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Methanogenesis in thermophilic biogas reactors


Methanogenesis in thermophilic biogas reactors fed with different wastes is examined. The specific methanogenic activity with acetate or hydrogen as substrate reflected the organic loading of the specific reactor examined. Increasing the loading of thermophilic reactors stabilized the process as indicated by a lower concentration of volatile fatty acids in the effluent from the reactors. The specific methanogenic activity in a thermophilic pilot-plant biogas reactor fed with a mixture of cow and pig manure reflected the stability of the reactor. The numbers of methanogens counted by the most probable number (MPN) technique with acetate or hydrogen as substrate were further found to vary depending on the loading rate and the stability of the reactor. The numbers of methanogens counted with antibody probes in one of the reactor samples was 10 times lower for the hydrogen-utilizing methanogens compared to the counts using the MPN technique, indicating that other non-reacting methanogens were present. Methanogens that reacted with the probe againstMethanobacterium thermoautotrophicum were the most numerous in this reactor. For the acetate-utilizing methanogens, the numbers counted with the antibody probes were more than a factor of 10 higher than the numbers found by MPN. The majority of acetate utilizing methanogens in the reactor wereMethanosarcina spp. single cells, which is a difficult form of the organism to cultivatein vitro. No reactions were observed with antibody probes raised againstMethanothrix soehngenii orMethanothrix CALS-1 in any of the thermophilic biogas reactors examined. Studies using 2-14C-labeled acetate showed that at high concentrations (more than approx. 1 mM) acetate was metabolized via the aceticlastic pathway, transforming the methyl-group of acetate into methane. When the concentration of acetate was less than approx. 1 mM, most of the acetate was oxidized via a two-step mechanism (syntrophic acetate oxidation) involving one organism oxidizing acetate into hydrogen and carbon dioxide and a hydrogen-utilizing methanogen forming the products of the first microorganism into methane. In thermophilic biogas reactors, acetate oxidizing cultures occupied the niche ofMethanothrix species, aceticlastic methanogens which dominate at low acetate concentrations in mesophilic systems. Normally, thermophilic biogas reactors are operated at temperatures from 52 to 56° C. Experiments using biogas reactors fed with cow manure showed that the same biogas yield found at 55° C could be obtained at 61° C after a long adaptation period. However, propionate degradation was inhibited by increasing the temperature.

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Ahring, B.K. Methanogenesis in thermophilic biogas reactors. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 67, 91–102 (1995).

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Key words

  • methanogenesis
  • thermophilic
  • biogas reactors
  • optimal temperature
  • maximal temperature