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Utilization of Food Waste via Anaerobic Digestion: From Feedstock to Biogas and Fertilizers

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisCollection of Articles


Original languageEnglish
PublisherTampere University of Technology
Number of pages75
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-15-3798-1
ISBN (Print)978-952-15-3792-9
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2016
Publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Publication series

NameTampere University of Technology. Publication
ISSN (Print)1459-2045


Food waste is a renewable resource that can be utilized as both energy and nutrients through anaerobic digestion to increase nutrient recycling and fertilizer self-sufficiency and promote the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Anaerobic digestion of food wastes has, however, faced challenges due to the waste’s characteristics, e.g., high protein content, which is why the organic loading rates with food waste digestion are usually kept low to achieve a stable process. The digestate produced during digestion contains all of the nutrients from the food waste feedstock and can be used as a fertilizer in agriculture, where the availability of nutrients, the stability of organic matter, and biosecurity define its agronomic value. In this thesis, the aim was to analyze the potential of using anaerobic digestion for food waste utilization. The anaerobic digestion of food waste, feedstock pretreatment, and processing and utilization of the digestate for fertilizer use were studied.

This study shows the potential of food waste as feedstock for anaerobic digestion without dilution, with a total solids content of 20–25%. A high organic loading rate of 6 kgVS/m3d (VS, volatile solids) was achieved with methane yields 400–430 m3/kgVS in continuous food waste digestion while the optimum loading rate was 3 kgVS/m3d, yielding around 480 m3/kgVS of methane. Trace element supplementation enabled a stable long-term operation and gradual increase of loading rates without the accumulation of acids. The autoclave pretreatment (160°C and 6.2 bars) of the food waste affected the characteristics – and subsequently, the anaerobic digestion performance, where the formation of protein-based hardly biodegradable compounds led to a 10% lower methane yield during digestion, decreased hydrogen sulfide content in the biogas, and 50% decreased ammonium nitrogen concentration within the digestate. The decreased availability of proteins and hydrogen sulfide formation due to the pretreatment reduce the risk of ammonia inhibition during anaerobic digestion and enable easier biogas cleaning and security.

The food waste digestates shows potential as a nutrient source in crop fertilization independently and after post-treatment. The studied digestates were considered suitable for fertilizer use, as they showed good agronomic value in terms of nutrient content and usability, as well as biosecurity. Food waste digestates produced around 5 to 30% higher ryegrass yield compared with a mineral fertilizer in pot experiments, and the majority (50–70%) of the nitrogen and phosphorus were in the soluble and plantavailable forms. The integration of anaerobic digestion and digestate post-treatment technologies enabled the processing of the digestate liquid into concentrated nutrient products rich in nitrogen and potassium. With the combination different processing technologies such as evaporation, stripping, and reverse osmosis, nutrient products with optimal composition can be produced to correspond with the fertilizer demand. Overall, due to the high energy potential of the food waste, the integration of the anaerobic digestion with heat-demanding digestate liquid post-treatment processes (e.g., stripping and/or evaporation) was possible.

In conclusion, anaerobic digestion has high potential for the utilization of food waste, as food waste produces high methane yields in optimized conditions. The food waste digestate was also shown to be a suitable nutrient (especially nitrogen) source in crop fertilization independently and after posttreatment.

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