Biochemical Methane Potential (BMP) Tests and Microbial Electrochemical Cells (MECs) Identify Differences in Pretreated Waste Activates Sludge (WAS) Streams
Anaerobic digestion (AD), a common process in wastewater treatment plants, is traditionally assessed with Biochemical Methane Potential (BMP) tests. Hydrolysis is considered its rate-limiting step. During my research, I assessed the impact of pretreatment on BMPs and microbial electrochemical cells (MECs). In the first set of experiments, BMP tests were performed using alkaline and thermal pretreated waste activated sludge (WAS), a control group, and a negative control group as samples and AD sludge (ADS) as inoculum. The data obtained suggested that BMPs do not necessarily require ADS, since samples without inoculum produced 5-20% more CH4. However, ADS appears to reduce the initial methanogenesis lag in BMPs, as no pH inhibition and immediate CH4 production were observed. Consumption rate constants, which are related to hydrolysis, were calculated using three methods based on CH4 production, SSCOD concentration, and the sum of both, called the lumped parameter. All the values observed were within literature values, yet each provide a different picture of what is happening in the system. For the second set of experiments, the current production of 3 H-type MECs were compared to the CH4 production of BMPs to assess WAS solids' biodegradability and consumption rates relative to the pretreatment methods employed for their substrate. BMPs fed with pretreated and control WAS solids were performed at 0.42 and 1.42 WAS-to-ADS ratios. An initial CH4 production lag of about 12 days was observed in the BMP assays, but MECs immediately began producing current. When compared in terms of COD, MECs produced more current than the BMPs produced CH4, indicating that the MEC may be capable of consuming different types of substrate and potentially overestimating CH4 production in anaerobic digesters. I also observed 2 to 3 different consumption events in MECs versus 3 for BMP assays, but these had similar magnitudes, durations, and starting times in the control and thermal pretreated WAS-fed assays and not in alkaline assays. This might indicate that MECs identified the differences of alkaline pretreatment, but not between control WAS and thermal pretreated WAS. Furthermore, HPLC results suggest at least one hydrolysis event, as valerate, butyrate, and traces of acetate are observed in the reactors' effluents. Moreover, a possible inhibition of valerate-fixing microbial communities due to pretreatment and the impossibility of valerate consumption by ARB might explain its presence in the reactors' effluents.