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close this bookBioconversion of Organic Residues for Rural Communities (UNU, 1979)
close this folderBiogas generation: developments. Problems, and tasks - an overview
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentWhat is biogas?
View the documentMicrobiology of CH4, or bio-methanogenesis
View the documentThe biogas plant-some technical considerations
View the documentEnvironmental and operational considerations
View the documentDevelopments and processes for rural areas
View the documentCost-benefit analyses
View the documentHealth hazards
View the documentBottlenecks, considerations, and research and development
View the documentReferences
View the documentDiscussion summary

Environmental and operational considerations

Raw Materials (19)

Raw materials may be obtained from a variety of sources - livestock and poultry wastes, night soil, crop residues, food-processing and paper wastes, and materials such as aquatic weeds, water hyacinth, filamentous algae, and seaweed. Different problems are encountered with each of these wastes with regard to collection, transportation, processing, storage, residue utilization, and ultimate use. Residues from the agricultural sector such as spent straw, hay, cane trash, corn and plant stubble, and bagasse need to be shredded in order to facilitate their flow into the digester reactor as well as to increase the efficiency of bacterial action. Succulent plant material yields more gas than dried matter does, and hence materials like brush and weeds need semi-drying. The storage of raw materials in a damp, confined space for over ten days initiates anaerobic bacterial action that, though causing some gas loss, reduces the time for the digester to become operational.

Influent Solids Content (16, 19, 21)

Production of biogas is inefficient if fermentation materials are too dilute or too concentrated, resulting in, low biogas production and insufficient fermentation activity, respectively. Experience has shown that the raw-material (domestic and poultry wastes and manure) ratio to water should be 1:1, i.e., 100 kg of excrete to 100 kg of water. In the slurry, this corresponds to a total solids concentration of 8 - 11 per cent by weight.

Loading (14, 19)

The size of the digester depends upon the loading, which is determined by the influent solids content, retention time, and the digester temperature. Optimum loading rates vary with different digesters and their sites of location. Higher loading rates have been used when the ambient temperature is high. In general, the literature is filled with a variety of conflicting loading rates. In practice, the loading rate should be an expression of either (a) the weight of total volatile solids (TVS) added per day per unit volume of the digester, or (b) the weight of TVS added per day per unit weight of TVS in the digester. The latter principle is normally used for smooth operation of the digester.

Seeding (14, 19)

Common practice involves seeding with an adequate population of both the acid-forming and methanogenic bacteria. Actively digesting sludge from a sewage plant constitutes ideal "seed" material. As a general guideline, the seed material should be twice the volume of the fresh manure slurry during the start-up phase, with a gradual decrease in amount added over a three-week period. If the digester accumulates volatile acids as a result of overloading, the situation can be remedied by reseeding, or by the addition of lime or other alkali.

pH (14, 19)

Low pH inhibits the growth of the methanogenic bacteria and gas generation and is often the result of overloading. A successful pH range for anaerobic digestion is 6.0 - 8.0; efficient digestion occurs at a pH near neutrality. A slightly alkaline state is an indication that pH fluctuations are not too drastic. Low pH may be remedied by dilution or by the addition of lime.

Temperature (13,14,19, 21)

With a mesophilic flora, digestion proceeds best at 30 - 40 C; with thermophiles, the optimum range is 50 - 60 C. The choice of the temperature to be used is influenced by climatic considerations In general, there is no rule of thumb, but for optimum process stability, the temperature should be carefully regulated within a narrow range of the operating temperature. In warm climates, with no freezing temperatures, digesters may be operated without added heat. As a safety measure, it is common practice either to bury the digesters in the ground on account of the advantageous insulating properties of the soil, or to use a greenhouse covering. Heating requirements and, consequently, costs, can be minimized through the use of natural materials such as leaves, sawdust, straw, etc., which are composted in batches in a separate compartment around the digester,

Nutrients (13,17,19, 21)

The maintenance of optimum microbiological activity in the digester is crucial to gas generation and consequently is related to nutrient availability. Two of the most important nutrients are carbon and nitrogen and a critical factor for raw material choice is the overall C/N ratio.

Domestic sewage and animal and poultry wastes are examples of N-rich materials that provide nutrients for the growth and multiplication of the anaerobic organisms. On the other hand, N-poor materials like green grass, corn stubble, etc., are rich in carbohydrate substances that are essential for gas production. Excess availability of nitrogen leads to the formation of NH3, the concentration of which inhibits further growth. Ammonia toxicity can be remedied by low loading or by dilution. In practice, it is important to maintain, by weight, a C/N ratio close to 30:1 for achieving an optimum rate of digestion. The C/N ratio can be judiciously manipulated by combining materials low in carbon with those that are high in nitrogen, and vice versa.

Toxic Materials (13,14,19)

Wastes and biodegradable residue are often accompanied by a variety of pollutants that could inhibit anaerobic digestion. Potential toxicity due to ammonia can be corrected by remedying the C/N ratio of manure through the addition of shredded bagasse or straw, or by dilution. Common toxic substances are the soluble salts of copper, zinc, nickel, mercury, and chromium. On the other hand, salts of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium may be stimulatory or toxic in action, both manifestations being associated with the cation rather than the anionic portion of the salt. Pesticides and synthetic detergents may also be troublesome to the process.

Stirring (13,14,17 - 19, 21)

When solid materials not well shredded are present in the digester, gas generation may be impeded by the formation of a scum that is comprised of these low-density solids that are enmeshed in a filamentous matrix. In time the scum hardens, disrupting the digestion process and causing stratification. Agitation can be done either mechanically with a plunger or by means of rotational spraying of fresh influent. Agitation, normally required for bath digesters, ensures exposure of new surfaces to bacterial action, prevents viscid stratification and slow-down of bacterial activity, and promotes uniform dispersion of the influent materials throughout the fermentation liquor, thereby accelerating digestion.

Retention Time (19, 21)

Other factors such as temperature, dilution, loading rate, etc., influence retention time. At high temperature bio-digestion occurs faster, reducing the time requirement. A normal period for the digestion of dung would be two to four weeks.