Pre-treatment of substrates for anaerobic digestion : potential and development needs

Sammanfattning: Substrate pre-treatment has been gaining interest in anaerobic digestion (AD) as a means to increase biogas yields with nowadays more diversified substrate sources. The objective of this thesis is to identify improvement potentials and development needs within applications of substrate pretreatment in anaerobic digestion (AD) based on literature and specific examples, with special focus on the impact assessment and exemplified by the case of electroporation(EP) pre-treatment.The substrate inherent limitations to conversion of organic material to methane include content of non-biodegradable organic compounds, incorporation of biodegradable matter into recalcitrant structures and large particle size. WAS and lignocellulosic material are specific substrates that express significant substrate inherent limitations, especially WAS from WWTPs with long sludge age and lignocellulosic material with high lignin content.Improved AD performance relies on increasing operational methane yield as to approximate as much as possible the actual potential methane yield of the substrate at the highest possible digestion rate. This could potentially be achieved by the application of a pre-treatment, via the mechanisms of particle size reduction/solubilisation of biodegradable/bioavailable matter and/or conversion/exposure of non-biodegradable/non-bioavailable matter as to make it available or degradable. Pre-treatment mechanisms that could potentially counteract these effects are the removal of organic matter and/or the formation of refractory compounds. Pre-treatment by electroporation has the potential to affect substrates and, in some cases improve AD process performance. However, the effect of a specific pre-treatment may differ depending on the type of substrate upon which it is applied. The assessment of pre-treatment effects may be performed on different levels, representing impacts from micro to macro scale. On a substrate level, COD solubilisation is commonly measured, but the interpretation is aggravated by the application of different measurement approaches. In addition, solubilisation of COD as a result of pre-treatment does not necessarily translate into increased operational methane yield, and vice versa, the increased operational yield is not necessarily caused by increased COD solubilisation. On an AD process performance level, BMP tests have been used to assess both increased biodegradability and increased rate of degradation. Both applications rely on appropriate set-up as well as understanding of the limitations of the test. Substrate pre-treatment affects the quality of the outputs as well as the downstream processes of an AD process. A systematic approach is therefore necessary to understand how the introduction of a pre-treatment process as well as the changes in process performance with respect to qualities and quantities of outputs affect the balances of the system with respect to assessment bases such as energy, CO2 or economics.Several areas that would gain from further development can be identified within the area of substrate pre-treatment. These include improved understanding of substrate characteristics with improved descriptors, such as improved understanding of COD composition, and of BMP applicability and limitations. In addition, improved understanding of the relationship between substrate composition and process performance would be helpful to improve the understanding of different pre-treatment effects.Improved understanding of system effects where case-specific conditions can be considered is necessary for the full-scale implementation of pre-treatments to a larger extent. The application of tools for systems analysis to systems including pre-treatment should be further evaluated and a sensitivity analysis with respect to which specific conditions may render pre-treatments beneficial or non-beneficial should be performed.The practical applicability of electroporation pre-treatment for different substrates needs further development and the energy efficiency of the pre-treatment should be evaluated considering upscaling effects.