• An experimental and computational investigation of pressurised anaerobic digestion

      Wilkinson, Steve; Liang, Zhixuan (University of Chester, 2021-01)
      The aim of this work is to gain a greater understanding of the effect of headspace pressure on biogas production from anaerobic digestion. This is important to improve the energy content of the biogas i.e., increase the methane content and therefore reduce the need for upgrading to scrub out carbon dioxide. In addition, headspace pressure can potentially be used to provide energy for mixing and gas sparging, thereby removing the need for mechanical agitation. In this work, an existing computational model was adapted to investigate its prediction of the variation of biogas production as headspace pressure is increased above atmospheric. The simulation results were accompanied with experimental work using periodic venting of sealed laboratory bottles. The headspace pressure was inferred from the weight loss during venting to atmosphere. In addition, a fully instrumented, pressurised digestor system was designed and constructed in which headspace pressure could be measured directly. Experiments were conducted with headspace pressures of up to 3.4 barg. The biogas that accumulated in the headspace during the digestion process was sampled periodically to determine its composition. The results showed that biogas produced at higher pressures has a higher methane content. A mass balance for the headspace sampling process, which assumed no gas was released from the liquid during sampling, was compared to experimental measurements. This led to the discovery that the effective Henry’s constant for the solubility of carbon dioxide could be an order of magnitude lower in digestate than the known value for pure water. Both the adapted model and the laboratory-scale experiments showed that as the headspace pressure increases, the production rate of biogas decreases. The adapted model also gives slightly higher methane content for higher pressure. The model was then used to estimate the specific growth rates of bacteria used in the laboratory-scale experiments and the agreement was not good, which indicates further changes to the model are needed. The results show that the rate of biogas production reduces as the headspace pressure increases but the rate of decrease is not very steep. This same trend was also displayed for yeast fermentation, which was also studied as another model process for pressurised biological gas production. The variation of the rate of 𝐶𝑂2 evolution with pressure was also used to infer the concentration of dissolved 𝐶𝑂2 within the fermenting yeast cells. Finally, turning attention back to anaerobic digestion processes for energy, it is encouraging that at the relatively modest elevation of pressure required for sparging to give mixing (less than 0.5 barg), the reduction in biogas evolution is small. This small penalty might therefore be offset in a production scale system by the reduced costs of mixing and increased methane content of the biogas.