Image_1_Microbial Community Redundancy and Resilience Underpins High-Rate Anaerobic Treatment of Dairy-Processing Wastewater at Ambient Temperatures.PNG

High-rate anaerobic digestion (AD) is a reliable, efficient process to treat wastewaters and is often operated at temperatures exceeding 30°C, involving energy consumption of biogas in temperate regions, where wastewaters are often discharged at variable temperatures generally below 20°C. High-rate ambient temperature AD, without temperature control, is an economically attractive alternative that has been proven to be feasible at laboratory-scale. In this study, an ambient temperature pilot scale anaerobic reactor (2 m3) was employed to treat real dairy wastewater in situ at a milk processing plant, at organic loading rates of 1.3 ± 0.6 to 10.6 ± 3.7 kg COD/m3/day and hydraulic retention times (HRT) ranging from 36 to 6 h. Consistent high levels of COD removal efficiencies, ranging from 50 to 70% for total COD removal and 70 to 84% for soluble COD removal, were achieved during the trial. Within the reactor biomass, stable active archaeal populations were observed, consisting mainly of Methanothrix (previously Methanosaeta) species, which represented up to 47% of the relative abundant active species in the reactor. The decrease in HRT, combined with increases in the loading rate had a clear effect on shaping the structure and composition of the bacterial fraction of the microbial community, however, without affecting reactor performance. On the other hand, perturbances in influent pH had a strong impact, especially when pH went higher than 8.5, inducing shifts in the microbial community composition and, in some cases, affecting negatively the performance of the reactor in terms of COD removal and biogas methane content. For example, the main pH shock led to a drop in the methane content to 15%, COD removals decreased to 0%, while the archaeal population decreased to ~11% both at DNA and cDNA levels. Functional redundancy in the microbial community underpinned stable reactor performance and rapid reactor recovery after perturbations.