Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have determined the importance of mixing in large anaerobic digesters that produce biogas.
Muthana al-Dahhan, Ph.D., Washington University professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering, and his doctoral students Khursheed Karim, Rajnesh Varma, Mehuld Vesvikar and Rebecca Hoffman have determined that mixing is the most crucial step in the success of large, commercial anaerobic digesters that can react 1,500 gallons of manure. In addition to graduate students, numerous undergraduates have contributed to the research.
Al-Dahhan received a $2.2 million grant from the US Department of Energy in 2001 to research anaerobic digestion. There were then, as now, 100 anaerobic digesters in operation in the United States, but a high percentage—76%—regularly failed.
Al-Dahhan and his colleagues at Washington University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Iowa Energy Center based in Ames, Iowa, studied the configuration, design, hydrodynamics and mixing parameters of reactors, first on a laboratory scale, in reactors that held less than four liters of manure. They then went to Oak Ridge Laboratory to a pilot plant and tested a reactor that held 100 liters.
As size increased, we found mixing plays a very important role in successful operations. Intensity of mixing also is important. We found that if intensity of mixing is reduced, failure often is a consequence.—Muthana al-Dahhan
Anaerobic digestion of manure is opaque. To understand the hydrodynamics of anaerobic digestion al-Dahhan and colleague used a multiple-particle, computer-automated radioactive particle tracking system, computational fluid dynamics and gamma ray computed tomography to see where and under what conditions biochemical stagnant or dead zones occurred. They also analyzed mixing systems, hydrodynamics, shear effect and reactor configuration.