Chinese dome digesters are usually operated at long hydraulic retention times (HRT) and low influent total solids (TS) concentration because of limited mixing. In this study, a newly optimised Chinese dome digester with a self-agitating mechanism was investigated at a pilot scale (digester volume = 500 L) and compared with a conventional Chinese dome digester (as blank) at 15% influent TS concentration at two retention times (30 and 40 days). The reactors were operated at ambient temperature: 27–33 °C. The average specific methane production, volatile fatty acids and percentage of volatile solids (VS) reduction are 0.16 ± 0.13 and 0.25 ± 0.05L CH4
/g VS; 1 ± 0.5 and 0.7 ± 0.3 g/L; and 51 ± 14 and 57 ± 10% at 40 days HRT (day 52–136) for the blank and optimised digester, respectively. At 30 days HRT (day 137–309) the results are 0.19 ± 0.12 and 0.23 ± 0.04 L CH4
/g VS; 1.2 ± 0.6 and 0.7 ± 0.3 g/L; and 51 ± 9 and 58 ± 11.6%. Overall, the optimised digester produced 40% more methane than the blank, despite the high loading rates applied. The optimised digester showed superior digestion treatment efficiency and was more stable in terms of VFA concentration than the blank digester, can be therefore operated at high influent TS (15%) concentration.
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