Anaerobic digestion is a common technology to biologically stabilize wasted solids produced in municipal wastewater treatment. Its efficiency is usually evaluated by calculating the reduction in volatile solids, which assumes no biomass growth associated with digestion. To determine whether this assumption is valid and further evaluate digestion efficiency, this study sampled 35 digester sludge from different reactors at multiple time points together with the feed biomass in a full-scale water reclamation plant at Chicago, Illinois. The microbial communities were characterized using Illumina sequencing technology based on 16S rRNA and 16S rRNA gene (rDNA). 74 core microbial populations were identified and represented 58.7% of the entire digester community. Among them, active populations were first identified using the ratio of 16S rRNA and 16S rDNA (rRNA/rDNA) for individual populations, but this approach failed to generate consistent results. Subsequently, a recently proposed mass balance model was applied to calculate the specific growth rate (μ), and this approach successfully identified active microbial populations in digester (positive μ) that could play important roles than those with negative μ. It was further estimated that 82% of microbial populations in the feed sludge were digested in comparison with less than 50% calculated using current equations.
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