University and Anaerobic Digestion Industry Partnerships – Laboratory Testing

The anaerobic digestion (AD) industry often is in need of laboratory testing to assist them with issues related to project development, digester performance and operation, and co-digestion incorporation. This presentation will highlight laboratory procedures that can be carried out through a University partnership, including biochemical methane productivity (BMP), specific methane activity assays (SMA), anaerobic toxicity assays (ATA), solids, nutrient and elemental proximate analysis for inputs, outputs and co-products, as well as a host of other activities. The presentation will illustrate the lessons that can be learned from the results of these tests, using real-life examples of testing already completed for industry partners.

Why Provide Guidance on Laboratory Testing for Anaerobic Digestion?

Laboratory testing allows characterization of anaerobic digestion (AD) inputs, outputs, and process stability. Testing can be carried out within AD industry laboratories, and they can also be carried out through partnerships with active AD research laboratories at academic institutions. The purpose of this project was to provide a document that summarizes common laboratory procedures that are used to evaluate AD influents, effluents, and process stability and to illustrate real-life examples of laboratory test results.

What did we do? 

The overview of common laboratory procedures was written based on the need to introduce third-party AD developers and government agencies to evaluating AD outputs and process stability. The authors are practiced at performing AD laboratory tests and have expertise and valuable information concerning these types of evaluations. Following a description of each test, we included the purpose of the test and an example of how the test results can be interpreted.

What have we learned? 

Laboratory testing of AD samples is performed to determine the concentration of certain constituents such as organic carbon, volatile fatty acids, ammonia-N, organic-N, phosphorus, and methane. Contaminants can be tested for such as fecal coliform indicator pathogens, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals. Understanding the concentration of specific constituents enables informed decisions to be made about appropriate effluent management.

Biochemical methane potential (BMP) and specific methanogenic activity (SMA) tests are used to estimate the biogas and methane that can be produced from an organic waste or wastewater during AD. These tests are often used by industry during the design phase to predict total biogas output, allowing for correct sizing of engines and estimation of potential revenue.

Anaerobic toxicity assays (ATAs) test the effect of different materials on biogas production. Unknown inhibitors may reside within new feedstock materials which can lead to an unanticipated reduction in digester performance, so it is important to use ATAs to test the effect of new feedstock material on the AD system before it is used. A common example is when energy-rich organic materials are added to a digester that practices co-digestion.

Future Plans 

Future plans are to prepare an extension fact sheet about the basics of anaerobic digestion effluents and processes, including the overview of common laboratory testing used to evaluate AD influents, effluents, and process stability.


Shannon Mitchell, Post-doctoral Research Associate at Washington State University

Jingwei Ma, Post-doctoral Research Associate at Washington State University

Liang Yu, Post-doctoral Research Associate at Washington State University

Quanbao Zhao, Post-doctoral Research Associate at Washington State University

Craig Frear, Assistant Professor at Washington State University

Additional information 

Craig Frear, PhD

Assistant Professor

Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources

Department of Biological Systems Engineering

Washington State University

PO Box 646120

Pullman WA 99164-6120

208-413-1180 (cell)

509-335-0194 (office)


This research was supported by funding from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Contract #2012-6800219814; and by Biomass Research Funds from the WSU Agricultural Research Center.

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.