Unit 1.2: Applications of Anaerobic Digestion

Background and Guiding Questions

The ability of anaerobic digestion to process a wide range of organic wastes from diverse sources under different waste management strategies underscores the utility of the anaerobic digester. Applications for anaerobic digestion are varied, but typically fall into two broad categories with considerable overlap: renewable energy production and waste treatment. For example, the primary motivation for a dairy to build a digester may be to control odor, but producing electricity makes the digester profitable to the farm. For a wastewater treatment plant, the primary motivation   may be to reduce the volume of organic biosolids. For an industrial facility, the primary motivation may be to reduce the biological oxygen demand (BOD) of a high-strength waste stream. As a source of renewable energy generation, anaerobic digestion offers the significant advantage of being available on a continuous basis (unlike wind or solar). In addition, biogas is a versatile energy resource that can be burned directly for heat, electricity or combined heat and power (cogeneration), cleaned and compressed for use as a vehicle fuel, or “upgraded” for injection directly into natural gas pipeline system.

Guiding Questions

  • What are the main motivations for deploying anaerobic digesters in the wastewater treatment sector? On-farm sector?
  • What are the main benefits of anaerobic waste treatment versus aerobic treatment?
  • What local factors or considerations go into the evaluation of anaerobic digesters for farms?


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