The aims of this study were to demonstrate the (1) feasibility of psychrophilic, or low-temperature, anaerobic digestion (PAD) of phenolic wastewaters at 10-15 degrees C; (2) economic attractiveness of PAD for the treatment of phenol as measured by daily biogas yields and (3) impact on bioreactor performance of phenol loading rates (PLRs) in excess of those previously documented (1.2 kg phenol m(-3) d(-1)). Two expanded granular sludge bed (EGSB)-based bioreactors, R1 and R2, were employed to mineralise a volatile fatty acid-based wastewater. R2 influent wastewater was supplemented with phenol at an initial concentration of 500 mgl(-1) (PLR, 1kgm(-3)d(-1)). Reactor performance was measured by chemical oxygen demand (COD) removal efficiency, CH4 composition of biogas and phenol removal (R2 only). Specific methanogenic activity, biodegradability and toxicity assays were employed to monitor the physiological capacity of reactor biomass samples. The applied PLR was increased to 2 kg m(-3) d(-1) on day 147 and phenol removal by day 415 was 99 efficient, with <= 4mgl(-1) present in R2 effluent. The operational temperature of R1 (control) and R2 was reduced by stepwise decrements from 15 degrees C through to a final operating temperature of 9.5 degrees C. COD removal efficiencies of c. 90% were recorded in both bioreactors at the conclusion of the trial (day 673), when the phenol concentration in R2 effluent was below 30 mgl-1. Daily biogas yields were determined during the final (9.5 degrees C) operating period, when typical daily R2 CH4 yields of c. 3.31 CH(4)g(-1) CODremoved d(-1) were recorded. The rate of phenol depletion and methanation by R2 biomass by day 673 were 68mg phenol g VSS-1 d(-1) and 12-20 ml CH4 g VSS-1 d(-1), respectively. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.