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PII: S0043-1354(98)00282-6

Wat. Res. Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 895908, 1999 # 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved Printed in Great Britain 0043-1354/99/$ - see front matter



Environmental and Hydraulic Engineering Area, School of Civil Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1284, U.S.A. (First received February 1998; accepted in revised form July 1998) AbstractThe following review article will serve to elucidate the existing state-of-the-art and breadth of technical understanding related to thermophilic aerobic biological wastewater treatment. The advantages of this technology include rapid biodegradation rates, low sludge yields, and excellent process stability. Substrate utilization rates reported in the technical literature are 310 times greater than that observed with analogous mesophilic processes, and sludge production rates are generally similar to anaerobic treatment processes. As such, thermophilic aerobic treatment has been used to biodegrade wastewaters from the pulp and paper industry, livestock production, and many other miscellaneous waste streams. Thermophilic aerobic processes are particularly advantageous for the treatment of highstrength wastewaters that can fully benet from the rapid biodegradation rates and low sludge yields. High-strength wastewaters also contain the necessary energy content to facilitate autothermal operation such that exogenous heat input is not required. A theoretical energy balance is presented which predicts that COD removals of 20,00040,000 mg l1 coupled with an oxygen transfer eciency of 1020% are necessary for autoheating to thermophilic temperatures. Of the bacteria likely to proliferate in thermophilic aerobic bioreactors, relatively unique and specic nutritional requirements are common. In particular, thermophilic Bacillus spp. commonly exhibit a growth requirement for methionine. Most researchers have reported that thermophilic bacteria fail to aggregate, making biomass separation from the treated euent a key design criterion. Further work on thermophilic aerobic treatment processes is also needed to identify optimum operating conditions, and determine the best method to accommodate the oxygen uptake rates of these systems. # 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved Key wordsaerobic, autothermal, biological, high-strength, thermophilic, treatment, wastewater


A s= C c= cpw= FA= F L= Fw= HAA= HAE= HB = Hc= Hs = HSR= QI =

Aeration tank surface area. Fraction of cloud cover (tenths). Specic heat of water. Air ow rate. Reactor water lost via evaporation. Inuent wastewater ow. Enthalpy of ambient air. Enthalpy of water-saturated air at reactor temperature. Net heat of combustion of biomass. Net heat of combustion of biodegradable substrate. Amount of water in saturated air at reactor temperature. Average daily absorbed solar radiation for clear sky conditions. Inuent wastewater heat input.

QSR= QMi = Q B=

*Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed. [Tel.: +1-765-4947705; Fax: +1-765-4961107; E-mail:]. 895

Heat input from solar radiation. Mechanical heat input. Heat generated from the biodegradation of substrate. QAI= Heat input of the inuent air. Q E= Euent wastewater heat loss. QAR= Atmospheric radiation heat loss. QC= Heat loss through tank walls via conduction/convection. QW= Surface convection heat loss. QAE= Heat loss with the aeration o-gas. Pi= Mechanical power rating. T= Reactor temperature. TI= Inuent wastewater temperature. Ta= Temperature of ambient air. U= Net heat transfer constant. Y T= Theoretical yield of growth. kd = Specic maintenance constant (endogenous decay rate). qm= Maximum specic rate of substrate utilization. DCOD= COD removed. b= Atmospheric radiation factor.


Timothy M. LaPara and James E. Alleman

e= Z= l= mm= yc= rA= rw= s=

Emissivity of water surface. Eciency of mechanical operation. Reectivity of water. Maximum specic rate of microbial growth. Sludge age. Density of air. Density of water. Boltzman's constant.

Thermophilic aerobic biological treatment systems represent a unique and relatively new process for high-strength and/or high temperature wastewater. Although exploratory research on this technology dates back to the early 1950s, relatively few of these systems have been implemented at fullscale. In fact, many of the original thermophilic facilities evolved accidentally when heat released from the biodegradation of a high-strength wastewater signicantly raised reactor temperatures. In the last ve years, however, considerable interest in these systems has developed to the point where design engineers have begun to purposely construct and operate these systems, even before the relevant design parameters and operational requirements have been fully resolved and understood. While thermophilic aerobic treatment oers many benets, the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of this process are so dierent from activated sludge that the knowledge-base from conventional operations is unusable. Therefore, this review article will serve to elucidate the existing state-of-the-art and breadth of technical understanding, as well as to explore the prospective advantages and disadvantages of thermophilic aerobic treatment. In so doing, this article will attempt to debunk many of the myths which surround its use and provide insight into the key issues which require further research. Before considering thermophilic aerobic treatment processes in detail, a brief discussion of what actually qualies as `thermophilic' is warranted. Brock (1986) dened thermophilic microorganisms as those which proliferate at temperatures greater than 55608C. This classication, used by many microbiologists, has some practical signicance because these temperatures are almost exclusively related to geothermal activity, and no known eukaryotic organism can grow above 608C. From a biological waste treatment point-of-view, however, common terminology generally includes any process operating at temperatures of 458C or higher as thermophilic. This denition distinguishes these high temperature processes from transitional systems, such as conventional anaerobic sludge digestion operated at 35408C. Although signicant interest in thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment has developed only

recently, other thermophilic processes have been in operation for decades. Thermophilic anaerobic digestion of primary and secondary wastewater sludges has been studied since 1930 (Rudolfs and Heukelekian, 1930), with full-scale studies beginning as early as 1931 (Fischer and Greene, 1945). Excellent reviews of thermophilic anaerobic digestion and thermophilic anaerobic wastewater treatment are available by Buhr and Andrews (1977), Zinder (1986), Parkin and Owen (1986), and Van Lier (1996). Composting, commonly used to treat moist organic solids (e.g., yard refuse, sewage sludge, etc.), likewise represents a thermophilic waste treatment technology. With this process, an ancillary eect of microbial metabolism of the organic substrate is the release of signicant quantities of energy, thereby maintaining autothermal thermophilic conditions. Autothermal thermophilic aerobic digestion (ATAD) of wastewater solids operates on the same principle as composting; the microbially mediated breakdown of mesophilic cells and other constituents of sewage sludge results in a heat release of sucient magnitude to maintain reactor temperatures of 45658C. Full-scale ATAD processes have been in operation since 1977 (U.S. EPA, 1990). Compared to these other treatment technologies, relatively little is known regarding thermophilic aerobic biological processes for the treatment of wastewaters containing soluble, biodegradable substrates. The purpose of this review, therefore, is to: (1) summarize the technical literature pertaining to thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment, (2) identify its unique benets, (3) describe its perceived disadvantages, and (4) dene several of its pertinent operating constraints. In addition to oering a basic literature review, many important issues not previously discussed in the technical literature will be considered. This material encapsulates numerous discussions with design engineers, academic researchers, and other professionals who have all had direct or indirect experience with this technology. Admittedly, this review does include a somewhat speculative context, but its presentation is necessary to identify the pertinent issues related to thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment that require further exploration.

Thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment benets from many of the same characteristics as thermophilic composting and sludge digestion, such as faster degradation rates, rapid inactivation of pathogenic microorganisms, and low sludge yields. Elevated biodegradation rates reduce the necessary detention time for treatment, and thus the capital cost for facility construction. In addition, high biodegradation rates may improve process stability by allowing for rapid recovery from upset conditions.

Thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment


Thermophilic aerobic systems thus appear to be particularly suited for high-strength/low ow wastewater with toxicity concerns stemming from high salinity levels or the presence of hazardous compounds (Rozich and Colvin, 1997). The ability to inactivate pathogenic microorganisms can also be a primary consideration during the treatment of many wastes, such as liquid manure from livestock production. This does not suggest, however, that thermophilic aerobic treatment is not technically feasible for other types of wastewaters. In fact, a large number of the research publications on thermophilic aerobic treatment, as summarized in Table 1, have focused on waste streams that contained relatively low concentrations of biodegradable compounds. The disadvantages of thermophilic aerobic processes include the expense of tank aeration, poor bacterial occulation characteristics, and foaming problems. The cost of aerating thermophilic reactors clearly represents a disadvantage compared to anaerobic technology. In addition, the low sludge yields characteristic of thermophilic aerobic processes actually lead to greater oxygen requirements than analogous mesophilic activated sludge processes (i.e., more substrate is converted to carbon dioxide and water instead of cell mass). Oxygen requirements have been estimated to be 14% higher than conventional aerobic processes (Su ru cu et al., 1976). Thermophilic aerobic treatment processes almost always have poor bacterial settling characteristics resulting from dispersed growing microorganisms. As a result, biomass separation becomes extraordinarily dicult and often limits overall treatment eciency. Further research is needed to defuse these problems with thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment prior to its widespread implementation. The technical literature specically focusing on this technology is reviewed below. Rudolfs and Amberg (1953) appear to have been the rst to investigate thermophilic aerobic biological treatment, focusing on a high temperature board mill wastewater. BOD removal at thermophilic temperatures was slightly less than analogous mesophilic reactors after 24 h. Although the initial degradation rates were highest at 508C, poor bacterial settling limited nal euent BOD quality. The addition of a coagulant (alum) increased BOD removal by the thermophilic system to 95%. Gehm (1956) subsequently performed a three-month pilot study on the treatment of a kraft mill wastewater at 48508C. Operating at a pH ranging from 9.5 to 9.8, BOD removal was similar to previous experiments at lower temperatures (30388C). Dissolved oxygen concentrations were generally nondetectable, but no adverse eects on process performance were observed. Settling characteristics were `excellent' with a sustained mixed-liquor solids concentration of 3000 mg l1.

Table 1. Summary of dierent waste streams and COD levels treated by thermophilic aerobic systems

Inuent COD (mg l1) Treatment type

Pulp and paper


Livestock manure Slaughterhouse Brewery Citrus Fermentation Landll leachate Potato processing Powdered milk Synthetic sugar Yeast/molasses

Wastewater type

Suspendedgrowth Fixedlm Suspendedgrowth Fixedlm Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth Suspendedgrowth

1502300 150018,000 3003000 100300 200046,000 3000 6500 10,00020,000 30,000 6002000 1000 20005500 10,00026,200

Rudolfs and Amberg, 1953; Gehm, 1956; Carpenter et al., 1968; Jackson, 1983; Barr et al., 1996 Middlebrooks and Coogan, 1969; Pertulla et al., 1991; Rintala and Lepisto , 1993 Tischer et al., 1962; Hunter et al., 1966; Shindala and Parker, 1970; Duke et al., 1981 Visvanathan and Nhien, 1995 Po pel and Ohnmacht, 1972; Loll, 1976; Ginnivan et al., 1981; Beaudet et al., 1990 py et al., 1989; Couillard and Zhu, 1993 Couillard et al., 1989; Garie Zvauya et al., 1994 Dougherty and McNary, 1958 LaPara et al., 1998 Rozich et al., 1992; Colvin et al., 1996 Malladi and Ingham, 1993 Carter and Barry, 1975 Su ru cu et al., 1976; Stover and Samuel, 1997 Loll, 1976



Timothy M. LaPara and James E. Alleman

These studies by Rudolfs and Amberg (1953) and Gehm (1956) collectively demonstrated three common process characteristics: (1) high biodegradation rates, (2) low dissolved oxygen concentrations in the aeration basin resulting from these high biodegradation rates, and (3) potential problems with poor bacterial settling. A fourth common feature, autothermal operation, was reported by McNary et al. (1956) during the pilot-scale treatment of a highstrength citrus wastewater. Heat released as a result of biological activity resulted in an increase of reactor temperature from 32 to 418C. Further analysis evaluating the eect of temperature on treatment performance determined that poor settling hindered euent quality at temperatures higher than 438C (Dougherty and McNary, 1958). Following these early papers, a number of investigators studied thermophilic aerobic treatment of wastewater at bench-scale, although no practical full-scale analog was feasible in that the particular wastewaters studied were neither high-strength nor high temperature. Experiments on synthetic and domestic wastewater demonstrated the technical possibility of COD removal at 558C (Tischer et al., 1962). Hunter et al. (1966) compared the treatment of a synthetic wastewater at temperatures from 4 558C, observing optimum treatment eciency at 458C. Streebin (1968) also determined that the temperature of highest biological activity occurred at 458C on the basis of specic oxygen utilization rate (SOUR) measurements. Shindala and Parker (1970) treated municipal wastewater at 558C, consistently achieving ltered BOD removals in excess of 90%. Duke et al. (1981) treated a combined municipal/ industrial wastewater at 35528C, with the best BOD removal at 358C (i.e., below thermophilic temperatures). Visvanathan and Nhien (1995) treated a modied municipal wastewater at 30558C in a submerged aerated biolter with process performance declining as temperature increased. All of these investigators reported poor bacterial settling and/or high euent turbidity at thermophilic temperatures. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, researchers began investigating thermophilic aerobic treatment of wastes of sucient strength for autothermal operation. Kambhu and Andrews (1969) presented theoretical evidence that autothermal thermophilic aerobic digestion of concentrated biological solids was possible. Soon thereafter, Po pel and Ohnmacht (1972) presented theoretical considerations and experimental evidence at pilot-scale for the autothermal treatment of high-strength industrial wastewater and liquid manure at temperatures of 45508C. Su ru cu et al. (1975, 1976) treated a highstrength synthetic wastewater (glucose plus other nutrients) to evaluate the feasibility of aerobic treatment at 588C with subsequent recovery of singlecell protein. Compared with conventional activated sludge systems, extremely fast biodegradation rates and unexpectedly low growth yields were observed.

Loll (1976) treated yeast waste, sugar-beet molasses wastewater, and pig manure in a multiple-stage, pilot-scale system with autothermal reactor temperatures as high as 508C. Although COD removal exceeded 80%, further treatment of the system euent was required to reduce oxygen demand to a level suitable for direct discharge to surface waters. The majority of the remaining technical literature published over the last three decades involved thermophilic aerobic treatment systems applicable for high temperature wastewaters or high-strength wastewaters suitable for autothermal operation. Carpenter et al. (1968), Middlebrooks and Coogan (1969), Jackson (1983), Pertulla et al. (1991), Rintala and Lepisto (1993), and Barr et al. (1996) had variable success of thermophilic aerobic treatment on high temperature wastewater from the pulp and paper industry. A common performance limitation seemed to be the lack of ability to separate the thermophilic bacteria from the treated euent. Carpenter et al. (1968) observed decreasing treatment eciency at temperatures greater than 378C as a result of poor bacterial settling. Middlebrooks and Coogan (1969) observed good performance of a trickling lter treating kraft mill wastewater at 45508C. Jackson (1983) added a modied natural polymer (chitosan) to a thermophilic (538C) mixed-liquor to improve clarier eciency. Pertulla et al. (1991) eectively utilized a packed bed reactor to treat sulphite mill condensate at 658C. Rintala and Lepisto (1993) reported that a thermophilic aerobic reactor provided sucient removal of COD and adsorbable organic halogens in partially packed-column thermophilic anaerobic aerobic and thermophilic aerobic processes. Barr et al. (1996) observed good settling characteristics and achieved almost 90% removal of BOD at a sludge age of 15 days. Several authors have validated the utility of this thermophilic aerobic process for handling a variety of high-strength waste streams. Ginnivan et al. (1981) and Beaudet et al. (1990) studied liquid pig manure treatment at 558C, achieving virtually complete inactivation of pathogenic microorganisms, and excellent reductions in total solids, COD and py et al. (1989) BOD5. Couillard et al. (1989), Garie and Couillard and Zhu (1993) treated slaughterhouse wastewater at 45588C, observing low growth yields and substrate utilization rates ten times higher than analogous mesophilic processes. Rozich et al. (1992) applied thermophilic aerobic technology to a high-strength landll leachate at 508C, observing a cell yield of approximately 0.10 mg TSS/ mg COD. Colvin et al. (1996) then utilized the results of this study to design and construct a fullscale facility which achieved more than 99% COD removal with a cell yield of 0.05 mg VSS/mg COD. Malladi and Ingham (1993) treated a potato processing wastewater at 558C, observing more than 95% removal of BOD5 and 75% of TSS in 4 days.

Thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment

Table 2. Comparison of biokinetic constants at mesophilic and thermophilic temperatures Waste Municipal Industrial Municipal Industrial Glucose Industrial Industrial Industrial Industrial T (8C) 33 20 25 58 53 45 52 58 mm (day1) 3.75 0.6 3 0.6 5.2 3.4 5.8 6.0 10.1 qm (day1) 5.6 2.0 5 1.95 15.4 5.6 16.5 19.8 31.1 YT (mg TSS/mg COD) 0.67a 0.30 0.6 0.31b 0.34 0.6c 0.35 0.30 0.32 kd (day1) 0.07 0.08 0.06 0.03 0.48 0.52 0.52 0.32 0.78 Ref.


Lawrence and McCarty (1970) Campbell and Rocheleau (1976) Tchobanglous and Burton (1991) Kim et al. (1997) Su ru cu et al. (1976) Jackson (1983) Couillard and Zhu (1993) Couillard et al. (1989) Couillard et al. (1989)

Alternative units: amg VSS/mg BOD5, bmg VSS/mg COD, cmg TSS/mg BOD5

Zvauya et al. (1994) removed 67% of BOD5 and 75% of TSS from a beer brewery wastewater at 508C. Stover and Samuel (1997) treated a synthetic wastewater at 558 and 608C, achieving near 90% COD removal with a sludge yield of 0.13 and 0.07 mg TSS/mg COD, respectively. In conclusion, both xed-lm and suspendedgrowth thermophilic aerobic processes have been used to treat wastewaters containing a broad range of substrates and COD levels. Most researchers have observed rapid biodegradation rates combined with low growth yields stemming from a high maintenance requirement. As demonstrated in Table 2, the maximum specic substrate utilization rates (qm) cited in the literature have been typically 310 times greater than those of analogous mesophilic systems; the maintenance constant (kd) is typically 10 times greater. As a result of this latter biokinetic characteristic, the rate at which biological sludge is produced is remarkably low in these systems even as low as anaerobic treatment processes. Despite these advantages, however, very few of the technical papers reviewed above have reported experimental results which could be used as a resource to help improve the eciency of a particular thermophilic aerobic treatment process. In fact, much of the available information is often contradictory. The optimum levels of such fundamental parameters as temperature, dissolved oxygen concentration, and pH have yet to be established. Researchers investigating the eect of temperature on aerobic biological treatment have observed optimum values below thermophilic temperatures (308C) (Visvanathan and Nhien, 1995) and as high as 588C (Su ru cu , 1975). The eects of dissolved oxygen and pH on thermophilic aerobic treatment processes have yet to be reported in the technical literature.

Very little is known concerning the microbial diversity specically supported by thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment reactors. Of the researchers who have attempted to isolate cultures from thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment reactors, only Bacillus (Tischer et al., 1962; Su ru cu ,

1975; Beaudet et al., 1990) and Bacillus-like (Su ru cu , 1975) organisms have been found. Ginnivan et al. (1981) attempted to augment a bioreactor treating liquid manure with the thermophilic actinomycete Thermomonospora fusca, but process performance was essentially unaected, indicating that the growth of this organism was not selectively favored. The biology of thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment reactors diers from conventional activated sludge microora in that nitrifying bacteria, oc-forming organisms, or protozoa and other life forms are not present. Nitrifying thermophiles have only been isolated once (Golovacheva, 1976), but this result has never been conrmed. The reasons thermophilic bacteria fail to form discrete oc particles remain unknown; contributing factors may include: (1) a lack of oc-forming species (e.g., Zooglea ramigera), (2) failure to achieve the proper physiological state conducive to oc formation, (3) physicochemical conditions inhibiting aggregation, and (4) improper conditions to selectively favor oc formers (especially since scavenging protozoa are not present). A few researchers have reported mediocre (Stover and Samuel, 1997) to excellent (Gehm, 1956; Barr et al., 1996) oc formation, although it is not clear which factors contributed to these results. Because the primary goal of thermophilic wastewater treatment processes is to reduce the level of organic compounds in the waste stream, the dominant microorganisms are almost certainly aerobic heterotrophs. Of the previously described thermophilic organisms, therefore, only certain species of Bacillus, Thermus, and actinomycetes can proliferate in these reactors. Thermophilic Bacillus spp. are a heterogeneous group which have been isolated from thermal areas such as hot springs and deep sea vents, as well as from nonthermal locations such as soils, composts, surface waters, sewage, and spoiled food (Sharp et al., 1992). The distribution of Thermus spp. is considerably less ubiquitous. These bacteria are almost exclusively isolated from hot springs or deep sea vents, although they been found in domestic hot water heaters (Brock and Boylen, 1973) and composts (Bea et al., 1996). The thermophilic actinomycetes are not generally considered


Timothy M. LaPara and James E. Alleman

to grow well in liquid, and thus are not likely to be relevant to high temperature wastewater treatment. Few thermophilic Bacillus spp. have been isolated on a single carbon source and inorganic nutrients; noted exceptions include the organisms described by Epstein and Grossowicz (1969) and Yanase et al. (1992). Analysis of pure cultures has indicated that thermophilic bacilli generally have complex growth requirements. In particular, supplemental methionine is frequently required and growth is often stimulated by biotin, folic acid, thiamine, and several other amino acids (Campbell and Williams, 1953; Baker et al., 1960; Rowe et al., 1975). These growth requirements have been observed to change with growth temperature, even among the same thermophilic strain (Campbell and Williams, 1953). Other researchers have observed specic requirements for calcium (Mosley et al., 1976; Sta hl and Ljunger, 1976; Jurado et al., 1987) and manganese (Rowe et al., 1975). The mixed culture analyzed by Su ru cu (1975) required methionine, calcium, magnesium and ferric ions, while growth was stimulated by histidine, thiamine, and riboavin. Prototrophic growth of Thermus spp. has been reported previously (Brock and Freeze, 1969; Cometta et al., 1982). More commonly, however, supplemental vitamins are necessary for growth on a single carbon substrate and inorganic salts (Sundaram, 1986; Williams, 1992). Thermus spp. are sensitive to moderate and high concentrations of substrate (Sonnleitner et al., 1982), and thus are not likely to be dominant organisms during the treatment of high-strength wastewaters. A summary of some the pollutants previously observed to be transformed by pure strains of thermophilic bacteria is included in Table 3. There is only a limited knowledge of the microbiological aspects of thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment processes. The previously reported research with pure cultures provides critical information regarding the limitations of thermophilic organisms likely to proliferate in these reactors, but considerable work is necessary on the mixed cultures treating representative wastes. Increased biodiversity may at least partially alleviate the nutritional requirements common with these microbes. Indeed, Su ru cu (1975) and Bogdanova and Loginova (1986) have observed syntrophic association of simple mixed cultures (three strains) compared to growth in pure culture.

Epstein and Grossowicz, 1969; Rowe et al., 1975; Atkinson et al., 1975; Allais et al., 1987 Sneath et al., 1986 Dijkhuizen et al., 1988; Brooke et al., 1989; Al-Awadhi et al., 1989 Atkinson et al., 1975 Epstein and Grossowicz, 1969 Mateles et al., 1967; Zarilla and Perry, 1987; Sorkhoh et al., 1993 Buswell, 1974; 1975; Buswell and Twomey, 1975; Adams and Ribbons, 1988; Gurujeyalakshmi and Oriel, 1989; Yanase et al., 1992 Reinscheid et al., 1996

Table 3. Partial list of pollutants shown to be transformed by pure strains of thermophilic bacteria

Simple sugars Starch Methanol Alcohols Short-chain fatty acids n-alkanes Aromatic compounds Halogenated aromatics

Thermophilic Bacillus spp.

Simple sugars Short-chain fatty acids Aromatic compounds


Brock and Freeze, 1969; Sneath et al., 1986; Munster et al., 1986 Brock and Freeze, 1969; Munster et al., 1986 Chen and Taylor, 1995; Chen and Taylor, 1997


The cost of raising a full-scale reactor to temperatures of 458C or higher sets a practical limit for thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment to applications for which this heat can be obtained virtually free. The following scenarios all provide such an opportunity: (1) high-strength wastewaters suitable for autothermal operation, (2) high temperature


Thermus spp.

Thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment


Fig. 1. Energy balance on a thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment reactor.

wastewaters, or (3) locations where an excess heat source is available that would otherwise remain unused. There is considerable disagreement in the technical literature regarding the level of COD removal necessary for the autothermal thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment process (Po pel and Ohnmacht, 1972; Su ru cu et al., 1976; Loll, 1976; Rozich et al., 1992; Stover and Samuel, 1997). Furthermore, relatively few full-scale facilities are currently in operation, and thus insucient empirical data is available to provide `rule-of-thumb' values. Although the technical literature contains several heat balance models for both the conventional activated sludge process (Argaman and Adams, 1977; Talati and Stenstrom, 1990; Brown and Enzminger, 1991; Sedony and Stenstrom, 1995) and the ATAD process (Kambhu and Andrews, 1969; Jewell and Kabrick, 1980; Vismara, 1985; Messenger et al., 1990), these models must be extrapolated to describe the autothermal thermophilic wastewater treatment process. Activated sludge models have not been veried at high temperatures, and the ATAD models quantify heat production as a function of solids degradation instead of COD removal. In this section, an energy balance model loosely based on these previously published models is presented, and then solved after applying several

simplifying assumptions. Even though the full model has not been experimentally veried and calibrated, this simplied solution at least provides an initial indication of the necessary design and operational variables of importance for autothermal thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment. The previously published autothermal models predict reactor temperature as a function of process variables such as facility thermodynamics (i.e., tank insulation, ambient temperature, etc.) and inuent loading (see Fig. 1). Mathematically, such a model applied to a continuous ow stirred tank reactor (CFSTR) can be described as: QI QSR QMi QB QAI QE QAR QC QW QAE 0 1

The complete solution to equation 1 requires detailed knowledge regarding the particular treatment facility (e.g., tank wall thickness, pump size, etc.) beyond the scope of this review. We present a modied solution of equation 1 in Fig. 2 by neglecting all of the minor heat losses (e.g., radiation, mechanical, and conduction/convection heat uxes), to predict autothermal reactor temperatures as a function of sludge age, ambient temperature, oxy-


Timothy M. LaPara and James E. Alleman

Fig. 2(ab). Caption opposite.

Thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment


Fig. 2(c) Fig. 2. Approximate autothermal reactor temperatures as functions of COD removal and oxygen transfer eciency at ambient temperatures of: (a) 58C, (b) 158C, and (c) 258C.

gen transfer eciency (OTE), and COD removal. Additional assumptions used during the solution presented in Fig. 2 include: (1) the biokinetic constants reported by Su ru cu et al. (1976), (2) a sludge age of 15 days, (3) a heat of combustion (Hc) of 3500 kcal/kg COD removed, and (4) a heat of combustion of microbial cells (HB) of 4,250 kcal/kg of dry cell mass (Jewell and Kabrick, 1980). Figure 2 should only be used as a guide to help identify wastewaters suitable for autothermal operation; the complete solution to equation 1, included in Table 4, should be developed and solved on a casespecic basis for detailed design work. Theoretically, aerobic reactors can be autothermally operated to temperatures well into the thermophilic range (i.e., higher than 458C) even when ambient temperatures are near the freezing point of water. The principal factors aecting the steady state reactor temperature are COD removal and OTE. Although neither of these parameters should be considered independently of the other, given that commercially available high eciency aeration equipment can achieve OTEs of 1020% under process conditions (e.g., jet aerators, nepore diusers, and high purity oxygen systems;

WEF/ASCE, 1991), the minimum amount of COD removal for autothermal thermophilic operation appears to be 20,00025,000 mg l1. Conversely, the treatment of wastes with CODs in excess of 30,000 40,000 mg l1 combined with aeration systems with very high OTEs (e.g., high purity oxygen) may lead to steady state temperatures exceeding 65708C. These temperatures are approaching the maximum temperature level for thermophilic bacilli and thus should be avoided. Further manipulation of autothermal reactor temperatures can be achieved by considering variables neglected in the theoretical energy balance presented above. In particular, the use of heat exchangers to recover the energy released with the o-gas and euent discharge may reduce the minimum COD removal necessary for thermophilic operation.

Perhaps the most important concern regarding thermophilic reactors is the necessity to match the enormous OUR (perhaps as high as 1000 2000 mg l1 h1) imposed by rapid COD consump-


Table 4. Theoretical and empirical expressions to perform an energy balance on an autothermal thermophilic aerobic bioreactor Equations TI can be increased with heat exchangers. HSR is a function of latitude and ambient conditions; often negligible. For compressors and pumps, respectively. rA and HAA are functions of ambient conditions; aeration is applied at a stoichiometric rate. FL=FArAHS, HS is a function of reactor temperature. Often negligible. Negligible with a well-insulated reactor. O-gas air is assumed to be at reactor temperature and 100% relative humidity Additional information Ref. Talati and Stenstrom (1990) Talati and Stenstrom (1990) Lawrence and McCarty (1970) Perry et al. (1986) Perry et al. (1986) Talati and Stenstrom (1990) Talati and Stenstrom (1990) Perry et al. (1986)

Energy ux

Inuent wastewater Solar radiation Mechanical Microbial thermogenesis Inuent air Euent wastewater Atmospheric radiation Tank wall conduction/convention Aeration o-gas

QI=FwrwcpwTI QSR=HSR(1 0.0071C2 c )As QM1 =P1(1 (Z1/100)), QM2 =P2(Z2/100) QB=Fw(HcHB(YT/1 + kdyc))DCOD QAI=FArAHAA QE=(FIFL)rwcpwT QAR=es(T + 273)4As [(1 l)bs(Ta+273)4As] QC=UAs(T Ta) QAE=FArAHAE

Table 5. Physical-chemical changes of water at thermophilic temperatures Expected change Increase Impact on thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment Improved gas transfer eciency Improved mixing eciency

Water characteristic


Timothy M. LaPara and James E. Alleman

Surface tension


Improved gas transfer eciency Increased tendency for foaming



Improved gas transfer eciency Improved mixing eciency

Gasliquid solubility


Reduced transfer eciency of undersaturated gases (e.g., O2) Increased stripping of supersaturated o-gases (e.g., CO2, NH3, etc.)

Solidliquid solubility


Higher permissible concentrations of most organics and inorganics Lower solubility of carbonate salts

Thermophilic aerobic wastewater treatment


tion particularly at high temperatures when the saturation concentration of dissolved oxygen is much lower. Several researchers, however, have concluded that the eect of temperature on oxygen transfer is essentially negligible (Boogerd et al., 1990; Wynn et al., 1997). The concomitant changes in physicalchemical parameters of water, such as viscosity and diusivity, improve the overall mass transfer rate to oset the eect of reduced oxygen solubility. The apparent success of numerous fullscale ATAD processes indicates that commercially available aeration equipment is able to supply the necessary oxygen to sustain treatment, although this has not been extensively discussed in the technical literature. Rozich and Colvin (1997) have recommended utilizing aggressive aeration equipment and greater tank depth to accommodate the potential enormous oxygen requirements of thermophilic treatment processes. The simultaneous requirements for rapid and high eciency oxygen transfer make the selection of aeration equipment one of the most critical process design choices. High reactor temperatures also reduce the surface tension of water, perhaps leading to a foaming nuisance. Coincidentally, excess foam production is often associated with process instability, which is the primary reason thermophilic aerobic systems have a reputation for stability problems (Rozich and Colvin, 1997). At thermophilic temperatures, however, foaming does not necessarily indicate a process upset because of this reduced surface tension. Foaming in thermophilic aerobic reactors has also been associated with high cell concentrations (Rozich and Colvin, 1997; LaPara et al., 1998). Extreme care should be exercised in selecting a method to reduce foaming problems to ensure that gas transfer eciency (and thus process performance) is not adversely aected. The solubility of carbonate salts (e.g., CaCO3 and MgCO3) is also reduced at higher reactor temperatures, perhaps leading to the production of an inorganic byproduct. Although this precipitation is also partially controlled by reactor pH, chemical thermodynamics also dictates that the equilibrium chemistry is aected by temperature such that the speciation of the inorganic-carbon ions favors carbonate at a lower pH compared to mesophilic temperatures. The unique water characteristics at thermophilic temperatures and their potential eects on treatment processes are summarized in Table 5. The common trait of thermophilic bacteria to proliferate as discrete cells instead of forming dense oc particles clearly represents a unique challenge for biomass separation. Two options are to simply operate biological reactors without cell recycle or to design a membrane-coupled biological system. Operation without sludge recycle limits the overall eciency of the system, and further treatment is still required to remove thermophilic cells from the euent prior to discharge. This process alternative

is potentially useful as a preliminary step prior to further biological treatment (LaPara et al., 1998). The membrane-coupled treatment system is attractive in that very high sludge ages can be maintained, although economic considerations may limit its use. The problem of biofouling, which is often associated with membrane-coupled reactors, however, may be less of a burden because of the same physiological characteristics of thermophiles preventing them from forming oc particles. This alternative has been previously used to treat a landll leachate waste (Colvin et al., 1996). The unique nutritional requirements of thermophilic bacteria studied in pure culture are likely responsible for the varying success of previous researchers treating dierent wastes at dierent temperatures. The researchers reporting good results generally treated complex wastes likely to contain sucient micronutrients (e.g., manure, blood, etc.), or provided supplemental nutrients. For research purposes, the addition of complex nutrient broths, such as peptone or yeast extract, is usually sucient to enable biodegradation of most readily degradable compounds. Further work is necessary to identify specic nutrient supplements suitable for full-scale operation.


Thermophilic aerobic processes can treat a broad range of wastewaters. This technology appears to be particularly well suited for high-strength waste streams because these wastewaters can fully benet from the rapid substrate utilization and low sludge yields which are characteristic of thermophilic bacteria. High-strength waste streams also contain the energy content necessary for autothermal operation. Thermophilic reactors are also likely to be dominated by thermophilic bacilli that have relatively broad metabolic abilities, but have unique nutritional requirements that potentially complicate treatment. Using a theoretical heat balance, autothermal operation is feasible when COD removals around 20,00040,000 mg l1 and OTEs of 1020% can be achieved. Design engineers should also carefully consider the proper selection of an aeration system to accommodate the enormous oxygen requirements of thermophilic wastewater treatment reactors, and the method by which biomass is to be separated from the treated euent.

Acknowledgements This work was aided through the nancial assistance of the United States Department of Education in the form of a Graduate Assistantship in Areas of National Need (GAANN) fellowship to T. M. L. The helpful suggestions oered by Brett Baldwin and the anonymous reviewers are greatly appreciated; this review certainly beneted from their assistance.


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