Pre-treatments to enhance the biodegradability of waste activated sludge: Elucidating the rate limiting step

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Pre-treatments for waste activated sludge (WAS) are, in most cases, an attempt to increase the biodegradation and/or improve hydrolysis rate of WAS after anaerobic digestion. This review presents an extensive analysis of WAS pre-treatments effectiveness focusing on increasing the biodegradability. In the first part of the review, WAS is considered as a cluster of organic components: proteins, carbohydrates, humic substances and cells. Based on this breakdown into components, the effect of different pre-treatments on each component (and in combination) is described. Also, possible reasons for the contradictory results frequently found among different studies dealing with the same pre-treatment are included. In the second part, the review describes the effects on volatile solids removal by digestion after pre-treatment and on the dewaterability of the final digestate. The energy balance and potential limiting factors for each pre-treatment are also taken into account. From the published works it is concluded that some pre-treatment techniques, such as thermal hydrolysis, thermal phased anaerobic digestion and low-temperature pre-treatment are effective ways to increase energy production and to improve other sludge properties, such as dewatering. However, these techniques are very energy intensive and require a large capital outlay, so research on milder pre-treatment techniques is valuable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1434-1469
Number of pages36
JournalBiotechnology Advances
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Methane production
  • pre-treatment
  • Review
  • Sewage sludge
  • Waste-activated sludge


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