Anaerobic Digestion Research

Anaerobic Digestion research had been conducted at the University since the mid 1970`s. Over these years research has been directed at improving the fundamental understanding of this complex mixed culture microbial process, which delivers two main benefits to society stabilizing waste and producing clean sustainable energy.

Advances

Advanced Reactor Design

We have researched a range of novel reactors designs including, plug flow reactors, filters, UASBs, fluidised beds, EGSBs as well as conventional stirred tank reactors in a number of configurations including pioneering work in two phase anaerobic digestion for the production of biohydrogen and biomethane. Work has also been directed at integrating pretreatments and biolectrochemical systems (including microbial fuel cells) with anaerobic processes.

Process Monitoring and Control

Research in process monitoring and control has seen the development of a number of novel sensors including biosensors to monitor a range of critical parameters in anaerobic digestion e.g. bicarbonate alkalinity, volatile fatty acids, total and volatile solids via FT-NIR. Sensor monitoring suites have then been built into a range of bioreactors to monitor gas phase parameters such as gas volume, gas composition including hydrogen, and liquid phase parameters such as total organic carbon and bicarbonate alkalinity. Continuously collected data from a number of hydrogen and methane bioreactors to develop model modification in the gold standard ADM1 platform. We have also developed dynamic control systems using AI techniques to optimise anaerobic digester performance.

Novel Analytical Techniques

We have developed a range of advanced and robust analytical techniques which use a range of analytical technology including, headspace gas chromatography, FT-NIR, ultra high performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography linked with mass spectrometry. Recent developments have included the development of a number of molecular biology techniques including Q-PCR and pyrosequnceing for monitoring the complex microbial populations in anaerobic processes.

Major research outputs and research impacts

The University’s expertise in the area of anaerobic process research is recognised internationally by the selection for the UK representation on the International Water Association Anaerobic Digestion Committee and the IEA-HIA Annex 21 Task group for Biohydrogen.

World Leading Research Infrastructure

At the University of South Wales, 450 m2 of laboratory space is dedicated to anaerobic process research. The facilities include a range of anaerobic bioreactors ranging from 5-100 L, which are capable of being fully instrumented for liquid and gaseous phase components for on-line monitoring and control, biogas clean up systems and SOFC furnaces. An extensive suite of off line analytical equipment includes headspace GC/FID, ion chromatography, ICP-AES, CHNSO analysis, GC/TCD, GC/FPD, GC/MS/MS, LC/MS/MS, RT-PCR DGGE and electrochemical analysis equipment.

Industrial Engagement

Established in 2008, SERC’s Wales Centre of Excellence for Anaerobic Digestion provides support and technical services to the AD industry, industry stakeholders, policy developers and regulators. Our aims are to facilitate the development of a robust anaerobic digestion infrastructure within Wales, to foster innovative solutions that maximise the environmental and economic benefits of the process and products, and to encourage long term growth of the industry.