Identification of parameters affecting the outcome of biochemical methane potential (BMP) tests

Anaerobic digestion of organic waste to methane gas (CH4) is an attractive method to produce renewable energy. Due to the trend towards the reuse of waste and away from fossil energy sources, this technology saw a worldwide development in the recent years. A fundamental parameter in this domain is the Biochemical Methane Potential (BMP), which defines the amount of CH4 which can be produced out of a certain organic substrate. Such information is essential in order to plan and optimise anaerobic digestion plants, and to evaluate the reactor feed with a new substrate or a new substrate combination (co-digestion). BMPs are assessed in batch test, which can be regarded as the simulation of a full-scale biogas plant. Two experiments are required, the test in which the test substrate is digested on the inoculum, and the blank, in which the inoculum is digested alone. The part of the inoculum which can be digested is called endogenous substrate. Since the test experiment produced not only on the test substrate but only on the endogenous substrate, the CH4 production on the test substrate alone is obtained by the subtraction of the test production minus the blank production. The units of a BMP are generally indicated in litre of CH4 per gram of volatile solids (VS) test substrate [L/gVS]. Despite the importance and the wide application of this parameter, its exact determination remains a challenging issue and results are often not consistent in between (inter-) and within (intra-) laboratories. Experimental protocols exist but do not lead to a satisfactory BMP tests consistency neither. The aim of this study was to identify parameters affecting the outcome of BMP tests, based on the investigation of two different data sets. An inter-laboratory study of BMP tests providing the final BMP values of 327 experiments and information about 40 related experimental parameters, and a second data set containing the complete CH4 production curves of 136 BMP experiments provided by one single laboratory. The method consisted in graphical and statistical analysis (Mixed Effect Modelling), using [R] programming language and software environment. This study found out, that a significant part of the inter-laboratory BMP inconsistency can be explained by an imprecise assessment of the VS, which was not expected. As the VS of the substrate are directly implied in the computation of the BMP, the impact was significant and therefore the BMP were corrected regarding the VS imprecision. With these data, up to 70% of the inconsistency of BMPs could be explained by inter-laboratory effects. The statistical analysis led to the conclusion that the concentration of the endogenous substrate and the moisture content in the digestate would be the principal factors affecting the outcome of BMP tests. An effort was made to identify and correct errors contained in CH4 production curves, which turned out to be delicate for certain cases. Also indications regarding the precision and the reliability of BMPs were formulated. Further, the investigation of the CH4 production curves led to the development of a new method in order to compute the BMP result. This method was based on the fact, that a certain inoculum reaches always the same slope toward the end of the experiment, no matter what was digested before. The advantage of this method would be that the experiment end-point could be set clearly and that the concentration of the endogenous substrate would not have an impact on the outcome of a BMP test. According to the findings of this report, it was proposed to add the following requirements into experimental protocols for BMP tests: <ul> <li> Tests, blanks and the analysis of VS should be carried out in triplicates and their standard deviation should be indicated for each of them, together with the BMP result <li> If triplicates contain set-up errors, these experiments must be repeated, including the corresponding blank/test <li> In the annex: An experimental protocol for the TS and VS analyses <li> An indication of a required moisture content of the digestate (mechanism to investigate in detail first) <li> An indication of the range of required VS concentrations or a maximal production rate for blank tests according to certain experimental conditions (mechanism to investigate in detail first).</ul> This report identified several parameters, which contribute to the inter-laboratory inconsistency of BMPs. These findings should be investigated further in order to prove and quantify their impact. An effort should be made to demonstrate the newly developed BMP-computation-method, which could eventually lead to more consistent results. The limitation of this study was, that a relatively low amount of data was available compared to their characteristics. Consequently, the findings could only be proven on a few examples and should therefore only be seen as evidences. Further, this led also to the risk of overfitting, since a relative high amount of parameters needed to be included into the statistical model.

Holliger, Christof

 Record created 2012-07-23, last modified 2018-01-28

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