Biogas production from solid food waste and its use for electricity production

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Khune, Selebogo Mervyn
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Vaal University of Technology
An enormous amount of food waste (FW) is generated worldwide. Most of this waste is discarded in landfills, where it undergoes uncontrolled anaerobic digestion (AD) process, which emits excessive amounts of greenhouse gases, (methane and carbon dioxide), thereby contributing to global warming. A controlled AD of FW is key for organic waste management with a positive impact on the environment and economy. In South Africa (SA) there is little uptake of biogas technology for FW management due to little research on biogas potential at small to large scale. Furthermore, there is an over reliance on foreign data, which leads to misfit parameters to local raw materials; consequently, producing biogas of low quality and quantity with low degradation of waste. Biogas with poor quality reduces the efficiency of biogas conversion to energy and the low production rate makes the system less feasible. Considering the challenges faced with FW management and the little uptake of the AD technology in SA, this study aimed to treat FW through AD and convert the biogas produced to electricity. A complete-mix biogas pilot plant (VUT-1000C) was designed, constructed and commissioned. The materials used for constructing the pilot plant were sourced locally to prove the applicability of the AD technology in SA. The biodigester was operated at mesophilic temperature, 37 oC, aided by a solar system. A stand-alone 1 m3 plug-flow ambient biodigester (STH-1000A) was operated semi-continuously as well as a control. Cow dung (CD) was used to inoculate the biodigesters, which were then operated semi-continuously at their optimum organic loading rate (OLR). The STH-1000A digester was operated at 0.446 kgVS/m3/day OLR, according to the manufacturer’s specification, while for VUT-1000C, the OLR was determined. The highest biogas and methane yields obtained were 582 and 332 L/kgVS/m3, respectively, at the determined optimal OLR of 1.5 kgVS/m3/day for the VUT-1000C digester this was supported by the modified Gompertz model with an R2 value of 0.9836. VUT-1000C produced 1200 L/day while STH-1000A produced 150 L/day. VUT-1000C proved to be a more effective biodigester than STH-1000A owing to the digester design and operation at mesophilic conditions. The key design findings are higher reactor working volume and high digester temperature. From the 1000 L of biogas produced from VUT-1000C, 1.8 kW of electricity was generated, which is equivalent to powering 300 6W light bulbs for 1 hour. The energy balance of the pilot plant showed that only 10 percent of the energy output was required to operate the plant. These results show that SA has a 475 GWh energy potential based on the current FW figures. Furthermore, the study has shown that biogas technology is readily available for South Africans and that the designed biogas plant was very efficient in FW-to-energy conversion.
M.Tech. (Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Technology), Vaal University of Technology.
Biogas production, Solid food waste, Electricity production