Two temperature-phased anaerobic digestion (TPAD) systems (55 °C in the first reactor and 35 °C in the second reactor) with and without recirculation were operated in parallel for the co-digestion of food waste and paper waste. A long-term experiment was carried out for these two systems with the paper waste ratios elevated from 0 to 50%. The removal efficiencies of COD, TS, VS, carbohydrate and protein in the recirculated TPAD system were higher than those of the non-recirculated system. The successful acclimation of thermophilic cellulose-degrading bacteria in the first reactor (RT1), partly due to recirculation, ensured the effective degradation of cellulose when the paper waste ratio was higher than 40%, resulting in the production of large amounts of hydrogen in reactor RT1. In the absence of recirculation, the main substance produced in the first reactor of the non-recirculated system (T1) was lactic acid. This gradually led to over-acidification and a low degradation efficiency and no methane or hydrogen was produced in T1. Recirculation helped to establish a stable bacterial community capable of producing bio-hydrogen in reactor RT1. The relatively low pH of 5.5 in the RT1 inhibited the activity of hydrogenotrophic archaea without consuming hydrogen, facilitating high hydrogen production levels.
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