Investigation into the effect of stripped gas liquor on the anaerobic digestion of Fischer-Tropsch reaction water.
The Fischer-Tropsch reaction technology is utilised in Sasol’s Coal-to-liquid plant to produce liquid fuels from low grade coal. There are several processes on the Coal-to-liquid plant that generate aqueous streams which contain a high organic load and require treatment. The main contributors to the wastewater are the Phenosolvan plant, producing stripped gas liquor (SGL), and the Synthol plant, producing Fischer-Tropsch reaction water (FTRW). Stripped gas liquor contains water, organic acids, ammonia, and potentially toxic phenols. Fischer-Tropsch reaction water contains volatile fatty acids and alcohol. Stripped gas liquor is therefore nitrogen-rich while FTRW is nitrogen-deficient and requires nutrient supplementation for anaerobic treatment. Therefore co-treatment of the two streams could reduce nitrogen supplementation requirements. This study is part of a larger project to determine the feasibility of anaerobically co-digesting FTRW and SGL. This study has looked at the influence of SGL on the methanogenic activity of FTRW-acclimated sludge and involved the development of a method which allows accurate recording of the methanogenic activity in batch assays. Other studies involving the anaerobic digestion of high phenolic wastewaters showed that the phenol had an inhibitory effect on the specific methanogenic activity of the sludge, which was not acclimated to the phenol. The objective of this work was to test the hypotheses that (1) anaerobic sludge acclimated to FTRW will be inhibited by high molecular weight organics in SGL and (2) FTRW-acclimated sludge will not degrade phenolic compounds in SGL. This information will be used for designing process configurations for simultaneous treatment of the two streams with minimum contamination of the effluent stream. The serum bottle was used as a small batch reactor and the biogas production was monitored as an indication of the state of the reaction. The biogas produced was collected and measured by the downward displacement of a sodium hydroxide solution, which absorbed the carbon dioxide and collected only the methane. A concentration of 1 g COD/ℓ FTRW was chosen as the reference test due to the reproducibility of the replicates within each experiment as well as its reproducibility across different batches of sludge. For the first inhibition test, the test units contained an additional 5% SGL (0.05 g COD/ℓ SGL) and an additional 15% SGL (0.15 g COD/ℓ SGL, i.e. 13% of the total COD load) respectively, added to 1 g COD/ℓ FTRW. The 5% SGL test unit showed no inhibition compared to the reference unit. There was a reduction in the specific methanogenic activity of the 15% SGL test units compared to the reference unit. Since the total COD load was not the same in each unit, it cannot be conclusively stated that the SGL was responsible for the reduction in SMA, but this seems a reasonable possibility in the light of results from the reference test selection experiments which showed higher SMA at higher organic loading rates. For the second inhibition test, the test units contained 85% FTRW (0.85 g COD/ℓ FTRW) and 15% SGL (0.15 g COD/ℓ SGL) to make up a total COD load of 1 g COD/ℓ. There was an increase in the specific methanogenic activity of the test unit compared to the reference unit. There was very little change in the phenol concentration. Therefore, it was concluded the addition of SGL potentially reduced the SMA and that this could be an inhibitory effect, but that any inhibition would be a function of the concentration of potentially inhibitory substances in SGL and that these concentrations vary from batch to batch. However, the degree of SMA reduction is fairly low and would not prevent co-digestion of the two streams at the concentrations tested. It has been shown that FTRW anaerobic digestion can proceed adequately in the presence of SGL. There was some evidence that phenolics were degraded but at a much slower rate than COD. The percentage reduction in SMA due to additional SGL at concentrations and SGL:FTRW ratios tested was between 0 and 51%. Ultimately, this work is a first step in the development of a co-digestion model relating organic loading rate, SGL:FTRW feed ratio to methane recovery and extent of biodegradation of phenol for use in the design and optimization of a co-digestion system.