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Anaerobic biodegradation of toxic compounds found in industrial wastewater is an attractive solution allowing the recovery of energy and resources but it is still challenging due to the low kinetics making the anaerobic process not competitive against the aerobic one. In this review, we summarise the present state of knowledge on the anaerobic biodegradation process for phenol, a typical target compound employed in toxicity studies on industrial wastewater treatment. The objective of this article is to provide an overview on the microbiological and technological aspects of anaerobic phenol degradation and on the research needs to fill the gaps still hindering the diffusion of the anaerobic process. The first part is focused on the microbiology and extensively presents and characterises phenol-degrading bacteria and biodegradation pathways. In the second part, dedicated to process feasibility, anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation kinetics are analysed and compared, and strategies to enhance process performance, i.e. advanced technologies, bioaugmentation, and biostimulation, are critically analysed and discussed. The final section provides a summary of the research needs. Literature data analysis shows the feasibility of anaerobic phenol biodegradation at laboratory and pilot scale, but there is still a consistent gap between achieved aerobic and anaerobic performance. This is why current research demand is mainly related to the development and optimisation of powerful technologies and effective operation strategies able to enhance the competitiveness of the anaerobic process. Research efforts are strongly justified because the anaerobic process is a step forward to a more sustainable approach in wastewater treatment.Key points• Review of phenol-degraders bacteria and biodegradation pathways.• Anaerobic phenol biodegradation kinetics for metabolic and co-metabolic processes.• Microbial and technological strategies to enhance process performance.


M Concetta Tomei, Domenica Mosca Angelucci, Elisa Clagnan, Lorenzo Brusetti. Anaerobic biodegradation of phenol in wastewater treatment: achievements and limits. Applied microbiology and biotechnology. 2021 Mar;105(6):2195-2224

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PMID: 33630152

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