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Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118

Review Paper

The eects of operational and environmental variations

on anaerobic wastewater treatment systems: A review
Renato Carrha Leitao a,*, Adrianus Cornelius van Haandel b,1
Grietje Zeeman c,2, Gatze Lettinga c,2
Embrapa Agroindustria Tropical (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, Institute of Tropical Agroindustry),
Rua Coronel Juca, 510/902, Fortaleza, CE 60170-320, Brazil
Federal University of Campina Grande, Av. Aprgio Veloso, 882, Bodocongo, Campina Grande, PB 58.109-970, Brazil
Wageningen University, Sub-Department of Environmental Technology, P.O. Box 8129, 6700 EV, Wageningen, The Netherlands

Received 30 January 2004; received in revised form 12 November 2004; accepted 8 December 2004
Available online 24 February 2005


With the aim of improving knowledge about the stability and reliability of anaerobic wastewater treatment systems, several
researchers have studied the eects of operational or environmental variations on the performance of such reactors. In general,
anaerobic reactors are aected by changes in external factors, but the severity of the eect is dependent upon the type, magnitude,
duration and frequency of the imposed changes. The typical responses include a decrease in performance, accumulation of volatile
fatty acids, drop in pH and alkalinity, change in biogas production and composition, and sludge washout. This review summarises
the causes, types and eects of operational and environmental variation on anaerobic wastewater treatment systems. However, there
still remain some unclear technical and scientic aspects that are necessary for the improvement of the stability and reliability of
anaerobic processes.
 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Anaerobic reactors; Anaerobic wastewater treatment system; Operational variations; Environmental variations; Steady state conditions;
Shock loads; Transient conditions

1. Introduction treatment, combinations of dierent methods can be

used, viz. physical, chemical, and biological. The last
Human societies produce wastes that can represent a method can be divided into two classes (aerobic and
useful raw material for the production of energy, and anaerobic) which constitute the main units of most
the recovery of by-products and component water. Sev- wastewater treatment plants.
eral techniques are already available to attain the goals Anaerobic processes generate energy in the form of
of Environmental Protection and Resource Conserva- biogas, and produce sludge in an amount that is signi-
tion (Lettinga et al., 2000). In the case of wastewater cantly lower than that resulting from aerobic systems. In
contrast, aerobic processes, which are widely used for
the treatment of wastewater, have at least two distinct
Corresponding author. Tel.: +55 85 32671352; fax: +55 85 disadvantages: their relatively high energy requirement
32889774. and high excess sludge production, which requires han-
E-mail addresses: (R.C. Leitao), prosab@ dling, treatment and disposal. Surprisingly, there exists a (A.C. van Haandel), (G. Zeeman), (G. Lettinga).
certain reluctance to use anaerobic processes, particu-
Tel./fax: +55 83 3314809. larly in centralised treatment plants used for treat-
Tel.: +31 317 484241; fax: +31 317 484802. ment of municipal wastewater. Reasons against the

0960-8524/$ - see front matter  2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1106 R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118

implementation of anaerobic processes that have been ow rate variations over the year (Castillo et al.,
provided by some established wastewater treatment 1997); (6) Operational procedures at the treatment
companies focus on three main points: (1) anaerobic plant can result in increased hydraulic and organic
reactors spread unpleasant odour; (2) anaerobic reactors loads, viz. when it is necessary to stop one of several
are unstable; and (3) high performance reactors such as anaerobic units for maintenance, the others have to cope
Upow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) reactors can- with the entire ow rate; (7) Several types of distur-
not cope with high load rate variations. In order to con- bances can manifest in case of industrial wastewa-
test the rst two arguments, the example of Curitiba (a ter, even under normal operational conditions, given
city in southern Brazil) is presented here (Aisse et al., that the ow rate and waste concentration vary
2000). Several anaerobic reactors have been put into with the industrial processes routine (Punal and Lema,
operation in densely populated areas of Curitiba. They 1999).
have performed satisfactorily for many years, i.e. they
perform without any problems of odours or instability, 2.1. Sewage ow and composition variations over
even in the relatively adverse climatic conditions of the day
Curitiba, with its air temperatures varying annually
from 5 to 25 C. However, it seems that there is still Domestic wastewater generally shows high ow vari-
not enough explicit experimental information available ations due to the number of inhabitants and dwellings
to conrm or rebut the third point, i.e. that high rate connected to the sewer system, specic characteristics
anaerobic reactors would be very sensitive to variations of the sewerage (type, material, length, maintenance,
in ow and/or concentration. inltration, use of pump stations), as well as climate,
The overall objective of this work is to present a liter- topography and commercial/industrial contributions.
ature review on the types and impacts of several opera- The traditional approach for estimating the quantity
tional and environmental variations on the performance of wastewater in a separate sewer system assumes a daily
of anaerobic wastewater treatment (AnWT) systems. In ow per capita to give an average dry weather ow, and
the cited scientic papers, it was observed that each uses multipliers for estimating the peaks and low ows
quoted researcher was eager to study the behaviour of (Campos and von Sperling, 1996; Butler et al., 1995;
a specic reactor. Each researcher also submitted the Metcalf & Eddy, Inc. , 1991). The ow in such sewers
reactors to a strict range of variations in some opera- shows characteristic patterns on annual, seasonal, daily,
tional parameters, generating a dispersed set of informa- hourly and sub-hourly time scales.
tion on the subject. To facilitate a thorough In general, the ow of the wastewater in a separate
understanding of this review, this paper was arranged sewer system follows a pattern that can be simplied
by rstly presenting the causes and eects of the opera- using the equations presented by van Haandel and Lett-
tional and environmental variations on the AnWT sys- inga (1994). However, according to Campos and von
tems. Next, the main conclusions and the research Sperling (1996), these kinds of simplications could lead
needs are presented. to misestimates. They presented an analysis of data re-
lated to the domestic wastewater characteristics from
several areas situated in the large Brazilian city, Belo
2. Causes of environmental variations Horizonte. They found higher ow-rate variations than
those usually used for the design of treatment plants,
In practice, the treatment system can become exposed and the extent of the variations was higher in the wealth-
to many variations, i.e. (1) In the case of sewage, the ier areas of the city. They developed models to predict
cyclical nature of human activities leads to a variable basic wastewater characteristics (water consumption,
sewage production over the day (Metcalf & Eddy, wastewater production, BOD load and concentration)
Inc., 1991); (2) Separate wastewater sewerage may have based on simple socio-economic variables. According
inappropriate connections of runo water and rainfall to the results of their studies, the main wastewater char-
contributions, resulting in overloads in networks as well acteristics vary with the hour of the day and the day of
as in treatment plants (Dauphin et al., 1998); (3) Com- the week, in addition to depending on total family
bined sewer networks exhibit the rst-ux phenomena, income.
in cases where storm water contributions result in an in- Several researchers have studied the variation of
creased suspended solids (SS) and chemical oxygen de- ows and changes in the sewage composition which oc-
mand (COD) concentration in the rst minutes of the cur in sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants.
event (Deletic, 1998); (4) The sewage network often Heip et al. (1997) developed a mathematical model to
has one or more pumping stations, which convey the simulate the hydraulic behaviour of a sewer network.
sewage intermittently at a much larger ow than average The calibration was done in a city in the north of Bel-
(Dauphin et al., 1998); (5) Tourist areas dramatically in- gium utilizing data from a 9-month monitoring cam-
crease their populations during holidays, leading to high paign. Data from a monitoring station in a small
R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118 1107

Danish town, which produced 45 L/s of wastewater, sented an example of a coastal tourist city in Turkey
showed diurnal variations between zero and approxi- (Bodrum), where the population increase can be as high
mately 10 L/s during dry weather (Schaarup-Jensen as 1500% during the high season.
et al., 1998). Oliva (1997) characterised the sewage of
Sao CarlosBrazil (separate sewer system) on the 2.3. First-ush
basis of several parameters, throughout several hours
of the day, and dierent days of the week. Their results The concept of the rst-ush of storm runo is
show variations of 103% between minimum and maxi- based on the assumption that the rst part of runo is
mum COD during the week, and 117% between the most polluted. Deletic (1998) investigated whether
minimum and maximum COD throughout the day. or not this phenomenon really exists and what its char-
Higher variations were found in proteins, carbohy- acteristics are. To characterise the rst-ush,
drates and lipids contents, 260%, 1003%, and 650% researchers usually use curves of the cumulative fraction
respectively over the week, and 171%, 302%, and of the total pollutant mass versus the fraction of total
150% over the day. cumulative runo volume. The phenomenon is per-
In many cases, the main source of inow into sewer ceived if a mass cumulative curve of a pollutant is above
networks (separate system) is comprised of domestic the runo volume curve (Bertrand-Krajewski et al.,
wastewater. Sewage however, also generally includes 1998). According to a French study, a strong rst-ush
commercial and industrial wastewaters. The domestic very rarely occurs, but in more than 65% of the events
fraction of sewage is made up of contributions from var- studied, this phenomenon manifested to some extent
ious household appliances, inuencing ow quantity and (Saget et al., 1996). In fact, Deletic (1998) did not nd
quality, and thus the hydraulic and organic load at the a strong rst-ush of suspended solids, but it manifested
end-of-pipe WWTP. The household discharges are in 30% of the events studied and particularly during
mainly derived from the WC, kitchen sink, washbasin, large storm events. Such a rst-ush could not be as-
bath, shower and washing machine. Butler et al. (1995) sessed for pH or for temperature. The researcher also
and Friedler and Butler (1996) examined the quality of suggested that pollutant transformations and transport
wastewater generated by each domestic device of 28 processes might cause the rst-ush.
households in South East England, and 51 homes in Independent of the question of whether rst-ush
Malta. Generally, the WC was the most signicant events really exist, wastewater treatment plants none-
wastewater-producing appliance, contributing around theless are presently not designed for accommodating
40% of the daily average ow of the household total dis- these types of overcharges. This implies that this extra
charge, and 40% of the total pollution load. By monitor- amount of incoming wastewater is sent through the
ing the wastewater of several houses, they were able to equalization unit of primary clariers, or is by-passed
analyse the daily variation of BOD (38%), orthophos- directly to water bodies (Carstensen et al., 1998).
phate (52%), ammonia (136%) and nitrate (50%), for According to the observations of Bechmann et al.
the case of South East England. Although the authors (1998), during dry weather there is a deposition of pol-
overemphasise the variations, it seems that they are not lutants in the sewer that are ushed out with the rst
so signicant when wave attenuations that occur into rain contribution. This idea is supported by Bertrand-
the sewer are taken into account. Krajewski et al. (1995), who found that there was an
increase of mineral and settleable solids due the catch-
2.2. Tourist areas ments surface wash o during storm events. However,
the COD concentration in the inuent of the treatment
An important example of the prevalence of consider- plant remained unchanged compared to that of the dry
able changes in ow-rate and organic loading rate weather periods. This means that there is a chance for
(OLR) can be found in tourist areas, where the popula- overloading (over a short period), but this conicts
tion increases dramatically during the high season. Cas- with the view of Deletic (1998). There are actually a
tillo et al. (1997) studied the feasibility of a combined number of variables related to the rst-ush, primarily
anaerobicaerobic system (UASB + RBC) for treating based on the characteristics of the catchments and the
the wastewater of a small tourist village near Barcelona. sewer network. In steep catchments, sediments are typ-
Experiments were carried out in the summer (tourist sea- ically absent and no erosion can take place. Sediments
son) and in the winter, examining very dierent loads are present in a at catchment area, but erosion is lim-
and temperatures (19 C and 12 C). Results showed ited due to low velocities. In large catchment areas, the
that removal eciencies were similar in both seasons, rst-ush potential is reduced as a result of the long
because the higher ambient temperature during summer transportation time and wave attenuation phenome-
time balanced the higher loads during that season. At non. Therefore, for catchments of steepness and areas
high temperatures, the reactor can cope with the im- of a medium size, a distinct rst-ush will probably oc-
posed higher loading rates. Orhon et al. (1999) also pre- cur (Krebs et al., 1999).
1108 R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118

3. Eects of environmental variations on AnWT systems 1982). Another typical eect during a situation of stress
is the drastic change in biogas production rates and
Wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) are subject to compositions (Chua et al., 1997).
variations in one or more parameters that aect or de- Although some researchers, such as Inanc et al.
ne the reactor performance, viz. ow rate, inuent type (1999), support the idea that a high volatile fatty acid
and concentration, sludge retention time (SRT), nutrient concentration is detrimental for the activity of methano-
availability, temperature, pH, presence of xenobiotics, gens, other authors (Cohen et al., 1982) arm that the
as well as others. Some of these variations can be pre- eects of high VFA concentrations are better regarded
dicted and controlled, and the reactor can be designed as the result of an imbalance, rather than the cause of
to accommodate them. But this is not the case for all reactor destabilisation. In fact, during organic shocks
variations, and the reactors performance can deterio- with VFA and glucose in one-phase and two-phase
rate due to extreme transient conditions. anaerobic reactors, Cohen et al. (1982) did not observe
inhibition due to a toxic action of VFA under conditions
3.1. Eect of hydraulic and organic load variations of well-controlled pH. The substantial accumulation of
propionate observed by Cohen et al. (1982) and many
In anaerobic digestion, a delicate balance exists be- other researchers suggests a saturation of the hydrogen
tween the primary processes (hydrolysis and acidogene- transfer reactions and, as a consequence, an enhanced
sis) and the conversion of the acid products by disposal of electrons via an alternative route. From this
acetogenic and methanogenic bacteria into methane information, Cohen et al. (1982) presumed that carbon
and carbon dioxide (Cohen et al., 1982). According to dioxide reduction was the rate-limiting step, rather than
many specialists working in this eld, e.g. van Lier the splitting of acetate. They never found a signicant
et al. (2001), strong variations in ow and concentration acetate accumulation, or lag-period for the degradation
may adversely aect the eciency of an anaerobic reac- of VFA, in any of their experiments with organic shock
tor. The eect of uctuations in hydraulic and organic loads. However, the authors were not clear about the
load generally depends on the applied hydraulic reten- sludge and design of the reactor they used, and inhibi-
tion time (HRT), sludge retention time (SRT), intensity tion due to VFA would depend on the conditions under
and duration of the variations, sludge properties and the which they conducted their experiments, e.g. the type of
reactor design, particularly the design of the three phase sludge used, OLR and sludge loading rate, etc.
separator. Thus far, a clear relationship between the Borja and Banks (1995) tested the eect of shock
mentioned parameters and the performance behaviour loads on the performance of a uidised bed reactor
of UASB reactors operating under environmental varia- (FBR) by increasing the ow rate by 100 and 150%
tions has not been fully established. for 6 and 12-h periods, utilizing the same inuent con-
The accumulation of volatile fatty acids (VFA) can centration. The reactor was fed with synthetic ice-cream
be a typical reactor response during overloading, and wastewater, and was operated at an HRT of 8 h and
during sudden variations in hydraulic and organic load- OLR of 15.6 kg COD/m3 day. During the shock, they
ing rates. Hydrogen partial pressure plays an important reported decreases in pH (from 7.1 to 6.6) and alkalin-
role in controlling the proportion of the various interme- ity, and increases in euent VFA and COD. The gas
diate products of the anaerobic reactions. Under stress- production thus increased, but the methane content de-
ful conditions, there may be a shift in the metabolic creased. The change in the CH4/CO2 ratio was a direct
pathway to a less favourable route, resulting in a ratio consequence of an inhibition of methanogenesis, and
shift between VFA producers (acidogens and acetogens of the decreased solubility of CO2 at low pH values
population) and consumers (methanogens, sulphate (Fongastitkul et al., 1994; Eng et al., 1986). In the same
reducing bacteriaSRB, and nitrogen reducing bacte- investigation, Borja and Banks (1995) also tested an in-
riaNRB). Such a highly undesirable situation could crease of the inuent COD by 100 and 150% for 6 and
lead to the production of signicant amounts of carbon 12 h. The eects were essentially the same as found in
dioxide and hydrogen gas in the biogas. The partial the experiments with hydraulic load variations, but less
pressure of hydrogen gas inside the reactor might in- pronounced. When they increased the concentration of
crease to values exceeding 10 4 atm, which may then the inuent, they also increased the buering capacity
cause a shift in the metabolic pathway. When slowly so that the pH remained well controlled. The most se-
growing methanogens cannot suciently and rapidly vere shock imposed to the system was conducted by
eliminate all H2 produced by the H2-producing bacteria increasing the inuent COD by 150% for 12 h, which
(e.g. in case the sludge contains insucient hydrogen- caused a 180% increase in euent COD. However, the
consuming organisms), this may result in a distinct reactor recovered its normal performance within 11 h
inhibition of the degradation of propionate, butyrate after the shock ceased. The authors did not supply en-
and lactate (Fongastitkul et al., 1994; Canovas-Daz ough information about the sludge for a good evalua-
and Howell, 1988; Eng et al., 1986; Cohen et al., tion about overloading, but it seems that the reactor
R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118 1109

could cope well with the imposed shocks. This kind of liquid suers a shift in velocity, there is an average in-
reactor actually performs well at higher OLRs (Holst crease in internal mass transfer coecient.
et al., 1997; Borja et al., 1995), which means that the Chua et al. (1997) investigated the response of an
shocks were not so severe and they were probably assim- anaerobic xed-lm reactor (AFFR) to hydraulic shock
ilated by the reactor buer load capacity. loads. The reactor was operated with synthetic dairy
Bhatia et al. (1985a,b) investigated the response of a wastewaterhaving an inuent COD of 3 g/L and an
step change in concentration and ow rate in a 9.8 L HRT of 5 days. Shocks with duration of 7 days were im-
UASB reactor, using a synthetic wastewater composed posed by reducing the HRT from 5.0 days to 2.5, 1.25,
of acetic, propionic and butyric acids. The changes were 1.0 and 0.5 days, with a concomitant decreasing of the
accomplished by varying the concentrations of each acid inuent concentration. They suggested that the ability
separately from 600 to 900 mg/L for 12 h. The authors of this type of reactor to cope with the imposed shocks
carried out other step-change-like tests by increasing was due to the xed biolm, which was not washed out
the ow rate from 1.0 to 11.8 L/h until the reactor during critical hydraulic shock loadings. Even so, the
achieved a new steady state. They concluded that the AFFR took 4 days to recover from hydraulic shocks
reactors took approximately one residence time to re- of only twice the ow rate, and the authors did not men-
cover from the imposed changes in loading rates, which tion why methanogenic bacteria were inhibited during
means that delays decreased when the ow rate in- the shocks, combined with VFA accumulation in the
creased. This behaviour could have been due to mass reactor. It is likely that the dilutions necessary to main-
transfer resistance, as the diusion rate increases after tain the same organic load at an increased ow rate
a hydraulic shock load (Brito and Melo, 1999). Another aected the methanogenic activity.
eect observed by Bhatia et al. (1985a,b) was the exis- Eng et al. (1986) described experiments in an UASB
tence of dierent levels of euent concentration (at reactor (12.7 L) fed with diluted leachate liquor
steady state) for the same operational condition. This (2.2 g COD/L) and operated with HRT of around
phenomenon (hysteresis) was perceived when the 6 h. They were interested in testing the capacity of an
researchers increased the ow rate from 1.0 to 11.8 anaerobic digester to cope with severe shock loads such
L/h, and then decreased it back to 1.0 L/h. The euent as those caused by accidental spillage of sugar syrup in a
concentration for the same ow rate was lower after the sugar beet processing industry. Shock loads with sucrose
ow was increased. The authors attributed the hysteretic at dierent concentrations (10, 12 and 50 g/L) and dier-
eect to the structure of the cultures inside the occu- ent durations (3 and 8 days) were applied. In all experi-
lated biomass, which can change depending upon the ments, the reactor-pH dropped to around 4.7, causing
operational condition. However, it is likely that the KS the inhibition of methanogenesis. The researchers con-
(Monod half saturation constant) increased when the cluded that the UASB system is potentially vulnerable
OLR was raised, and did not return to its previous value to shock loads, but methanogenesis resumed a few days
when the OLR was decreased. after the shock load ceased, as long as alkalinity was
Several researchers have suggested that the diusion provided. However, the authors were not clear about
rate of substrate through a biolm is a function of liquid the use of leachate to simulate the wastewater of sugar
velocity and substrate concentration. Under steady-state beet processing industries, and did not mention the
conditions, the diusion rate increases with a higher sub- shock due to a distinct carbon sourcethe reactor was
strate concentration (Ficks law) and decreases with a adapted to diluted leachate (VFA rich inuent) and
higher ow velocity (Beyenal and Lewandowski, 2000). the shocks were imposed with sucrose. It seems that
According to these authors, the substrate concentration the UASB reactor was more robust than the authors af-
has a stronger eect on the diusion rate than the ow rmed, as it was expected that the reactors would com-
velocity. With regards to the eect of ow velocity on pletely fail when operated under such a strong shock
the diusion rate, there is a contradiction between Bey- load, i.e. an increase of 5 times the steady state inu-
enal and Lewandowski (2000) and Zaiat et al. (1996), ent concentration over a 3-day period, using a dierent
who found that the external mass transfer resistance carbon source in the inuent.
can be decreased by increasing the ow velocity. Brito Oliva (1997) conducted experiments in an 18 m3
and Melo (1999) investigated the eect of a transient UASB reactor treating sewage from the city of Sao
shift in the external bulk liquid velocity on the internal Carlos, located in the southeast of Brazil. They exposed
mass transfer coecient in biolms. They found that the system to several shocks by increasing the ow rate
at a constant and laminar ow, the diusion rates did (Q) by 50% twice a day, and 100% once a day. Accord-
not depend upon the ow rate. However, under condi- ing to the results they presented (not shown in this re-
tions of turbulent liquid ow and thus higher shear view), it appears that the reactor tended to become
stresses, the ow velocity had a pronounced eect on better adapted after each imposed shock. This observa-
the biolm thickness and compactness, leading to dier- tion can possibly be attributed to the washout of the ne
ent mass transfer coecients. Moreover, if the bulk sludge ingredients, or less dense particles, during the rst
1110 R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118

shocks imposed. During the 2 Q shock, the euent perature was kept around 35 C. They imposed a step-
COD increased until the load was returned to its previ- change on the organic load by increasing fat concentra-
ous value, but the 1.5 Q shock did not seriously aect tion from 2.7 to 4.8 g/L (increase of 78%), and from 2.7
reactor performance. to 6.1 g/L (increase of 126%). The increase of 78% in the
Castillo et al. (1997) investigated the eect of dier- fat concentration did not produce any remarkable eects
ent HRTs on a pilot-scale UASB reactor (750 L), fed on the performance of the reactor, and the increase of
with domestic wastewater (CODInf 600 mg/L), under 126% in fat concentration only caused a small decrease
winter (13 C) and summer (20 C) conditions. of the COD removal eciency from 93% to 85%. The
Their results showed that the removal eciencies of researchers also tested a step-change of organic load
total, soluble fraction and suspended fraction of by decreasing the HRT from 12 to 6 h, and found an
COD increased as the HRT increased, but there was immediate drop in the eciency (from 93% to 69%).
a tendency for these to become constant at an HRT From their results, it can be concluded that the stabilisa-
higher than 6 h. After every change in OLR (imposed tion period (feedless period) has an important inu-
by increasing the HRT), the reactors passed through ence on the stability of the reactor during transient
a transient condition before achieving the new steady conditions.
state. It is worthwhile to note that anaerobic reactors Another interesting eect of hydraulic and organic
operated at lower temperatures were more sensitive to shocks is the rapid decrease in the number and length
organic variations. of free lamentous microorganisms at increased loading
Kalyuzhnyi et al. (1996) investigated the performance conditions, which in anaerobic digesters can represent
of a lab-scale UASB reactor fed with synthetic wastewa- several dierent species of acidiers, acetogens, and
ter composed of sucrose (2 g/L), potassium acetate methanogens. The decrease in number of such organ-
(ranging from 2 to 5 g/L as acetic acid) and mineral isms suggests washout or disaggregation of these bacte-
medium. The reactor was operated under organic load- ria during a shock load (Alves et al., 2000). Cheng
ing rates ranging from 3.4 to 44.9 g COD/L day, at (1992) studied the morphology of attached biolm bac-
HRTs ranging from 4.0 to 22.5 h, at a temperature teria as a function of organic loading, VFA concentra-
around 36 C, and was fed with inuent concentrations tion and biogas production in a uidised bed reactor.
ranging from 3.2 to 7.5 g COD/L. The reactor was inoc- He found that the lamentous bacteria were predomi-
ulated with suspended sludge withdrawn from another nant at lower organic loading rate (OLR), while the
reactor treating milk industry wastewater. They found number of rods and cocci increased at higher OLR and
that increasing the OLR up to 44.9 g COD/L day, at VFA concentrations.
HRT of 4 h, caused an almost complete disappearance Leitao (2004) evaluated the robustness and stability
of lighter granules in the reactor. Furthermore, they of UASB on the basis of four indicators: (i) COD re-
found that at a lower OLR, the granules consisted moval eciency, (ii) euent variability, (iii) pH stability,
mainly of laments of Methanothrix cells, whereas a and (iv) recovery time. The experimental investigation
change in the population occurred at a higher OLR, was carried out using a set of seven pilot-scale UASB
showing the signicant presence of Methanosarcina, as reactors fed with domestic sewage and operated under
well as other rods and cocci. During the transient condi- dierent operational conditions, i.e. four reactors were
tion (the period between the time when the shock started fed at a constant ow of 20 L/h (HRT = 6 h) and with
and when the reactor achieved a new quasi-steady- dierent CODInf (ranging from 200 to 800 mg/L), while
state), the reactors performance deteriorated, resulting the other three reactors were operated with approxi-
in sludge otation, destruction of granules, and accumu- mately the same CODInf (800 mg/L), but with dierent
lation of VFA. The time for recovering the quasi-stea- HRTs (ranging from 2 to 6 h). After establishment of a
dy-state conditions ranged from 4 to 22.5 HRTs, and it steady state, organic shock loads were imposed by
seemed that there was a trend of decreasing recovery increasing the inuent concentration to approximately
time as HRT decreased, except when the reactor was ve times higher than before, over a 6-h period. Next,
highly overloaded. They did not explain why this phe- hydraulic shock loads were imposed by increasing the
nomenon occurred, but perhaps the exponential increase ow rate to three times higher than before, also over a
of the biomass overcame the linear increase of the OLR. 6-h period. The results showed that UASB reactors are
Thus every single step change in loading rate was robust systems with regards to COD removal eciency
accompanied by a relatively higher biomass concentra- and pH stability when exposed to shock loads. How-
tion, which decreased the recovery time. ever, this reactor cannot attenuate the imposed uctua-
Nadais et al. (2000) investigated the treatment of tion in the inuent COD. It seems that either a
dairy wastewater by lab-scale UASB reactors operated secondary treatment unit is needed to retain the expelled
in an intermittent mode, viz. 48 h of feeding followed sludge occurring as a result of a hydraulic shock load, or
by 48 h without feeding. The reactors were inoculated prior to the shock, a sucient amount of sludge needs to
with occulent sludge previously adapted and the tem- be discharged from the reactor.
R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118 1111

3.2. Eects of variations of the reactor temperature was some methane production during the rst hours of
the tests at 6570 C. However, this production slowed
The eect of temperature shocks on reactor perfor- down and/or stopped 30 h later. No signicant methane
mance depends upon factors such as the exposed tem- production was found at 35 C until the end of the test,
perature, duration of shock, sludge characteristics and 70 h later.
imposed specic sludge load. At temperatures exceeding Omil et al. (1997) investigated the competition be-
that of the maximum growth, the decay rate will gener- tween sulphate-reducing bacteria (SRB) and methane-
ally exceed the bacterial growth rate, and consequently a producing bacteria (MPB) at two dierent pH levels,
decrease in specic sludge activity and reactor eciency and exposed the system to short-term temperature de-
may occur (van Lier et al., 1990). crease. They concluded that temperature shocks of 15
When an anaerobic digester is operated under steady- and 12 C for 3 days in an UASB reactor operated at
state conditions, the activities of dierent metabolic 30 C and pH 7.758.0 caused only an insignicant de-
groups are in balance, and consequently there is no accu- crease in COD removal eciency. The short-term low
mulation of metabolic intermediate products in the reac- temperature changes had no eect on the competition.
tor. However, when the process is exposed to a sudden El-Mashad (2003) performed experiments to assess
temperature change, the digestion process conditions the eect of temperature uctuation on the thermophilic
can become unbalanced due to the dierent response of anaerobic digestion of cow manure. The author used a
the various metabolic groups of microorganisms (Cha CSTR system operated with dierent HRTs (10 and
and Noike, 1997). 20 days), and with dierent temperatures (50 and
According to Borja and Banks (1995), a shock change 60 C). The uctuations were imposed by decreasing
in temperature may be characterised by an immediate the temperature by 10 C for a period of 10 h, and
pH drop in the reactor, which then would stabilise at increasing the temperature by 10 C for a period of
a value slightly below the previous steady state pH 5 h. The results showed that temperature uctuation sig-
value. This drop in pH is due to an increase of the mixed nicantly aects the pH and free ammonia concentra-
liquor (euent) VFA-concentration, which tends to tion, which, in turn, negatively aect the hydrolysis,
approach a new level during operation at a reduced acidogenesis and methanogenesis steps of the anaerobic
temperature. The euent COD increases due to the degradation of cow manure.
increase of euent VFA concentration and suspended Variations in temperature can also aect the entrap-
solids (SS), as well as to the presence of components ment capacity of the sludge bed, as temperature changes
in the inuent which remain un-converted. the viscosity, and consequently changes the hydraulic
Investigations by van Lier et al. (1990), conducted in shearing force on the particles (Mahmoud et al., 2003).
a UASB reactor at 39 C fed with synthetic wastewater,
dealt with temperature shocks of 45, 55, 61, and 65 C 3.3. Eects of pH variations
which were imposed during 5, 7, and 24 h periods. They
found that the methane production rate remained at a It is well known that methanogenic activity is more
high level at 45 C, while exposure to higher tempera- likely to proceed optimally in a narrow pH value range,
tures resulted in a serious drop in the activity of meso- between 6.3 and 7.8 (van Haandel, 1994; van Haandel
philic granular sludge due to high bacterial decay. An and Lettinga, 1994). The eect of a drastic pH-change
increase in methane production manifested immediately in the inuent depends on the available alkalinity in
after raising the temperature of the system. However, a the reactor. Tests carried out by Borja and Banks
sharp drop soon followed in cases where the reactor was (1995) showed that during a 10-h period, neither an
exposed to temperatures exceeding 45 C. Propionate inuent pH of 10 nor an inuent pH of 3 signicantly
oxidizers were found to be the most sensitive microor- aected the reactor stability. This was because the buer
ganisms to temperature increments, and methanogens capacity of the system suced to maintain the pH of the
were found to be more sensitive than acidogens. These medium in the reactor in the optimal range. In experi-
conclusions are in line with those of Visser et al. ments dealing with the treatment of a synthetic wastewa-
(1993b), who investigated the eect of temperature ter containing VFA and sulphate, Visser et al. (1993a)
shocks in a mesophilic UASB reactor treating sul- concluded that methanogenesis was inhibited at a med-
phate-rich wastewater. Their results revealed that ium-pH exceeding 8, which then resulted in the develop-
increasing the temperature to 45 C did not aect degra- ment of a sludge dominated by sulphate-reducing
dation rates, but temperature elevations to 55 C and bacteria. They also concluded that sulphate-reducing
65 C resulted in a sharp decline of the treatment e- bacteria are less sensitive to short-term (8 h) pH varia-
ciency. On the other hand, according to the results of tions than methanogenic bacteria.
Rintala and Lepisto (1997), who conducted the metha- Moletta et al. (1994) tested an on-line automatic sys-
nogenic activity test with thermophilic sludge (55 C) tem for pH control of an anaerobic uidised-bed reac-
at temperatures of 35, 50, 55, 58, 65, and 70 C, there tor. Some of the tests applied to the system can be
1112 R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118

useful for elucidating what occurs to an anaerobic reac- the wastewater would be discharged without being
tor during a small change in pH. They rst injected HCl treated, or would be stored in a buer reservoir. The
to lower the reactor pH from 6.8 to 6.6, and found an introduction of adapted granules would indicate that
immediate response, viz. the gas production increased these granules would be available at the beginning of
by 40%, as well as the concentration of CO2 in the bio- the production of the new type of wastewaterwhich
gas. The hydrogen content remained almost unchanged. is troublesome as it is dicult to maintain a great
They also tested the reactor by adding NaOH to in- amount of adapted sludge for a long period, and it is
crease the reactor pH up to 7.4, and observed that the expensive to transport a great amount of that sludge
gas production increased, but the CO2 concentration from another reactor. Thus it seems that the solution
substantially decreased. The variations in the gaseous of the problem is through another type of treatment
phase were the consequence of a shift in CO2 solubility conguration.
with pH. Yang and Anderson (1993) tested three UASB reac-
According to Lettinga et al. (2000), based on experi- tors fed with acetate, sucrose and ice cream in order to
mental results obtained with sugar beet wastewater, pro- assess the long-term eect of distinct wastewater compo-
cess eciency recovers almost immediately from pH sition on the UASB stability. Three reactors were inoc-
shocks once the inuent pH is returned to the optimal ulated with sludge that had been previously adapted to
range. In the case of sudden drastic changes, the recov- sucrose. After a steady-state condition was reached,
ery of the process depends on the extent and duration of two of them were fed with dierent carbon sources,
the imposed change, as well as on the concentration of i.e. synthetic acetate wastewater and synthetic ice cream
volatile fatty acids during the event. wastewater. With the exception of the carbon source, all
other operational parameters (inuent COD, ow rate,
3.4. Eects of shocks with specic compounds temperature and nutrient addition) were kept similar
in all reactors. During the 400 days of operation, the
3.4.1. Variation of the carbon source OLR was gradually increased from 3 to 29 kg COD/
A good example of drastic variations that an anaer- m3 day. The results showed that all reactors behaved
obic reactor may face concerns the sharp uctuations similarly with rates of up to 10.5 kg COD/m3 day. How-
in the composition of the wastewater subjected to treat- ever, a further increase in OLR led to the deterioration
ment, e.g. such as those occurring in multi-product of reactors fed with sucrose, which included a decreased
food-processing industries. Schmidt and Ahring specic methanogenic activity, excessive non-methano-
(1997) investigated the treatment of these types of genic biomass, predominance of long lamentous bacte-
wastewater using an UASB reactor for a company that ria on granule surfaces and sludge washout. In general,
was processing throughout the season, viz. peas, car- variations of the carbon source present in the waste-
rots, celery roots and leeks, which obviously resulted water caused gradual changes in the physical structures,
in four very dierent types of wastewaters. Four lab- bacterial distribution and settling characteristics of the
scale UASB reactors were started with the individual granular seed sludge. But, under certain conditions of
wastewaters. Signicant dierences in the activities OLR, changes of the carbon source can lead to the dis-
and the numbers of microorganisms from dierent integration or oatation of granular sludge.
metabolic groups were found. After the reactors Fukuzaki et al. (1995) tested four dierent substrates,
reached steady state performance, each was fed with viz. starch (1.53.9 g COD/L), sucrose (1.252.5 g COD/
one of the other three wastewaters. Signicant de- L), ethanol (2.07.0 g COD/L) and butyrate (1.52.9 g
creases in the overall eciency were observed when COD/L) plus propionate (1.53.0 g COD/L), to assess
the feed was changed from celery wastewater to one the long-term eect of distinct wastewater composition
of the other wastewaters. This deterioration of the on UASB stability. They used lab-scale UASB reactors
reactor eciency may be attributed to a signicant in- that were operated at 37 C and inoculated with granular
crease in the organic loading rate of the reactor. Such sludge previously acclimatised to synthetic wastewater
an eect on the performance of the system was also containing starch (1.5 g/L). Their research demonstrated
found when leek wastewater, which has a high content that variations in the carbon source present in the waste-
of lipids and proteins, was fed to the reactor. The water caused changes in the physical structures, chemical
researchers proposed some strategies to overcome the contents (extracellular polymeric substances), and bacte-
problems caused by these drastic uctuations in the rial distribution. The researchers imposed a change in the
composition (very frequent in practice), such as an inuent composition of two reactors, viz. the carbon
interruption of feeding the reactor, the introduction source was changed from starch to sucrose, resulting in
of adapted granules to the system, and the use of a sludge oatation and gradual washout, drops in the
buer tank. However, the solutions proposed by pH, and the collapse of the reactor. On the other hand,
Schmidt and Ahring (1997) are dicult to apply. An when the change was from sucrose to starch, no notice-
interruption of the feeding would mean that either able eect was observed.
R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118 1113

3.4.2. Long-chain fatty acids tory eect of the surfactants on the active biomass
When an AnWT system is exposed to a sudden over- depends upon the adsorbed fraction, as well as the expo-
loading with long-chain fatty acids (LCFA), the risk ex- sure time (Mosche and Meyer, 2002).
ists that the sludge quality will deteriorate due to a Mensah and Forster (2003) examined an anaerobic
serious drop in methanogenic activity as a result of inhi- lter under shock loads of detergents. A mixture of three
bition (Hwu et al., 1996; Koster, 1989; Rinzema et al., dierent detergents was used to impose the shock, i.e. a
1989). The reactor stability can then hardly be main- concentrate of washing up detergent, a non-biological
tained, and granular sludge may deteriorate further. In hand wash and a fabric softener. The researchers im-
addition to inhibition, some researchers have observed posed a shock load by adding 2 mL/L of the mixture
severe sludge oatation at lauric acid concentrations to the base feed (starch and trace elements) over 12 h.
exceeding 100 mg/L (Koster, 1989; Rinzema et al., During the experiment there was little change in pH
1989). Floatation resulted from the poor release of gas (8.4) and alkalinity (1300 mg CaCO3/L). However, after
bubbles by the granules, due to the adsorption of LCFA 7 h of shock, the reactors performance started to deteri-
at the surface of granular sludge. Moreover, the adhered orate, viz. the euent COD and VFA concentrations in-
LCFA lm may hamper the supply of substrate to the creased steadily and the methane production decreased,
bacteria present in the grains. Another harmful eect showing that the reactor would fail completely if the
is the disintegration of sludge aggregates that can occur shock persisted after 12 h.
when lipids are present. This is because at a neutral pH, Nagel et al. (1999) investigated the response of a lab-
LCFA acts as a surfactant, lowering the surface tension, scale UASB reactor under detergent shock loads. The
and consequently decreasing the aggregation of hydro- reactor was inoculated with granular sludge from a
phobic bacteria. Accordingly, this surfactant eect also plant treating brewery wastewater, and operated at an
cause disaggregation of acetogens, examples of hydro- HRT of 13.3 h. The temperature was maintained be-
phobic bacteria, that can degrade the long-chain fatty tween 30 and 35 C. The inuent was the wastewater
acids (Alves et al., 2000). from the same brewery mixed with nutrients. These
researchers imposed three pulses of detergent (phospho-
3.4.3. Detergents ric acid and biodegradable non-ionic surfactant) with
Detergents belong to the category of compounds that dierent concentrations, viz. 0.1%, 0.4%, 0.6% v/v, rep-
are ordinarily discharged down the drain into municipal resenting the concentrations found at the industry from
sewer systems and via this route, enter sewage treatment which the sludge was obtained. They observed that there
plants. These detergents contain surfactants, which de- was a harmful eect on the reactors performance, i.e.
crease the surface tension when added to a mixed system the methanogenic activity was inhibited and VFA con-
such as water and air, or water and soil. However, centration increased, but the system recovered easily as
according to investigations by Matthijs et al. (1995), a soon as the shock ceased.
distinct biodegradation of these compounds may pro-
ceed in the sewer. This results in a signicant reduction 3.4.4. Oxygen
(up to 47%) of the amount of surfactants disposed into Methanogenic bacteria located in sludge granules
the environment, or of those that reach the treatment were found to be well protected, and demonstrated a
plant. However, specic industrial euents, such as high tolerance for oxygen. However, it must be noted
those from breweries (Nagel et al., 1999), dairies (Eide that this protection can mainly be attributed to the pres-
et al., 2003) and paper and textile industries (Alvarez ence of oxygen-consuming facultative bacteria in the
et al., 2004), contain cleaning products (such as deter- immobilised consortia. They metabolise part of the
gents) at concentrations that can cause toxicity or inhib- available substrate and remove the oxygen, thus creating
itory eects on biological treatment (Nagel et al., 1999; anaerobic microenvironments. Kato (1994) concluded
Khalik et al., 1988). Important attention has to be paid from his studies that the presence of dissolved oxygen
to the linear alkylbenzene sulphonates (LAS), as these at a concentration of 3.8 mg O2/L in the inuent of an
are some of the most frequently applied surfactants UASB and an Expanded Granular Sludge Bed reactor
(de Wolf and Feijtel, 1998; Prats et al., 1997) and can in- (EGSB) has no detrimental eects on the anaerobic
hibit anaerobic digestion (Mensah and Forster, 2003; treatment of low strength wastewaters.
Mosche and Meyer, 2002). Experiments with UASB reactors fed sewage showed
Despite the fact that it is very probable that WWTPs that the occulent sludge of these reactors contained a
may periodically have to deal with a shock load of deter- certain amount of facultative bacteria that, when in
gents, there is very little research that covers this subject. steady state operation, rapidly consumed the dis-
However, if an overload of detergent occurs, it is likely solved oxygen present in the inuent. This process pro-
that a signicant fraction is retained in the sludge bed by ceeded within the bottommost 25 cm, thus protecting
adsorption (Jensen, 1999), while the remainder passes the methanogenic bacteria. However, during an imposed
through the reactor without being treated. The inhibi- hydraulic shock load, the amount of oxygen introduced
1114 R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118

to the system may exceed the capacity of the faculta- ple-pulse overloading on the FBR performance was
tive bacteria, leading to inhibition of methanogenesis more pronounced than that of a single-pulse overload-
(Leitao, 2004). ing. But considering their results, the eects of the
60-h single pulse and the 3 12-h multi-pulse (60 h in to-
3.5. Eects of the duration and frequency of tal) were essentially the same. This may be attributed to
disturbances the fact that the time between the pulses (12 h) was not
enough to wash out all the sub-products. During the 60-
In practice, various specic disturbances can occur in h single pulse, the pH dropped from 6.9 to around
either the form of occasional pulses (Huang et al., 2000), 6.2, which did not occur during the multi-pulse. This
or step changes in the concentration of a polluting com- may perhaps have been due to the fact that the total
ponent of wastewater, in the ow rate (Nachaiyasit and organic load shock during the single pulse was higher
Stuckey, 1997a,b), or in the temperature, buer capa- (1 pulse 60 h/pulse 15.6 g TOC/L 0.036 L/h = 33.7
city, pH, etc. These variations frequently manifest g TOC) than the organic load shock during the multi-
in wastewaters originating from industries that use pulse (3 pulses 12 h/pulse 15.6 g TOC/L 0.036
sequential operations or handle various raw materials, L/h = 20.2 g TOC).
e.g. tanneries (Wiegant et al., 1999), breweries (Auster- Xing et al. (1997) examined the eect of a long-term
mann-Haun et al., 1998) or food-processing industries (>400 days) periodic substrate perturbation on an
(Schmidt and Ahring, 1997; Hawkes et al., 1992). How- anaerobic CSTR. This was achieved by introducing an
ever, sharp uctuations can also manifest periodically in inuent with 16 g/L of glucose for 3 days, followed by
domestic sewage, such as those due to human activities, glucose-free inuent at the same ow rate for the next
and to climate conditions (van Haandel and Lettinga, 3 days. This procedure resulted in an average concentra-
1994). As a result of these factors, a variety of uctua- tion of 8 g/L glucose throughout the entire duration of
tions in ow rate and composition frequently occur. the reactor operation. The reactor was maintained at
These uctuations sometimes proceed smoothly enough an HRT of 10 days and at a temperature of 35 C. Dur-
to enable the operator to take proper measures in the ing the operational period, the response of the reactor
operation of the treatment systems. At other times, the could be subdivided into four distinct phases: (1) during
uctuations occur as a shock and the system needs to the rst 49 days of the operation there was a rapid accu-
have sucient buer capacity to absorb these instan- mulation of the metabolic intermediates of the glucose
taneous changes, in order to avoid a drastic reduction in fermentation, consisting of VFA, hydrogen and ethanol;
the euent quality or, in extreme cases, a complete sys- (2) in the next phase, which lasted 240 days, the reactor
tem collapse. reached a so-called metastable steady state character-
It is dicult to classify the variations with respect to ised by reduced COD removal eciency (41%); (3) fol-
duration, as they can range from a few hours up to lowing this long operational phase, the system was
many days, or even longer. The denitions of pulse suddenly capable of degrading the VFA formed, viz.
and step-change need to be related to the operational within a period of 30 days; (4) nally, the reactors could
conditions of the treatment system, because they depend be operated at a high COD removal eciency. From the
upon the technical features of treatment systems. For experiments described in that paper, it is not clear how
example, an imposed change of 2 days can be dened and why the reactor suddenly behaved so dierently
as a step-change for a reactor operated at an HRT of after such a long period of operation. The performance
4 h, while it is a pulse in the case of a stabilisation pond, of the perturbed reactor started to improve when the
which is operated at an HRT of 10 days. hydrogen concentration decreased and pH increased
El Farhan and Shieh (1999) investigated the response from 6.1 to 7.1. However, no additional buer was pro-
of a lab-scale uidised bed reactor (FBR) towards single vided. The results of the experiment show that it is pos-
and multiple-pulse overloading, and towards step sible to treat a wastewater with high substrate
changes (considering a pulse time > 1 HRT will be de- uctuation if enough buer capacity is present.
ned as step change). The reactor was operated at an
HRT of 20 h and fed with glucose plus nutrients (total
organic carbonTOC of 5.2 g/L). The single pulse 4. Discussion and conclusions
experiment was carried out by increasing the concentra-
tion to 200% for a period of 16 h. The concentration in Based on the information reported in this work, it
the step change was also raised to 200%, but for periods can be concluded that operational and environmental
lasting 25 and 60 h. The multi-pulse experiments con- variations exist and will always exert an eect on waste-
sisted of three sequential pulses with a duration of 6 h, water treatment systems. It is clear that the reactor re-
with 6 h between the pulses, and another at three pulses sponse varies signicantly, not only depending on
of 12 h, with 12 h between the pulses. The authors af- factors related to the treatment system (reactor congu-
rmed that at similar loadings, the impact of a multi- ration, ratio of organic load and organic load potential,
R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118 1115

available alkalinity and availability of a fault detection pH values. This means that methanogenic activity can
and control system), but also on factors related to the become inhibited at a lower pH values, while VFA are
variation itself, viz. type of the imposed shock, its extent, still produced, which may end in the acidication of
frequency and duration. the reactor.
In general terms, it can be said that anaerobic reac- Fluctuations in wastewater compositions have imme-
tors behave in a similar way when exposed to some diate eects on the performance of reactors, as the bal-
abrupt change in operational or process conditions. ance of dierent metabolic groups of microorganisms
The typical response is an incomplete methanogenesis, depends upon the composition of the wastewater. If
resulting in a certain accumulation of VFA (mainly pro- the change in the carbon source lasts for a long time,
pionate and butyrate), drop in pH value and alkalinity, a shift in the proportion of the various groups can
change in the biogas production and composition (in- occur, which means that a new steady state will be
creases in the CO2 and H2 gas contents), and, some- established.
times, higher sludge washout. The sudden occurrence of high concentrations of
Organic load variations can be divided into two dif- xenobiotics, heavy metals, detergents, oxygen, etc. is
ferent classes, those which are due to suspended solids very common in treatment plants. Their eects depend
variation, and those due to dissolved solids variation. on the severity (duration and concentration) of the
Each class has their own distinct eects. An extra contri- event, but these compounds inhibit the methanogens
bution in the load of SS can lead to a decrease in SRT more than the other anaerobic micro-organisms, and
and further deterioration of reactor performance. Over- consequently cause accumulation of VFA and a drop
loading due to dissolved degradable compounds can in pH. In the case of oxygen, the facultative bacteria
lead to an accumulation of VFA, a drop in pH values, present in the granules can use this element before it
and possibly an inhibition of methanogenic activity. can aect the methanogens. However, during a hydrau-
In UASB reactors, hydraulic load variations aect lic shock load, the amount of oxygen can exceed the
the dynamics of the sludge bed. They expand the bed capacity of the facultative bacteria present in the granule
due to a new equilibrium between the upow and sludge or oc, causing inhibition of methanogenesis.
settling velocities. Depending on the variation, a higher The notion of stability or robustness of the anaerobic
SS concentration in the euent can be expected due to reactors is still rather confusing. Robustness can be de-
the washout of lighter biomass, the decreased ltration ned as the capacity of the treatment systems to reach
capacity of the sludge bed at higher upow velocities steady state performance under certain environmental
and the disintegration of granules or ocs under the and operational conditions. In this regard the AnWT
abrasive action of shear forces. The treatment capacity systems are as stable as any other biological system.
can also deteriorate, due to insucient contact between But stability could also be dened in terms of variability
the sludge bed and the substrate. During an increase in of the nal product of the process, i.e. the euent. Fur-
upow velocity, the mass transport rises and can also thermore, stability can be dened as the capacity of a
cause an organic overload, the consequences of which system to cope with more severe environmental and
were discussed previously, i.e. VFA accumulation, pH operational variations. In the case of AnWT, some seri-
drop and inhibition of methanogenesis. ous problems of reliability may manifest, which has led
Variations in temperature can dramatically aect the to a certain prejudice regarding the use of anaerobic
performance of anaerobic reactors because of the dier- reactors to treat municipal sewage.
ent responses of various metabolic groups of microor-
ganisms. A drop in the activity of methanogens occurs
at temperatures lower than 16 C, which can lead to 5. Future research needs
an accumulation of VFA and a drop in pH. Moreover,
hydrolysis signicantly slows down below this tempera- Despite all of the aforementioned studies, there still
ture and an accumulation of inert suspended solids in remain some unclear aspects which could improve the
the reactor can occur, leading to a decreasing SRT stability and reliability of anaerobic processes. For in-
and deterioration of sludge quality. An increase in the stance, in the case of sewage treatment using UASB
temperature can increase the decay rate of methanogenic reactors, the applicable hydraulic retention times are
bacteria (which are more sensitive to temperature varia- still a subject of controversy. Moreover, the use of this
tions) to values exceeding the growth rate. This undesir- system for the treatment of sewage with relatively low
able situation deteriorates the reactor performance. or high COD concentrations, i.e. around 200 mg
A variation of the inuent pH value can aect the COD/L (Seghezzo et al., 2002) or around 1500 mg
reactor performance, but it is dependent upon the buer COD/L (Halalsheh, 2002), is still undergoing trials. This
capacity of the mixed liquor. Methanogenic activity has is because knowledge of the performance of anaerobic
its optimum pH value within the range of 6.57.5, but reactors treating municipal wastewater in extreme situa-
acidogenic bacteria are less sensitive to higher or lower tions is quite limited.
1116 R.C. Leitao et al. / Bioresource Technology 97 (2006) 11051118

During a hydraulic or organic shock load the sludge ment body responsible for the development of science
bed will expand (Leitao, 2004; Setiadi, 1995). However, and technology.
there is a lack of information about the relationship be-
tween the shock strength and the sludge bed expansion
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