Evaluation of a Continuously-Mixed Farm-Based Anaerobic Co-Digestion System Following the U.S. EPA Protocol for Quantifying and Reporting on the Performance of Anaerobic Digestion Systems for Livestock Manures – Final Project Results

This paper compliments another paper proposed for this conference “Lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a New York State dairy farm anaerobically co-digesting manure and food waste.”


New York State’s largest manure-based anaerobic co-digestion facility was evaluated continuously for a 2-year period following the U.S. EPA Protocol for quantifying and reporting on the performance of anaerobic digestion systems for livestock manures. Overall, we assessed and determined the system’s performance with respect to the: 1) conversion of biomass to biogas, 2) conversion of biogas to useful energy, and 3) system’s economics. The information developed by this project can be used to compare performance information developed from other manure-based anaerobic digestion systems. Related: Treatment Technologies for Livestock Manure

What did we do? 

After initial system evaluation and monitoring plan development, the farm was visited monthly for 24 months to collect data. In addition to the digester influent and effluent samples taken during each monthly sampling date, on-site measurements were taken and data were manually recorded from equipment and plant logs. A particularly important log, were the imported feedstocks brought on-site for inclusion to the AD. This log recorded the date and time feedstock was delivered, the type of feedstock, and the volume delivered. The specific data collected/measured are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Data collected/measured on-site at each sampling date.

1. Date and time of readings
2. Methane (CH4), Carbon dioxide (CO2), Oxygen (O2), and Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) concentrations in biogas after digester
3. CH4, CO2, O2, and H2S concentrations in biogas after bio-scrubber
4. Engine-generator set run time
5. Cumulative electricity purchased and sold
6. Daily animal populations since previous sampling event
7. Logs of imported feedstocks
8. Problems occurred during period

Further, data (Table 2) from the system’s supervisory, control, and data acquisition (SCADA) unit were downloaded, compiled and analyzed for each period. SCADA data were generated from an array of sensors and meters originally installed by the company that designed and built the digester, i.e., Bigadan A/S.

Table 2. Data obtained from the SCADA system for each period.


1. Total influent to pasteurization
2. Food waste to pasteurization
3. Manure to pasteurization
4. Biomass from pasteurization to digester
5. Effluent digester to storage tank
6. Biogas production digester
7. Biogas to generator
8. Generator electrical energy output
9. Generator thermal energy recovered
10. Digester vessel upper temperature
11. Digester vessel lower temperature

Overall, digester influent and effluent samples were collected with the goal of obtaining representative samples. To do this, grab samples were collected directly from both the digester influent and effluent lines over a period of approximately 30 min during a pumping sequence, to develop a 5-gallon composite, master-sample. The entire volume of this sample was then agitated using a paint mixer powered by a portable electric drill until visibly determined to be homogenized. A 1-liter composite sample was immediately taken and stored on ice, and subsequently frozen before being sent for laboratory analysis. Samples were taken in this fashion approximately every 30 days over the 24-month monitoring period. Additionally, samples coming from the raw manure receiving tank and from the combined imported feedstocks tank were also obtained for two sampling dates at the beginning of the monitoring project to characterize the individual influent streams to the digester.

All samples collected during the 24-month monitoring period were sent for analysis to Certified Environmental Services’ (CES) laboratory in Syracuse, NY, approved by the New York State Department of Health, Environmental Laboratory Approval Program (NYSDOH-ELAP #11246). All samples were analyzed in triplicate for: total solids (TS), total volatile solids (VS), chemical oxygen demand (COD), pH, and total volatile acids as acetic acid (TVFA). In addition, the following nutrients were determined in triplicate: total phosphorus (TP), ortho-phosphorus (OP), total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), ammonia-nitrogen (NH3-N) and potassium (K). CES followed the appropriate testing methods outlined in Table 3 for each parameter measured.

Table 3. Standard analytical methods used by CES laboratory for sample analyses.

Parameter Standard
Total Solids (TS) EPA 160.3
Total Volatile Solids (VS) EPA 160.4
Fixed Solids (FS) EPA 160.4
Volatile Acid as Acetic Acid (TVFA) SM18 5560C
Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) SM18 5220B
pH SW846 9045
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN) EPA 351.4
Ammonia-Nitrogen (NH3-N) SM18 4500F
Organic-Nitrogen (ON) By subtraction: TKN – NH3-N
Total Phosphorous (TP) EPA 365.3
Ortho Phosphorous (OP) EPA 365.3
Total Potassium (K) EPA SW 846 6010

Methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and oxygen (O2) concentration in biogas, were measured on-site during monthly visits using a Multitec 540 (Sewerin GmbH, Germany), a portable hand-held gas measuring device equipped with infra-red/electrochemical sensors.

What have we learned? 

For the entire monitoring project, an average of 1,891±62 lactating cows per day from Synergy Dairy contributed manure to the digester. The average daily loading rate of the digester was 80,408±19,266 gal, where the average percent of imported waste (mostly food-grade residues) co-digested with manure was 25±6% on a volume-to-volume (v/v) basis. The average reduction of organic matter thru the monitoring project was 42% with respect to the influent, while 75% of the odor-causing volatile fatty acids were reduced. In comparison, a previous monitoring study reported by the authors in five manure-based co-digestion operations showed a reduction in organic matter and volatile acids between 36% and 53% and 85% and 91%, respectively. The average daily digester biogas production for the entire monitoring project was 495±78 ft3 per 1,000 lbs of total influent added to the digester, or 173±34 ft3 per cow contribut ing to the digester. The engine-generator set produced an average of 23±7 MWh of electricity per day, from which the average daily parasitic load of the AD system was 3±1 MWh, accounting for approximately 14% of the electricity generated by the plant. Overall, the average capacity factor and online efficiency of the anaerobic digester system during the entire monitoring project were 0.66±0.22 and 80±23%, respectively. The electrical energy generated translated into an overall thermal conversion efficiency of 42±4%. Also, an additional 13±5% of the total energy in the biogas was recovered by the engine as hot water. Thus, an overall 55% (electrical + thermal) of the total energy contained in the input biogas was recovered by the engine-generator set during the monitoring project.

The majority of the challenges experienced by the Synergy AD system were of mechanical origin, whereas 20% were related to the biological process; only 8% of the downtime was due to scheduled systems maintenance. Some of the problems were related to the extreme cold conditions experienced in the Northeast during the period from December 2013 to February 2014. According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, this period was the 34th coldest for the contiguous 48 states since modern records began in 1895, with an average temperature of 31.3F, 1.0F below the 20th century average (NOAA, 2014).

Future Plans 

This manure-based anaerobic digester is the 8th New York State digester we have extensively monitored and reported on. Near-term future planned work includes monitoring a lower cost horizontal plug flow digester on a 2,000-cow farm. This digester uses high density polyethylene (HDPE) material heat welded together as the digester vessel.


Curt Gooch, Senior Extension Associate, Cornell PRO-DAIRY Program cag26@cornell.edu

Rodrigo Labatut

Additional information 

A full report, written for the project sponsor, can be found on the Cornell PRO-DAIRY dairy environmental systems website, https://prodairy.cals.cornell.edu/environmental-systems/.


First and foremost, we wish to thank the Synergy Dairy Farm, Synergy Biogas, and CH4 Biogas for their collaborative efforts that made this project possible. We also like to thank the project sponsor, the Wyoming County (New York) Industrial Development Agency.

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2015. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Seattle, WA. March 31-April 3, 2015. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.