Accumulating ammoniacal nitrogen instead of melanoidins determines the anaerobic digestibility of thermally hydrolyzed waste activated sludge

Javier A. Pavez-Jara*, Jules B. van Lier, Merle K. de Kreuk

*Corresponding author for this work

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Full-scale thermal hydrolysis processes (THP) showed an increase in nutrients release and formation of melanoidins, which are considered to negatively impact methanogenesis during mesophilic anaerobic digestion (AD). In this research, fractionation of THP-sludge was performed to elucidate the distribution of nutrients and the formed melanoidins over the liquid and solid sludge matrix. Degradation of the different fractions in subsequent AD was assessed, and the results were compared with non-pre-treated waste activated sludge (WAS). Results showed that the THP-formed soluble melanoidins were partially biodegradable under AD, especially the fraction with molecular weight under 1.1 kDa, which was related to protein-like substances. The use of THP in WAS increased the non-biodegradable soluble chemical oxygen demand (sCOD) after AD, from 1.1% to 4.9% of the total COD. The total ammoniacal nitrogen (TAN) concentration only slightly increased during THP without AD. However, after AD, TAN released was 34% higher in the THP-treated WAS compared to non-treated WAS, i.e., 36.7 ± 0.7 compared to 27.4 ± 0.4 mgTANreleased/gCODsubstrate, respectively. Results from modified specific methanogenic activities (mSMAs) tests showed that the organics solubilised during THP, were not inhibitory for acetotrophic methanogens. However, after AD of THP-treated sludge and WAS, the mSMA showed that all analysed samples presented strong inhibition on methanogenesis due to the presence of TAN and associated free ammonia nitrogen (FAN). In specific methanogenic activities (SMAs) tests with incremental concentration of TAN/FAN and melanoidins, TAN/FAN induced strong inhibition on methanogens, halving the SMA at around 2.5 gTAN/L and 100 mgFAN/L. Conversely, melanoidins did not show inhibition on the methanogens. Our present results revealed that when applying THP-AD in full-scale, the increase in TAN/FAN remarkably had a greater impact on AD than the formation of melanoidins.

Original languageEnglish
Article number138896
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Ammonium release
  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Inhibition
  • Melanoidins
  • Pre-treatment
  • Thermal hydrolysis process

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