Technologies for Anaerobic Digestion of Flushed Swine Manure

Hog farmers face a unique challenge to implement digestion — namely the low volumetric methane yield of wet swine manure.  The most common digester used on hog farms using flushing systems is the covered lagoon.  This presentation explores the technical feasibility of high rate reactors for low solids swine manure.  Systems compared are Contact Stabilization Reactors, Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket Reactors (UASB), Fixed Filmed Reactors, and Anaerobic Sequencing Batch Reactors (ASBR).  Contact Stabilization and UASB technology have been available since the 1970s, but are mostly found in industrial settings. Their main drawback for swine manure treatment is the required operator skill level.  UASB digesters also have difficulty handling the uneven solids flow from flushed or pull-plug barns.  Fixed film reactors have been successfully used in agriculture, but require solids separation before digestion.  The separator creates two waste streams and removes organic matter that could potentially be available for digestion.  ASBR technology was developed in the 1990s.  An ASBR digester was successfully operated at the Oklahoma Swine Research and Education Center in the 2000s.  Hydraulic retention time for this farm scale ASBR ranged between 5 and 20 days.  Maximum methane yield was 0.55 m3 CH4 kg-1 VS day-1.  Organic matter reduction efficiency was 50 to 75 % measured as Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD).  Current work on solids settling and retention will allow ASBR digesters to reach their full potential in swine production systems. Related: Treatment Technologies for Livestock Manure

Why Consider Anaerobic Digestion on Pig Farms?

Anaerobic digestion can reduce the carbon footprint of swine production, while substantially lowering the fossil fuel energy required to feed and raise hogs. However, economic analyses show that anaerobic digestion on swine farms using complete mix digesters to produce electrical energy have a net negative present value unless carbon credits in the price range of $10 to $12 per metric ton of CO2eq are given for methane emissions reduced (Cowley, 2015). The two factors negatively affecting the economic viability of complete mix digesters are high capital cost and relatively low biogas output of reactors. Capital cost of digesters is directly related to the hydraulic retention time (HRT) of reactors. Farm-scale complete-mix digesters treating swine manure have retention times ranging from 18 to 30 days (Fisher, et al., 1979; Schulte, et al., 1985; Zhang, et al., 1990). Methane yields of these digesters was between 0.22 to 0.25 m3 CH4 kg-1 V S, and reactor volumetric efficiencies ranged between 0.35 to 0.40 m3 CH4 m-3 reactor day-1.

What did we do?

High rate digesters are reactors that separate solids retention time (SRT) from HRT. High rate reactors shorten HRT, which results in smaller, less costly digesters. High rate digesters also have higher methane yields than complete mix reactors. Several high rate systems have successfully treated swine manure at the laboratory and pilot scale. Systems tested include fixed film, suspended particle attached growth (SPAG), and upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactors treating the liquid portion of swine manure after solid-liquid separation; and contact stabilization, anaerobic sequencing batch (ASBR), and anaerobic baffled (ABR) reactors treating whole, diluted swine manure. ASBR systems have used both single reactor and multiple reactors in series. Despite the success of laboratory studies, few farm-scale high rate reactors exist on the farm

What have we learned?

A 400 m3, single vessel ASBR was operated for two years on a 128 sow farrow-to-finish hog farm at the Oklahoma State University Swine Research and Extension Center. (Hamilton and Steele, 2014) . Methane yield was 0.55 m3 CH4 kg-1 VS, and COD removal efficiency was 73% when operated at a 20 day HRT with operating temperature ranging between 22 and 32oC. Methane yield was 0.38 m3 CH4 kg-1 VS and COD removal efficiency was 57% when operated at a 5 day HRT with operating temperature between 22 and 24oC. The digester, as built, was 4 times larger than it needed to be. Using microbial kinetic modeling, the volumetric efficiency of a 100 m3 digester operating at 5 day HRT was estimated to be 0.73 m3 CH4 m3 reactor day-1.

Future Plans

Further work with ASBR digesters is underway. We are working to improve the mixing, settling, and solids trapping efficiency of the ASBR. ASBR reactors are also highly adaptable to receive high energy low solids digestion co-products. Pilot testing has shown volumetric efficiency of swine manure ASBR can be increased 4 to 6 fold with augmentation with waste glycerol from biodiesel production.


Douglas W. Hamilton, Associate Professor at Oklahoma State University

Additional information

Cowley, C. 2015. Economic Feasibility of Anaerobic Digesters with Swine Operations. Unpublished Thesis. Stillwater, OK: Oklahoma State University.

Fisher, J.R., N.F. Meador, D.M. Sievers, C.D. Fulhage, and E.L. Iannotti. 1979. Design and operation of a farm anaerobic digester for swine manure. Trans ASABE 22(5):1129.

Hamilton, D.W. and M.T. Steele. 2014. Operation and performance of a farm-scale anaerobic sequencing batch reactor treating dilute swine manure. Trans ASABE. 57(5):1473.

Schulte, D.D., Kottwitz, T.J. Siebenmorgen. 1985. Design and operation of a flexible cover, precast concrete anaerobic digester for swine manure. Pp 509-515, in Agricultural Waste Utilization and Management, Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium on Agricultural Wastes. St Joseph, MI: ASABE.

Zhang, R.H., J.R. North, and D.L. Day. 1990. Operation of a field-scale anaerobic digester on a swine farm. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 6(6):771.

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