-P step by by-passing part of the influent. a compact disinfection process. they can achieve very high levels of pathogen removal. like Sharon–Anammox and CANON processes (van Dongen et al. These anoxic zones would also favour the activity of ammonium to nitrogen gas—oxidizing bacteria. The hydrolysis of biomass due to higher SRT can be an additional source of substrate in the anoxic zones of the sponge. Third et al. with deammonification processes (removal of nitrogen via anammox bacteria) it is possible to remove nitrogen on a low energy basis. Very likely. with regard to chlorination. such as sludge digester effluents at STPs (van Loosdrecht 2008). compact anaerobic processes are not efficient in eliminating pathogenic organisms from the effluents and. 2013).

is the most common compound associated with the sewage odors. bisphenol A. Therefore. Another alternative that has been addressed in last years is the incorporation of membranes to anaerobic municipal wastewater treatment. 2013). can remove hydrophilic and hydrophobic pharmaceuticals and EDC as efficiently as activated sludge systems (Brandt et al. etc. Methane and carbon dioxide are the main gaseous products of anaerobic digestion. Most of the odorous compounds are reduced sulfur and amino compounds. Brandt et al. To avoid population’s complaint. The developing aerobic biomass appeared to be a very successful scavenger of colloidal pathogenic biomass. anti-inflammatories. antibiotics. simplified sewage treatment systems. 4. the authors stated that UASB reactors were not appropriate for an efficient removal of nonylphenol. depending on the nature of the incoming precursors. as well as substances used in cleaning and personal care products. pH and redox potential.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol airflows. the post-treatment units (polishing ponds.4 Restrictions for micropollutants Micropollutants represent a group of several classes of medicine rests (e. In this context. bezafibrate. analgesics. Particularly. which may be related to the influent sewage characteristics. which are comprised of UASB reactors followed by natural (submerged bed. but other sulfur compounds may also contribute (van Langenhove and de Heyder 2001). synthetic hormones. submerged constructed wetlands and trickling filters) substantially increased the removal of most of the target micropollutants present in the anaerobic effluent. although drawbacks regarding membrane fouling is still a concern. regardless of the type of treatment chosen (aerobic or anaerobic). 2013). resulting from the de-assimilative reduction of sulfates or thiosulfates. especially in urbanised areas. such as sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim. (2013) confirmed that the HRT is an important parameter controlling the removal of hydrophilic and less biodegradable contaminants. especially pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC). In this regard. pesticides. with the goal to minimize or mask the hydrogen sulfide and/or other odorous emission in the vicinity. 2008. and for the degradation by both aerobic and anaerobic 123 pathway means the HRT is conserved as a key factor. They have recently gained great interest due to their adverse effects on the aquatic life (Kim and Aga 2007). This would represent an important upgrade alternative for existing anaerobic STPs (Ozgun et al. 2006. mercaptans. 2009). However. Meanwhile. and amino-sulfides. reactor performance or the turbulent discharge of the effluent. STPs are not designed to specifically remove micropollutants. several sewage treatment plants have been employing considerable amounts of chemical products. 2013). Hydrogen sulfide. Since some of those compounds are hydrophilic and designed to be biologically resistant. most studies worldwide have assessed the behaviour of micropollutants in activated sludge systems and membrane bioreactors (Gulkowska et al. Kocadagistan and Topcu 2007. 2011. Froehner et al. (2011) showed that the water-soluble compounds such as caffeine and bisphenol-A are removed almost completely. STPs are considered as one of the main ‘hotspots’ of potential evolution and spreading of antibiotic resistance into the environment (Michael et al. Thus far. 5 Odour nuisance Odorous emissions are a huge concern in anaerobic reactors treating domestic sewage.. especially due to the superior effluent quality in terms of pathogen counts when compared with conventional anaerobic processes (Liao et al. An et al. sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim. lipidregulators. such as sulfides. there is no clear identification of the emission’s source. hydrophobic compounds such as hormones are not completely removed. Sipma et al. nevertheless. 2013).g. which certainly may hamper the diffusion of the technology. and natural hormones and their by-products (Froehner et al.). Brandt et al. In this context. Therefore. any removal that may occur is incidental to the wastewater treatment processes and the characteristics of the micropollutant (USEPA 2009). 2009. they are expected to remain in the aqueous phase of the wastewater. In the sewer networks and . Li and Zhang 2010). Nevertheless. different odor-related substances may be biologically formed in anaerobic reactors. polishing ponds) or compact (trickling filter packed with sponge-based material) post-treatment units. In most cases. compounds used in the production of resins and plastics. diclofenac.

sealed burners must be used. using a biofilter). (2012) and Glo´ria et al. However. several other criteria should be considered.8–51.0 4. Removal of H2S in the biogas stream can be achieved by thermal oxidation. (2002). (2007) 1–3 0. For wide scale implementation. the relative concentration of H2S in the biogas.g. Glo´ria et al. To ensure complete sulfide combustion. (2010) Waste gasb 146–730 100–500 Pagliuso et al. reaching a removal efficiency of Table 7 Typical atmosphere concentrations of H2S in different units of sewage treatment plants and sewerage system System unit Average concentrations or range variations mg m Sewerage Pumping station Pre-treatment -3 References ppm 0–417 0–300 70–556 50–400 0. A number of dedicated technologies are on the market to remove sulfides from anaerobic effluents and the produced biogas (Lens and Hulshoff Pol 2000.57 0. Solubilised H2S removal was ascribed to high turbulence causing emissions to the atmosphere (Campos and Pagliuso 1999.7–2. offer the best perspectives for the treatment of waste gases. Table 7 shows the typical H2S concentrations in the atmosphere of different units of sewage treatment plants and sewerage system. dissolved hydrogen sulfide reductions exceeding [80 % were observed at the effluent discharge pipelines and splitting box of a demo-scale UASB reactor. such as stripping in a dissipation chamber. 2001). Chernicharo et al. The biogas energy recovery for more value purposes (e. followed by a biological treatment step (for example. Souza (2010). energy recovery plans and treatment goals (Burgess et al. injection into the natural gas line) generally requires methods that enable the selective removal of H2S and the enrichment of methane in the biogas.5 2–37 Al-Shammiri (2004) 3. Antunes and Mano (2004). (2002).5 4. Souza et al. Reduced sulphur compounds are rapidly (bio)chemically oxidised to elemental sulphur or oxygenated sulphur ions (Kobayashi et al. factors like simplicity and cost efficiency are of principal importance. incomplete combustion of H2S may occur in the case of conventional burners (open). In a qualitative analysis of the main features of each method for the treatment of odorous emissions from sewage treatment plants. Recent studies in this direction include aeration of the effluent. Souza 2010. Lens and Hulshoff Pol 2000). 1983.. Noyola et al. Additionally. and particularly biofilters.5 2. (1994) Silva et al.8 3. the selection criteria for the most proper alternative depends on two main criteria: gas flow and odorous gases concentration. biochemical methods. (2014). such as odorous gases biodegradability. with combustion chamber. 2006). Souza (2010) a Gas from the settling zone of the UASB reactor b Gas from the dissipation chamber downstream the UASB reactor 123 . local characteristics (including human resources). (2007). Effluent sulphide removal is easily obtained when the UASB reactor is followed by an aerobic biological step. a vehicular fuel. Kennes et al.4 Bohn (1993) Dewatering 6. apud Silva et al. Different alternatives can be considered for removing the dissolved sulfide in the reactor effluent. Although there are several alternatives for the control of odorous emissions. particularly in developing countries.4 Matos and Aires (1995) Jobba´gy et al. 2014).3 Bohn (1993) 2. source and exact locations of emissions and design aspects related to gas capture and conveyance. leading to the formation of sulfuric acid. 2001. Regarding odor control in anaerobic reactors. most of the generated sulfide occurs in the biofilm layer fixed on the walls of pipes or sludge deposits at the bottom of the pipes (WEF 2004). (2010) indicate that direct combustion. as reported by Souza et al.5 Bohn (1993) Waste gasa 0–73 0–50 Pagliuso et al. using methane as fuel.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol interceptor sewers.

that can be released to the atmosphere. but also on inadequate design of the feeding pumping station. therefore. only by the end of the last century decade. the effects of new policies in the sanitation sector are still to come. microaeration technique. • 6 Operational constraints 6.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol approximately 86 % (Khan et al. in order to avoid the unwanted loss of solids in the final effluent and the problems associated with the non removal of scum on a regular basis. 2011). posing serious operational problems. there is still a clear lack of qualified personnel to work in these newly constructed facilities. flow variations: this is very much dependent on the sewerage network and household connections. only a few plants in Brazil have these routines adequately implemented.1 Process operation with low skilled personnel Lack of qualified operators seems to be one of the major problems in the sewage sector in Latin America and countries like India (van Lier et al. sewage treatment started to become a priority by local. especially regarding the correct management of excess sludge and scum in UASB reactors. 2014). with a removal efficiency of around 73 % (Krayzelova et al. In addition. use of inadequate materials and coatings: this can cause corrosion problems in concrete and metal structures. lack or inadequate scum removal devices: this can pose serious difficulties to the adequate management of the scum that accumulates inside the GLSS of UASB reactors. as well as to scum accumulation near the weirs that are positioned at higher levels. use of inadequate hydraulic profiles along the treatment train: this can seriously impact the management of dissolved gases. such as gas analysers and on line flow meters for the incoming wastewater and for biogas production. 2010). Only more recently the reactors have been designed with proper scum removal devices. The result is that various plants are poorly operated.2 Design and construction Although the design and construction of UASB reactors have experienced improvements in the last decade. • • • • 6. 123 • • mainly related to the proper management of sludge and scum. especially methane and hydrogen sulfide. electrochemical technique. uneven flow distribution results in an uneven upflow thereby creating preferential flows and risks for sludge bed by pass. These issues should be properly addressed in the engineering design. otherwise the plant will be exposed to extreme flow variations that can negatively affect its performance. with a removal efficiency of approximately 82 % (Dutta et al. the use of mechanized systems is difficult to be maintained in continuous operation in many plants. 2010). there are some constraints that still affect the proper operation of UASB reactors. installation of unlevelled collection weirs: this can lead to problems of preferential fluxes inside the settler compartment of UASB reactors. . the following problems have been identified by the authors. which many times work with one single pump with a capacity well above the maximum design flow rate of the STP. In this respect. even in large ones. In Brazil. and the formation of dead zones inside the reactor. there is a strong need to establish operational routines for excess sludge management and scum removal from the inner part of the gas–liquid–solids separators (GLSS). So far. as discussed latter in this section. Although new investment plans in the last decade facilitated the construction of several treatment plants in all Brazilian regions. In Brazil. either due to design constraints or to sole availability of low skilled personnel. For instance. This can be a major problem in various UASB reactors that were designed and constructed in previous years. which allow that huge contributions of rain water reach the STP during the rainy season. state and federal authorities and. in some plants: • inadequate design of the preliminary treatment units: this can allow the entrance of great amounts of solids (debris) and sand into the anaerobic reactor. use of inadequate sludge dewatering systems: this can negatively impact the excess sludge management. lack of process control and data acquisition instruments: many STPs lack basic instruments that could significantly improve the control of the process.

6. especially in small-scale plants.11–1. different accumulation coefficients have been reported for the inner part of the GLSS and for the surface of the settler compartment. The consequences of this operational failure are a deterioration of the effluent quality and the occurrence of operational problems in the post-treatment unit. 2013). possibly due to lack of consolidated methodology for evaluating scum accumulation and also because of inherent differences in each system. resulting in high sludge ages and conferring a greater degree of sludge stabilization. 2005b. excess sludge withdrawal must be performed regularly and in a suitable way. One of the main features of UASB reactors is their great capacity for biomass retention when operated under suitable operating conditions. otherwise it may cause excessive solids loss through the settling compartment. routing the material to disposal (Fig.79–10. notably in the case of trickling filters (Chernicharo and Almeida 2010). Souza et al. 2006.11–4. (2009) Vieira (2014) Source: Adapted from Souza (2006) 123 .3 Sludge withdrawal three-phase separators. This problem has been addressed by many authors (Halalsheh et al.26 Souza et al.8 cm year-1 Rocha (2002) gTS 1 kgCODapplied 0. The accumulation and irregular removal of scum leads to blockage of the natural passage of gas. As it can be noticed. It is achieved by increasing or decreasing the pressure in the gas line situated between the GLSS and a water seal located on the top of each reactor.4 Scum removal A major operational limitation reported in most full-scale plants is the removal of scum that accumulates inside the Table 8 Scum accumulation coefficients in UASB reactors Type of scum Settler GLSS Accumulation coefficient Reference Value Unit 100 mL day-1 4–8 cm year -1 0. 2013).33 1 mlscum kgCODapplied 0. Brazil) indicated that the appropriate adjustment of pressure in the gas line and the resulting level of scum within the gas chambers enabled the effective removal of scum (Chernicharo et al. Advances in scum removal from UASB reactors have been experienced through the design of hydrostatic removal devices (Chernicharo et al. Although the establishment of proper operational routines for excess sludge management is known as one of the most important points to be improved in sewage treatment using UASB reactors (Chernicharo et al. values may differ substantially between the various authors.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol 6. In terms of scum accumulation.16 L 0. 5). which are based on the control of the water level within the GLSS. which in turn impairs its collection and imposes hurdles for energy recovery. The excess sludge can be dried in sludge beds and no smell is expected to arise (van Lier et al. 2009).32 1 L kgTSSapplied 3 cm month-1 12. Tests conducted in a full-scale UASB reactor (Laboreaux STP. 2014).5 cm year-1 Van Haandel and Lettinga (1994) 15. where the lack of qualified personnel is more notorious. this is far to be achieved. (2006) Pereira et al.0 gTS 1 kgCODapplied 6. Pereira et al. 2010). Even though UASB reactors present a high capacity of biomass retention. City of Itabira.22 3 L msewage Versiani (2005) Van Haandel and Lettinga (1994) Santos (2003) 1 kdCODapplied 0. Controlling the water level within the gas chamber allows the scum to pour into a weir. as summarized in Table 8.

The experience so far indicates some possibilities for the management of this material. other constraints include the (non)availability of properly trained personnel. 6. as depicted in Fig. personnel responsible for monitoring and operational control of the STP.5 Other constraints Besides the addressed technical constraints. 6 Flow sheet of some possibilities for scum management 123 6. such as . 5 Schematic representation of the device for hydrostatic removal of scum by pressure relief. more specifically. Operation and maintenance procedures could include a broader range of analysis in the monitoring program. since this material is very heterogenic and presents a high amount of coarse material originally present in the raw sewage. Source: Rosa et al. which was not retained in the screens and sieves of the preliminary treatment. (2012) Another important aspect is the management of the scum removed from the reactors. Fig.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Fig.

due to an important fraction that is dissolved in the effluent. 7 Atmospheric methane emissions Although biogas produced in UASB reactors treating domestic wastewater usually presents high methane contents. a substantial fraction of suspended COD is non-methanized and leaves the reactor with the excess sludge. With municipal wastewater as substrate. Source: Souza et al. a proper interpretation of the obtained data may be identified as an opportunity for improving the performance of the anaerobic process. However in addition to performing analysis. the theoretical estimation of biogas production for the purpose of energy recovery can go far above the field measurements. The high N2 content can be attributed to the solubilized N2 in the influent. 1988). 8 Challenges 8. 2011. 2006. In relation to the COD balance. the authors found that although COD removal in the UASB reactor was considerably high (around 70 %). but also contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. Souza et al. (2012). etc. (2012). In a recent study carried out by Souza et al. 2011) or also more than 50 % of the produced amount (Noyola et al. the following unitary relationships were obtained for methane. The concentrations of the various gases are typical for sewage and can be ascribed to the high hydraulic flow and the relatively low temperature. Lobato et al. as well as the effective energy potential from UASB reactors treating domestic wastewater was developed by Lobato et al. 2011). particularly under high turbulence conditions (Souza et al. Based on the simulations performed by Lobato et al. as well as the amount of methane dissolved in the final effluent or accounted as waste gas. 10–25 % N2 and just 5–10 % CO2 (Noyola et al. Under the general sewage conditions in tropical countries. biogas production and characterization. high rates of methane losses occur at the exit hydraulic structures of the reactor. The recovered methane in the gaseous phase is well below the stoichiometric value of 0. significant amounts of the gaseous products are not recovered (Hartley and Lant 2006. If methane losses are not taken into account. 7 Percent distribution of methane recovered as biogas and methane lost in the effluent for pilot and demo-scale UASB reactors.e. 2012. i. These losses not only represent loss of potential energy. (2011) while 36–40 % of the methane left the reactor dissolved in the effluent (Fig. less than 60 % of the produced methane was effectively recovered as biogas in the gas chamber. The low CO2 content can be attributed to the high solubility of CO2 and the high hydraulic flow. While many of the small STPs using UASB 123 . A model that allows a better estimation of the methane losses. 1988.1 Energy recovery from biogas Energy recovery from biogas produced in anaerobic reactors treating domestic sewage is still in early stages. biogas and energy production in UASB reactors treating typically domestic wastewater (Table 9). allowing the calculation of the effective COD fraction converted into methane. 2013). assessment of sewage BMP (biochemical methane potential) and sludge SMA. In general. Souza et al. 7).35 Nm3 kg-1 COD removed. COD concentrations \1000 mg l-1 and temperatures around 20 C. Noyola et al. only about 36 % of the removed COD was recovered as biogas. (2011). which inside the UASB escapes from the liquid when the N2 partial pressure drops to low levels. composition of the produced biogas is in the following intervals: 70–80 % CH4.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol sulfate concentration in the influent. Fig. In addition. 2012). The remaining fraction (around 5 %) was emitted as waste gas at the top part of the reactor in the settling zone. where the partial CH4 pressure drops to 0. The model considers the relevant COD conversion routes for energy potential estimation. the solubilized effluent CH4 is between 30 and 41 % (Souza et al.

7 6. only few reactors use proper flow-meters to measure the amount of biogas effectively produced.8 28.4 2.4 66. the high calorific value of biogas generates great interest in exploiting this gas mixture in processes that require the use of energy.1 101.7 NLCH4 m-3 wastewater 42.1. e.3 23. In some Indian UASB treatment plants the generated biogas is indeed used as combustion fuel in dual fuel biogas motors for energy generation.7 26.8 13.8 196.7 NL biogas m-3wastewater 138.8 11.8 116.2 4. The use of biogas as a source of renewable energy could enable decentralized power generation and is in line with the concept of sustainable development.1 165.7 1. the biogas energy potential is simply wasted.5 245.8 The main constraints related to energy (biogas) recovery from UASB reactors treating domestic wastewater are related to: • 47.1 Unitary biogas yield NLbiogas inhab day 1 NLCH4 kgCODremoved -1 -1 113.4 2.3 5. However.7 64.6 64.7 9.9 1.7 26.5 • MJ inhab-1 year-1 89.6 20.1 1 NLbiogas kgCODremoved 60.3 13.4 168.1 Constraints MJ Nm-3biogas 25.3 103.4 211. Other losses. via leaks and emissions via the surface of the settler compartment can also occur.9 13.8 124.9 81.2 134.6 2.7 96. 218.0 46.8 26. the majority of the larger STPs burn the biogas.5 1 MJ kgCODremoved MJ m wastewater Unitary energy potential -3 162.1 technology just vent the biogas.9 133.6 273. In order to make this potentiality into reality.8 7.4 34.9 8.2 7.7 145. biogas and energy production in UASB reactors treating domestic wastewater Minimum Mean Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol high amounts of gaseous methane stay in solution in the bulk liquid and are washed out with the liquid effluent. for post treatment aeration systems.9 4.g.5 3.2 14.1 16.2 Challenges The increasing number of UASB reactors opens up a perspective for energy recovery in such systems.0 6.3 9.9 173.0 94.7 4. (2012) 25..3 28.7 NLCH4 inhab-1 day-1 Unitary methane yield Minimum Maximum 123 6.7 9.1 129.1 0.3 85.8 158.2 3.9 17. resulting in sharp decline of the net biogas production during the rainy seasons.2 1. the composition of the biogas is rarely evaluated and as a result.8 5. in order to reduce odor and the emission of greenhouse gases (methane is the main constituent of biogas).1 185. existence of irregular connections and contributions of storm water to the sewerage system cause very high dilutions of the wastewater. 8. resulting in high losses of energy potential.7 81.0 217.3 220.8 Maximum Mean Maximum Minimum Mean Best scenario Typical scenario Worst scenario Unit Unitary relationship Table 9 Unitary relationships for the production of methane.1. therefore posing serious difficulties in relying on the database available at the different treatment plants.6 16.9 2. such as its use in sewage treatment plants.9 17.9 7. . In both situations.7 28.0 154.2 219.6 247.3 51.1 25. As above discussed measurements carried out in full-scale plants in Brazil estimated that about 36–40 % of the produced methane left the reactor dissolved in the effluent.1 13.6 10. Furthermore.179. the power generation potential is unknown in most STPs.9 173.8 5.7 • Source: Lobato et al.

research and technology development efforts should be encouraged in order to provide small and reliable biogas burners and co-generation units to small anaerobic facilities. can be recovered for different applications such as: (1) direct use as fuel in boilers. seeking the use of efficient devices for biogas collection (e. (3) cogeneration of electricity and heat. low government investment in programs for conversion of biogas to energy. direct combustion with thermal energy recovery seems to be the simplest and highest cost/benefit alternative. with particular emphasis on the use of sludge. an extra benefit will be the complete inactivation of helminth eggs. The main alternatives for biogas management in the plant can be classified as follows (Fig.. 8). 8. an important issue in developing countries. cogeneration of power and heat seems to be possible and feasible alternatives. Other challenges that impair the use of biogas as energy source are (Salomon and Lora 2009): • • • • • • • • lack and high costs of the power generation technologies fuelled on biogas. This might become a paradigm shift to the final destination of sludge.g. In the case of medium and large-scale STPs. regardless of the type of treatment process. regional and seasonal conditions.7 MJ Nm-3 (considering methane concentrations between 70 and 80 %).1 and 28. 8. the main byproduct of the treatment process. waste sludge should be evaluated as a source of energy after the dewatering stage. Regarding the scum. the choice of cogeneration of power and heat becomes challenging in small-scale systems. In addition to these uses. storage and distribution of biogas. 8 Main alternatives for biogas management in STPs improvements should be accomplished in the design and construction of UASB reactors. (2015) allowed the characterization of the energy potential of the solid 123 . and (4) alternative fuel aimed at injection into the natural gas line or use as vehicle fuel.2 Energy recovery from sludge and scum Energy sustainability is one of the main aspects to be addressed in the future of STPs. with calorific value between 25. Moreover. biogas energy recovery systems for the small and very small scale are economically non-viable. economic viability. since landfills are the common final disposal option for this material in the region. as raw material for the production of energy. while inserting the disposal of scum in operational routines of the plants. furnaces and kilns to replace other types of fuels. Improved management and training should be the focus of a support program for small municipalities or operators in developing countries. In rural areas the produced biogas can be used for cooking. since it is highly associated and influenced by operational. hermetic biogas chambers) and for dissolved methane recovery. research should be pursued in order to characterize this material and determined its energy potential. If the heat is used for the purpose of sludge drying. lighting. There is also a strong need for a better understanding of the behaviour of biogas production in sewage treatment plants. Because the low rates of methane production and the loss of dissolved methane in the effluent. In this case. Recent work by Rosa et al. the biogas generated in STPs can be used for drying and hygienization of sludge. as well as simple means for capturing or degrading the dissolved methane in the effluent.1. (2) generate electricity for local use or sale to the utility power network. difficulties of small units to trade carbon credits. refrigeration of food and water heating.Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol Direct combustion without energy recovery Direct combustion with heat generation Combined or single power and heat generation Open flares Closed flares Boilers Thermal dryers Internal combustion engines Micro-turbines Turbines Fig. dependence on local conditions. difficulties to ensure the proper functioning of the biogas energy generation units in the long term. Indeed.3 Possibilities The energy content of biogas.

2010).Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol byproducts of a sewage treatment plant consisting of UASB reactors and trickling filters (Laboreaux STP. In a recent study using membranes to remove dissolved gas. These gases can be emitted to a controlled atmosphere. (2012) indicated that significant reductions of methane and hydrogen sulfide dissolved in the final effluent could be attained simply by increasing the turbulence of the liquid. The results showed a potential of drying and conversion of sludge into an energetic by-product. 8. Simulation studies carried out for this same STP (Rosa 2013) assessed the combined use of energy derived from the biogas and sludge generated in the plant for thermally drying the dewatered sludge.0 MJ kg-1. after dewatering. it is yet an expensive technique. This result indicates that Table 10 Main possibilities and benefits of using sludge and scum generated in STP for energetic purposes Direct benefit Volume reduction of the material to be disposed in landfills Source of thermal energy due to its combustion Indirect benefit Type of benefit Reduction of transportation costs Economical Reduction of generation and emission of GHG due to the avoidance of the landfill Environmental Potential use of heat in heating and hygienization processes Economical Reduction of volume of the final residue Economical Environmental Environmental Electricity supply due to the use of steam and syngas generated in the sludge thermal processing Sludge hygienization after thermal treatment Source: Rosa (2013) 123 Reduction in electricity costs at the STP or other units Economical Renewable energy aggregation in the Latin American energy matrix Environmental Possibility of sludge use in agriculture. however. but none of them have yet proved to be fully viable or effective. the median dissolved methane removal efficiency was 73 %. Souza et al. Minas Gerais. So far. it is clear that there is a potential of using the solid byproducts of STPs.3 Dissolved effluent CH4 recovery As discussed in previous sections. such as micro-aeration using biogas (Hartley and Lant 2006) and degasifying membranes (Cookney et al. (2012) obtained high removal efficiencies for methane. in the order of 2. 2014). Brazil). substantially reducing the transportation costs for final disposal in landfills. thereby allowing its recovery or treatment. Brazil) tested a dissipation chamber downstream the reactor to reduce the concentration of dissolved methane in the liquid effluent (Glo´ria et al. The results indicated that both the sludge dewatered in filter press and the scum dewatered in drying bed have significant low calorific values. For the best operation condition (free drop height of 1. high amounts of gaseous methane (30–40 % of the produced methane) are kept dissolved in the liquid effluent and therefore represent a matter of strong concern to the environment and potential energy losses. Belo Horizonte.10 m and 12 renews h-1). Although studies in this area are still in the early stages. for these materials analyzed with moisture content of around 60 %. In this sense. Table 10 presents the main beneficial aspects of energy recovery from sludge and scum generated in STPs. to produce energy for local use. around 86 %. Luo et al. In summary. Recent study carried out in a pilot-scale UASB reactor (Centre for Research and Training in Sanitation UFMG/COPASA. what could completely eliminate the generation of rejected material to be disposed off. reducing the use of natural resources Environmental Possibility of improvement of family agriculture Social Economical . only the methane recovered in the GLSS interior of UASB reactors can be adequately managed (flared or used as energy resource). Some alternatives to reduce the dissolved methane content in the effluent of anaerobic reactors have been proposed.

Wat Sci Technol 59(7):1431–1439 Almeida PGS. A concern of growing interest is the emission of the potent greenhouse gas CH4 from anaerobic reactors. Alem Sobrinho P (2006) Behavior of polishing lagoon in metropolitan Curitiba and the possibility of using of duckweed for improvement of effluent quality. and the assumptions made to the data gaps. technical and economical settings. 9 Final remarks The feedback of the several pioneer full-scale plants was crucial to elucidate the limitations of the current design and managerial approaches and helped to improve the system. Lisboa: Associac¸a˜o Portuguesa dos Recursos Hı´dricos (APRH) (in Portuguese) Bare´a LC. Bioresour Technol 97:2225–2241 Almeida PGS. Lieven DK. it can be noticed that in developing countries the achievement of public health and environmental goals is still a challenge and needs an especial attention. Bucciali B. ABNT. In addition. 2004.and sponge-based trickling filters treating effluents from an UASB reactor. plane and robust technology. 2nd edn. Batstone and Virdis 2014). Virdis B (2014) The role of anaerobic digestion in the emerging energy economy. sewage treatment based only on UASB (or other anaerobic reactors) is not able to meet the WHO guidelines (WHO 2006) for reuse in agricultural systems. Mano AP (2004) Odores em estac¸o˜es de tratamento de ´ gua. 2011. Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) arises as an important tool to determine the most environment-friendly treatment scheme. scum formation. A ´ gua Qualidade de a´guas residuais. Mahmoud N (2008) Start-up of an UASB-septic tank for community on-site treatment of strong domestic sewage. Wat Sci Technol 67(5):1034–1042 Al-Shammiri M (2004) Hydrogen sulfide emission from the Ardiyah sewage treatment plant in Kuwait. large amounts of CH4 are dissolved in the effluent and are emitted to the atmosphere when effluents are discharged. However. J Environ Eng 135:86–91 Antunes R. Nevertheless. Of interest is that the assets of anaerobic treatment are considered important attributes for developing more sustainable environmental technologies in general. In: Congresso da A toda a Vida. and the recovery of resources. the anaerobic process has a key role in residual waste valorisation (Batstone and Virdis 2014). 2006). according to different geographical. Bioresour Technol 99:7758–7766 An YY. References ABNT. Souza CL (2009) Development of compact UASB/trickling filter systems for treating domestic wastewater in small communities in Brazil. Rittmann BE. the used weighing factors. Lisboa. in current fullscale UASB systems. Therefore. serving energy recovery needs while preventing greenhouse gas emissions. Chernicharo C. Forrez I. anaerobic processes become essential for energy recovery and conservation of nutrients for future recovery (McCarty et al. van Haandel A. in such cases. are still being improved by researchers and field specialists. the trends in sewage treatment are currently evolving from public sanitation and environmental protection towards the additional goals of nutrient and energy recovery mainly driven by increased cost of energy and value of nutrients. Wong FS (2009) Municipal wastewater treatment using a UASB coupled with crossflow membrane filtration. As a core technology for sustainable domestic wastewater treatment (Foresti et al. nutrient conservation (nitrogen and phosphorous) turns out to be an advantage of the anaerobic processes when the effluent is reclaimed for agricultural irrigation. 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