Demonstration of a Pilot Scale Leach-bed Multistage Digester for Treating Dry-lot Wastes

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Dry-lot feedlot wastes have historically been a challenging feed-stock for digestion due to the dry recalcitrant nature of the waste, and the presence of settleable sand. Leach-bed dry digestion systems could theoretically circumnavigate these difficulties but poor hydraulic conductivities are noted in the literature. In addition to the poor hydraulic conductivities there are often serious problems with system stability and operation.  A leach-bed based design which addresses the hydraulic limitations of previous systems and utilizes a multiple process stages to enhance system stability is currently under development. By adding readily available inert shear stabilizers and biodegradable porosity improvers, hydraulic improvements have been demonstrated to be an order of magnitude higher than without the modifications.  By utilizing a multiple stage process the liquid leachategenerated from the leachate beds is treated through two stages, the buffering/storage tank and the high rate methanogenic reactor. The buffering tank is a tank for the leachate to reach chemical equilibrium and to store the leachate before it is precisely metered into the methanogenic tank.  Within the high rate methanogenic reactor compounds with the leachate are converted into methane which is removed and combusted. This system is demonstrated in a 48’ long refrigeration transport trailer which is essentially energy independent under continuously operation. This system will provide support for the validation of the technology with various wastes and will also serve as a research vessel for the continual optimization of this technology.

Front of the Pilot Unit

Is It Possible to Digest Dry or Solid Manure?

This new anaerobic digestion system has been designed from the ground up based on extension work carried out on Colorado dairy and beef facilities. Previous feasibility studies conducted on these sites indicated that conventional anaerobic digestion was not a recommended technology due to a variety of economic and technical parameters.

However, upon further review, it was found that these constraints were tied to specific technologies, not anaerobic digestion in general. Using an iterative design process, a digestion system was created which could effectively address these problems. In its most basic form, it will efficiently process difficult wastes like Colorado’s dry-lot manures as well as other more conventional waste streams.

What Did We Do?

Colorado State University has a pilot system located on the Foothills Campus. The purpose of this pilot unit is to gather data about the performance of the leachate bay reactor in an integrated system and to provide design criteria for scaling this concept. The system is currently in the inoculation stage. Using a consortium of animal manures and bedding waste generated onsite, the reactors are growing the bacteria needed before further testing can commence.

Intrinsic to the design is a three phased process that is tailored to the available substrates. Solid type wastes (Typically >20% total solids) are placed into the leachate bay reactor where liquid (leachate) is passed through, slowly striping away methane forming organic chemicals.

6kW Generator with Heat Exchanger for Heat Reactors with Waste Heat

Slurry wastes (Typically <20% total solids with high suspended solids) can pass into the second stage of the process- the leachate storage tank. This vessel acts as a pre digestion vessel, solids sedimentation basin, and storage tank for the pre-digestion products. Clarified leachate, rich with dissolved organic compounds, is then pumped into the final stage- the high rate reactor. In the high rate reactor process upset is mitigated by providing a very controlled flow rate of the acidic leachate into the reactor. This moderates the pH in the reactor, allowing the methane producing organisms to operate at maximum potential. Quickly degraded waste waters such as: milk processing water, run-off lagoon water, or nearby industrial wastes can be added directly to the high rate reactor.

What Have We Learned?

Solid wastes appropriate for the leachate bay reactor are dry-lot cattle manure, crop residues, equine and poultry manures, among many others. These types of wastes were the important drivers in the breakdown of technical and economic feasibility of conventional digestion systems. Due to the design of the leachate bay reactors though, many of these constraints were avoided and these wastes instead play a powerful role in this systems effectiveness by allowing digestion of often overlooked waste products. Related: Update on this project presented at the 2015 Waste to Worth conference in Seattle.

Manure Loading Dock with LBR

Future Plans

Extensive infrastructure has been built into this pilot unit to facilitate monitoring and logic control of this facility. Ongoing work will be to build out this sensing network. 

Important design parameters will be teased out of the collected data to guide the development of optimization models. With the use of these models, the system can be further modified. Potential technological enhancements include: nutrient recovery from leachate, various flushing procedures to reduce salt loading, and digestion of ligno-cellulotic by-products.


Sybil Sharvelle,

Lucas Loetscher, Graduate Reseach Assistant, Colorado State University

Sybil Sharvelle, Assistant Professor, Colorado State University


  • Colorado Agriculture Experiment Station
  • Colorado NRCS
  • Colorado Bioscience Discovery Grant
  • Colorado Governors Energy Office

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