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Lecture No: 27

Process parameters
27.1. Temperature: The temperature controls the microbial activity and, this, rate of the
composting process. The degradation rate usually increases strongly with temperature up
to about 70-80 oC as shown in Fig. 27.1. Above this temperature most microorganisms
will either be killed or form spores, which is a resting stage. This prevents further
increases in degradation rte and temperature of the compost. It is often important to
maintain a high temperature as long as possible to ensure rapid degradation and effective
use of the compost facility. High temperatures are also needed in many cases to achieve
proper hygienization of the compost material. Hygienization is often required if the
compost is to be used as a soil amendment on soils used on agricultural production.
Hygienization reduces the concentration of pathogenic organisms and weed seeds in the
compost. Adjusting the oxygen concentration (by mixing or blowing air through the
compost) and the water content (by irrigation) in the compost controls the microbial
activity and, thus, the temperature. If the oxygen concentration or water content is too
low the rate of degradation decreases and the temperature will fall even if there is plenty
of degradable organic material available. Watering the compost if too dry or increasing
the oxygen concentration if too low by turning or aeration will usually cause the
microbial activity and the temperature to go back up. In cold climate regions it can be
necessary to provide some type of insulation to maintain proper temperature. This may be
done by covering the composting material by a layer of finished compost, or by
processing the material in an enclosed space such as a building or directly in a reactor.
Fig 27.1. Relationship between temperature and oxygen consumption rate in
compost
27.2. Water content: The water content controls both the microbial activity and the
oxygen transportation in the compost material. At low water contents oxygen will be
transported faster and easier because a greater amount of the pores are filled with air. This
makes it easier to ensure a high oxygen concentration in the compost. Low water
contents, however, are inhibitory to microorganisms whose activity will cease at
gravimetric water contents below 8-12 %. The optimal water content also depends on the
structure of material being composted. Materials that are structurally strong can have
higher permissible gravimetric water contents (70-80% for wood chips, straw, hay, etc.)
because the structure of the materials ensure that there will be a sufficient amount of air-
filled pores. For less structured materials such as wastewater treatment sludge higher
water contents will result in low air filled porosity, poor air penetration and difficulty in
handling the materials, as they will become liquefied. Generally the optimal gravimetric
water content for most mixtures of organic wastes containing food residues is between 35
and 60% although practice have shown that water contents of 75% for sludge-straw-
garden waste compost air-filled porosity can be improved by adding a bulking agent such
as straw, wood chips or paper, or by increasing the airflow through the compost to
facilitate the evaporation of water. In wet climate it may be necessary to provide a roof
over the compost facility to prevent high water contents from developing, watering the
compost can cure low water contents. The water content can be adjusted by mixing the
waste with a material of different water content. Assuming that the waste has a water
content of a (g/g), the mixing material has a water content of b (g/g) and we want a
mixture of water content of c (g/g) we can calculate the amount of mixing material
required per kg of waste as:
kg of mixing material a–c
Mmix,water x =
kg of waste c–d
where Mmix,water is the amount of mixing material required per kg of waste to adjust the
water content. Note that c must be between a and b otherwise it is not possible to adjust
the water content.
27.3. pH: It is usually not necessary to control the pH of the compost if the composting
process is well operated such as to maintain adequate levels in temperature and oxygen
concentrations. In certain special types of organic material that is very easily degradable
anaerobic conditions can develop in the early stages of the process resulting in
overproduction of organic acids and a drop in pH. In such cases addition of lime amy be
necessary to maintain proper levels in pH. Such problems may be avoided altogether by
adding a bulking agent such as for example straw or wood chips that is more difficult to
degrade and will provide a higher air-filled porosity in the compost. At high values of pH
(>9), however, nitrogen losses may become significant due to the formation of ammonia
(NH3) that will evaporate. The degradation rate depends strongly upon the pH, low pH
levels are inhibitory to most aerobic microorganisms. Degradation experiments
conducted at 50 – 60 oC indicate that the degradation rate increases linearly with pH in
the interval 6 -9 (see Fig. 27.2.) Jerris and Regan 1973).

Fig 27.2. Relationship between oxygen consumption rate and pH in compost

27.4. C/N ratio: The ratio of carbon (C) to nitrogen (N) of the material to be composted
is important with respect to the nutritional needs of the microbial biomass. If the C/N
ratio is too high, the lack of nitrogen will limit the microbial activity and thereby the
degradation and transformation of the carbon. On the other hand if the ratio is too low,
nitrogen will be in excess and may easily be lost in the form of ammonia (NH 3) to the
atmosphere or washed out as nitrate or ammonium ions (NO 3, NH4). The C/N ratio in
living bacterial biomass is approximately 5 and in fungi approximately 7. The optimal
C/N ratio in the compost is however, much higher because a significant amount of the
carbon will be mineralized to CO2 and another large amount is not biologically accessible
because it is bound in difficult-to-degrade organic compounds. The optimal C/N ration in
compost is on the order of 20 -30 (Diaz et al. 1993, Christensen et al. 1998). The C/N
ratio can easily be adjusted to a proper level by mixing materials with different C/N
ratios. A list of C/N ratios for different organic materials is listed in Table 27.1. The
procedure for calculating the amount of mixing material required for adjustment of the
C/N ratio is as follows. If the waste has a carbon content of a (kg of C/kg of wet waste)
and a nitrogen content of b (kg of N/kg of wet waste) and the mixing material has carbon
content c (kg of C/kg of wet waste) and nitrogen content d (kg of N/kg of wet waste), we
can calculate the amount of mixing material required to reach a C/N ratio of e (kgC/kgN):

kg of mixing material a – eb
Mmix,C/N x =
kg of wet waste ed – c
where Mmix, C/N is the amount of mixing material required to adjust the C/N ratio. Again
the final C/N ratio of the mixture must be between the C/N ratios of the mixing material
and the waste otherwise it is not possible to get proper adjustment. Note that the amount
of mixing material that is chosen to add to the waste must satisfy both the C/N ratio and
the water content requirements. This is normally done by calculating the two values of
Mmix, water corresponding to the endpoints of the water content interval (35% and 60%)and
similarly calculating the values of Mmix, C/N corresponding to the two endpoints of C/N
ratio interval (20 and 30). We now have two intervals for the mass of mixing material to
be added per kg of waste. The chosen value must be within both of these intervals in
order to satisfy both the constraints on water content and the C/N ratio. Normally we
wish to use as little mixing material as possible due to economic reasons and we should
therefore choose the smallest value of Mmix that satisfy both intervals. Using too much
mixing material means that more energy is required for composting, as we will have to
compost larger quantities. The mixing material must normally also be bought for instance
from local farmers.
Table 27.1 C/N ratios for different organic materials used in composting. Sources:
Christensen (1998) and Diaz et al. (1996)
Material C/N ratio (g/g)
Cow manure 18
Digested sewage sludge 4 – 28
Food waste 12 – 20
Garden waste 20 – 60
Grass clippings 12 – 20
Horse manure 25
Leaves 20 – 60
Night soil 6 – 10
Vegetable wastes (non-legume) 11 -12
Paper 170 – 800
Pig urine 5–7
Potato tops 25
Poultry manure 15
Raw sewage sludge 10 - 15
Sawdust 200 – 500
Sheep manure 128 – 150
Straw, wheat 120 – 150
Straw, oat 48 – 50
Urine 0.8
Wood chips 400 - 500
Lecture No: 28
28.1. Oxygen concentration:
One of the most important process parameters is the oxygen concentration.
Oxygen concentration is the limiting factor for biological degradation especially in the
early stages of the composting process. If the oxygen concentration is too low, the
process will proceed at a much slower rate resulting in lower temperatures in the
compost. Also low oxygen concentrations are usually the cause of foul odors originating
from organic acids that are produced as a result of anaerobic conditions. Proper oxygen
concentrations can be maintained by turning the compost more frequently or in case
forced aeration is used, by increasing the flow of air through the compost. Frequent
turning or high aeration rates can, however, lead to increased evaporation of water and
decreased compost temperatures. Usually proper turning or aeration levels have to be
determined by trial and error.
28.2. Structure material:
Structure material is usually needed when composting very wet and easily
degradable material such as food waste or sewage sludge in order to maintain a proper
level of air-filled porosity and to prevent liquefaction of the compost piles. Structure
materials often used in composting are straw clippings, wood chips or paper all of which
have high C/N ratios (Table 27.1) and are relatively difficult to degrade. The structure
materials are mixed with the wet organic material and go through the entire composting
process. After the compost is finished the structure material not degraded can be
recovered by sieving. If the structure material is rigid (such as wood chips) its optimal
particle size is 1 – 8 cm. Larger particles do not interfere with the composting process
other than making the handling more difficult. Normally it is not necessary to reduce the
size of wet easily degradable materials. The amount of structure material necessary
depends on the type of organic waste to be composted, the shape of the compost piles etc.
for source separated organic waste from private households the optimal range is 10 –
40% structure material by weight.
28.3. Inoculum:
Inoculum is material containing the microorganisms necessary for initiating the
composting process. Normally an inoculum is not necessary since most types of organic
waste already contain the organisms required for composting. Exemptions are special
materials that are difficult to degrade such as sawdust and bark etc. that will not easily
begin composting on its own. In such cases horse manure, finished compost, or a rich
loamy soil can serve as inoculum as these materials all contain the necessary
microorganisms. Recycling of finished compost, however, require additional space in the
composting facility and can therefore be problematic in some cases.
Lecture No: 29
29.1. Composting technology
The technology used in composting facilities range from very simple windrow
and mattress-composting facilities to highly advanced composting in closed reactors with
automated control of process parameters. Many facilities use a combination of reactor
composting followed by composting in windrows. In many industrialized countries the
development in composting has been toward an increased level in technology partly due
to demands of low odor emission, which is easier to achieve in closed systems with
advanced process control (Christensen, 1998). It is, however, important to bear in mind
that facilities based on advanced technology are not always the best choice. Often the use
of excessive complex systems leads to gross inefficiency (Diaz et al. 1996). It is also
important to select a technology that is adaptable to the economical, technological, and
manpower conditions of the region in which it is to be used. This is especially important
in developing countries where economy and technology are very different. In such
regions a highly sophisticated system may become unworkable due to the lack of skilled
labor and replacement parts. Chances are that a very simple labor-intensive low-
technology system will better serve the purpose. There are several proven types of
technologies available for composting ranging from very simple manual systems to
highly advanced systems. The following sections describe some of the most used
systems.
Composting facilities typically consist of three stages; primary treatment,
composting, and final treatment. The primary treatment usually involves some sort of
separation and screening to remove unwanted materials and ensure a proper particle size.
Primary treatment can also include mixing with structure materials or adjustment of the
C/N ratio pH, or water content. The composting can take place in one process for instance
in a reactor or in open windrows. The process may also be a combination of primary
composting in a reactor for a short period (1 – 3 days ) followed by composting in
windrows for several months. The purpose of the final treatment is to make the compost
ready for marketing or storage. This typically involves screening to 10-15 mm particle
size, hygeinization and in certain cases mixing of different types of compost to adjust the
nutrient (N, P, K) contents of the finished product. Figure 29.1 shows a schematic of the
major components of typical high tech. composting facility.
Fig 29.1. Major components of a typical high technology level composting
facility
29.2. Low technology composting
Low technology composting systems are usually based upon windrow or mattress
composting. These systems require a minimum of technology and skill to operate and are
widely used in many composting facilities throughout the world. The disadvantage of
these low technology systems is that it is difficult to accurately control the process
parameters, temperature, oxygen concentration or water content. The lack of control can
often lead to lower efficiency of the composting process.
29.2.1. Turned windrow composting
The organic material that is to be composted is formed into piles that are roughly
triangular or trapezoidal in cross section. Trapezoidal windrows have the advantage that
the hot zone inside the pile is larger but their drawback is that they are more susceptible
to infiltration by water during rainy periods. Ideally the piles should be about 1.8 to 2 m
high. If manual turning is used they should be no higher than easily reached by the
average laborer. If mechanical turning is used, the machinery used for turning determines
the height and shape of the piles. Another factor determining the height is the moisture
content and compressibility of the organic material. Very wet or easily compacted
material should be laid out in small piles. The width of the piles at the base usually
depends on the method of construction. If manual construction is used the piles should be
about 2.5m wide, in case of mechanical turning they can be as wide as 3-4m. Each pile
should not contain more than approximately one week worth of fresh organic material to
make sure that the entire pile is finished at the same time. The piles are often 20-50m
long depending on the amount of input to the facility. The piles are normally turned 7-10
times over a period of about 15 weeks to ensure aeration and to expose all material to the
high temperatures in the center of the pile. Turning of the piles can be done either manual
or mechanical and should be done in such a manner that the material previously located
at the surface of the old pile should be at the center of the new pile to ensure proper
exposure to high temperature as illustrated in Fig. 29.2. Exposure to high temperatures is
important to reduce or inactivate unwanted or pathogenic organisms contained in the
incoming organic materials. The active composting period in the windrows is usually 1-4
months depending on the type of organic material that is being composted. After the
active composting period, the compost is stored in piles for 2-3 months without turning to
ensure proper stability, i.e., that the microbial activity in the compost material has
reached a level corresponding to natural soils. The course of the composting process is
typically controlled based on temperature and moisture content. If the temperature
decreases due to low moisture contents, the piles are watered. If temperature decreases
due to lack of oxygen, the piles are turned more frequently to increase oxygen
concentration and microbial turnover. Frequent turning in the beginning of the
composting process can also help decrease initially high water contents and reduce odor
problems caused by the development of anaerobic zones within the compost. Aeration of
the compost is accomplished by two mechanisms. Turning mixes fresh air into the
compost and thereby provides oxygen for a relatively short time after the turning. The
other and main mechanism is convection of air upward through the piles caused by the
heating of the air at the center of the piles as illustrated in Fig. 29.3. Because the air
transport through the piles is proportional to the air permeability of the compost and that
the air permeability usually is governed by the air-filled porosity it is important that the
compost is loose, well mixed, and as light as possible. Loosening and mixing of the
compost is achieved through turning of the piles and by maintaining an adequate and not
too high content of water in the compost. Wet compost will have to be turned more
frequently in the beginning of the composting process to reduce the water content to
optimum level. Under normal circumstances the compost will in general have a bulk
density of approximately 0.6 – 0.8 g/cm3 and a solids density of approximately 0.8-
1.2g/cm3 depending on the type of material being composted. After the active composting
period, the compost is stored in piles for 2-3 months without turning to ensure proper
stability, i.e., that the microbial activity in the compost material has reached a level
corresponding to natural soils.

Fig 29.2. Process of turning windrows to ensure proper exposure to high


temperatures

Fig 29.3. Convective air transport in turned windrows caused by heating of air

The course of the composting process is typically controlled based on temperature


and moisture content. If the temperature decreases due to low moisture contents, the piles
are watered. If temperature decreases due to lack of oxygen, the piles are turned more
frequently to increase oxygen concentration and microbial turnover. Frequent turning in
the beginning of the composting process can also help decrease initially high water
contents and reduce odor problems caused by the development of anaerobic zones within
the compost. Aeration of the compost is accomplished by two mechanisms. Turning
mixes fresh air into the compost and thereby provides oxygen for a relatively short time
after the turning. The other and main mechanism is convection of air upward through the
piles caused by the heating of the air at the center of the piles as illustrated in Fig. 4.8.
Because the air transport through the piles is proportional to the air permeability of the
compost and that the air permeability usually is governed by the air-filled porosity it is
important that the compost is loose, well mixed, and as light as possible. Loosening and
mixing of the compost is achieved through turning of the piles and by maintaining an
adequate and not too high content of water in the compost. Wet compost will have to be
turned more frequently in the beginning of the composting process to reduce the water
content to optimum level. Under normal circumstances the compost will in general have a
bulk density of approximately 0.6 – 0.8 g/cm3 and a solids density of approximately 0.8 –
1.2 g/cm3 depending on the type of material being composted.
29.2.2. Static pile composting
The static pile composting process is closely related to turned windrow
composting in that both technologies uses open piles during composting. In the static pile
process oxygen supply is provided by means of forced aeration rather than natural
convection. Perforated aeration pipes are installed under the piles and air is sucked in
through the piles toward the pipes and is subsequently pumped to a bio filter where odor-
causing compounds produced during the composting process are adsorbed and
subsequently degraded. The filter can be made very simple from finished compost. Air
may alternatively be pushed from the perforated pipe out through the compost pile. This
approach has the advantage that moisture and dust will not accumulate in the piping
system. In this case a layer of finished compost on the surface of the piles is necessary to
prevent odor problems. In general sucking in the air is the best approach with respect to
reducing odor problems. A schematic of the static pile system is illustrated in Fig. 29.4.
The static piles are usually not quite static, however, they are turned less frequently than
the basic turned windrows usually 3-5 times during the first 15 weeks. Turning is
necessary to expose all compost to the high temperatures in the center and also helps in
maintaining even aeration throughout the pile as the piles often have a tendency to build
up zones to low permeability and low oxygen concentration yielding poor degradation.
An advantage of the forced aeration is that it is easier to control the process parameters
temperature oxygen concentration and water content. The composting process is
controlled by changing the airflow, or if the pile is getting dry, by watering. High water
contents can be reduced and the biological activity can be increased simultaneously by
increasing the airflow. High airflows can also reduce the temperature in the piles. The
disadvantage is that the air usually flows through the drier zones in the compost because
the air permeability is higher in these areas. This can lead to increased evaporation, low
water contents and decreased microbial activity in the zones of high airflow even if the
water content of the compost as a whole is apparently adequate. Aeration requirements
for static pile composting varies with the type of material being composted but is
typically on the order of 20-30 m3 air per ton of compost per hour.

Fig. 29.4. Components of a composting system using the static pile or forced
aeration technology
29.2.3. Mattress composting
Mattress composting is a very simple technology that is especially suitable for
yard and park waste, i.e., plant residues and tree branches etc. the mattress composting
process usually takes significantly longer than both turned and static windrow
composting due to the construction and operation of the mattress.
The mattress composting process typically follows three phases that are defined
based on application of technology rather than on the progress of the microbial processes
in the composting material.
1) Pre-treatment of material, construction of mattress and pre-composting
2) Composting of material
3) Screening and marketing of finished compost
During phase I the organic material is placed on the mattress in thin layers about 20 to 40
cm thick. Each layer is treated with a crushing device typically mounted on a tractor (pre-
treatment). This is done in order break the surface of the materials to free cell fluids and
accelerate the microbial degradation processes. The purpose of the pre-treatment is not to
cut the material to small pieces rather material such as tree branches are to retain their
structure and only their surface is to be broken. It is important not to destroy the structure
of the material, as the structure of the mattress is necessary to ensure adequate air
transport within the mattress. The air transport can be improved by constructing the lower
layers of the mattress of coarser materials as illustrated in Fig 29.5.

Fig 29.5. Construction of a mattress with the coarser material in the bottom layers
using a tractor with mounted crushing device
The construction of the mattress progresses by continuously applying layer after layer of
organic material until the mattress is approximately 2 to 6 m high. The height of the
mattress can be varied depending on the space available but a height of 2 to 6 m has been
used widely. The higher the mattress the more difficult control and monitoring of the
composting process becomes. During the construction of the mattress the temperature
will rise proportional to the thickness of the mattress due to initiation of the microbial
degradation in the already finished layers. The temperature in the mattress can be
controlled to ensure that a broad range of microorganisms is active in the mattress. The
optimum temperature during phase I is approximately 50 oC. The temperature is the only
parameter that in practice can be used for control of process. If the temperature is too low
the mattress can be irrigated to increase the microbial activity. The aeration of the
mattress is controlled by advection similar to that of turned windrow composting. Phase
1, i.e., the mattress construction and pre-composting at 50oC can take from 3 months up
to approximately one year.
At the beginning of phase 2 the mattress is usually rebuilt using a tractor or
bulldozer to ensure homogeneity of the materials. The mattress may actually be “turned”
several times during the composting phase. During this phase the temperature can rise to
approximately 70oC. Again the process can be controlled by monitoring the temperature
and applying water if the temperature decreases. If the mattress is moist enough but the
transport of air through the mattress is inadequate the upper layers of the mattress can be
loosened using the tractor, or alternatively the whole mattress cn be reconstructed. The
phase 2 composting takes from 8 to 12 months typically. When the composting phase is
nearing its end, the microbial activity and temperature will start to decrease and the
temperature will reach about 40oC.At this point the composted material is typically
screened (phase 3) and perhaps mixed with other types of compost to adjust nitrogen and
phosphorous content and then stored for later marketing. The screening material (large
branches etc.) is normally used in the construction of new mattress.
Because it is difficult to actively control temperature and microbial degradation
rate in the mattress this type of composting technology is best suited for composting of
materials that are not contaminated with pathogens, i.e., hazardous viruses or bacteria that
usually needs high temperatures to be inactivated or destroyed.
29.3. Site preparation for open systems
Often some sort of site preparation is required before composting can be initiated.
In many cases a hard surface (concrete or asphalt)is established to facilitate easy
movement of machinery and compost piles, if the facility is not operated under a roof
larger quantities to leachate are likely to be generated due to precipitation. This is
especially a problem in regions with high levels of rainfall. In such cases a membrane and
drainage system to collect the leachate and prevent contamination of the groundwater can
be necessary. The collected leachate is usually either recycled for irrigation of the
compost piles or discharged to a wastewater treatment facility. The actual requirements
with respect to site preparation depend on the composting technology used and on the
legal requirements with respect to generation of odor, leachate and other environmental
impacts.
Lecture No: 30
30.1. Composting in closed reactors.
A wide range of composting systems employing closed reactors in which the
composting process takes place has been proposed. In general reactor systems can be
divided into two main categories, (a) systems where the reactor itself is stationary and the
compost is mixed using devices mounted inside the reactor, and (b) moving reactors
where the movement of the reactor provides the mechanical action necessary for mixing
and turning the compost. Reactor systems often employ forced aeration where the air
typically is supplied at the outlet end of the reactor and moves in the opposite direction of
the compost flow inside the reactor.
Classical examples of stationary systems are tunnel reactors and tower reactors.
Examples of these types of reactors are illustrated schematically in Fig. 30.1 and 30.2
respectively. An example of a moving reactor system is the drum reactor. The principle in
this system is illustrated in Fig. 29.1. One of the advantages of reactor composting is that
it is easier to control the process parameters (water content, aeration, and temperature)
thereby ensuring maximum performance of the composting process. Also it is generally
possible to maintain higher temperatures in closed reactors. The composting process will
generally proceed faster in a reactor than in an open windrow system and it is possible to
ensure better hygienization of the compost (inactivation of pathogens). In Denmark
hygienization of compost produced in a reactor is not required to undergo further
hygienization if it is documented that the temperature inside the reactor has been above
70oC for at least one hour, which for most reactor systems is easy to achieve. The
composting time required in reactor systems is typically on the order of weeks where
months usually are required for simple open systems. It is also much easier to control and
minimize environmental problems such as odor or spreading of pathogens in the near
space. On the other hand are reactor systems in general much more expensive to
construct, maintain and operate as compared to the simple mattress or windrow systems.
Reactors are often used in combined systems where the pre-composting (initial phase)
takes place in a reactor (typically a rotating drum) over a period of a few days. The
organic material is then deposited in open windrows where the remainder of the
composting process takes place. The purpose of the reactor in this type of system is to
initiate the composting process and to ensure that the organic materials are properly
mixed before they are put into windrows. Also most of the odor problems are associated
with the initial phase and they are easily taken care of by cleaning the exit air from the
reactor in bio filter.

Fig 30.1. Schematic Illustration of the principle in tunnel composting

Fig 30.2. Principle of tower composting


30.2. Home composting
Home composting also known as back yard composting is widely used by
homeowners and small-scale farmers for composting yard wastes, e.g. grass clippings,
branches, plant residues etc. certain types of food wastes from the home can be
composted with the yard wastes. Vegetable residues are especially suitable whereas
residues of animal origin are less suitable for home composting due to development of
foul odors and in many cases also pathogens (viruses and bacteria). In areas with
residential homes home composting can significantly reduced the quantity of organic
waste that enters the general waste stream. In many parts of the U.S. home composting of
yard wastes is now required in order to reduce the amount of wastes generated
(Tchobanoglous et, al. 1993). In many European countries home composting containers
are made available as a public service to the citizens. In order to prevent pest problems
and to avoid the attraction of rodents, home composting is best done in a container. Also
the quantities of organic wastes generated at individual homes are typically small and the
use of a container or reactor will, especially in colder regions, facilitate the degradation of
the materials. In order to be successful the amount of organic materials should be larger
than one cubic meter. If the amount is smaller it is difficult to maintain proper
temperature and degradation rate in the compost. An alternative is vermicomposting
where the composting process is done by worms (compost worms) who eat the organics
and turn them into humus like material the same way that earthworms do. The worms are
active at low temperatures (5-20oC) but cannot survive high temperatures. In general this
process is the best option for composting the small amounts of organic waste generated at
households.
Containers for home composting can be obtained commercially but it is very easy
to construct your own container from old building materials, oil drums etc. it is important
that the container facilitate turning (aeration) and possible watering of the compost at
regular intervals.
Lecture No 31
31.1. Determination of compost stability
The degree of compost stability is used to determine if the compost is finished and
is suitable for marketing. Several different methods have been proposed for instance C/N
ratio, biological oxygen demand, self-heating capacity, pH, decrease in temperature,
starch content, chemical oxygen and soluble nitrogen. Most of these methods do not
provide a direct indication of compost stability because of the very variable composition
of the organic wastes that are composted. Some of the parameters that have achieved the
largest amount of consensus and are most widely used are the biological oxygen demand,
the self-heating capacity and the C/N ratio of the compost (Christensen 1998, Diaz et al,
1993).
31.2. Biological oxygen demand: The basis for this parameter is that decomposable
material present in the compost will result in a biological oxygen demand. Fresh compost
has a larger content of these materials and will, thus, have a larger oxygen demand than
mature compost. 25-150 g of compost with adequate moisture content is placed in a 0.5 1
flask, which is mounted with a manometer and a reservoir containing NaOH for trapping
the CO2 produced in the flask. The pressure drop resulting from consumption of the
oxygen is registered on the manometer. The pressure drop after 4 days is determined and
is recalculated into biological oxygen demand. It is important that the oxygen in the flask
is not exhausted as this will lead to erroneous results. Smaller amounts of compost should
therefore be used if high oxygen demands are suspected and vice versa. If the pressure
drop is ▲P, the oxygen demand (mg O2/g dry organic matter) can be calculated as:

O2 demand = 1000▲P MO2 PO2 (Vflask - Vcompost)


R T Wcompost

Where ▲P = atmospheres, MO2 = molecular weight of O2, PO2 = oxygen partial pressure
in the atmosphere, Vflask and Vcompost = volumes of flask and compost sample in liters, R=
universal gas constant (litre atm./mole degrees K), T= absolute temperature (K), and
Wcompost = dry mass of the compost organic matter (g).
Lecture No: 32
32.1. Self –heating capacity:
The basis for the self-heating test is that biological activity associated with
decomposition of any decomposable organic material present in the compost will produce
heat and thus increase the compost temperature. A handful of adequately moist compost
is placed in a 1.5 liter. Dewar bottle (thermo flask) and a thermometer is placed in the
compost. The temperature is measured at intervals over a period of 10 days and the
maximum temperature is taken as measure of the stability of the compost.
Soluble organic carbon to soluble organic nitrogen ratio: The basis for this
parameter is that mature compost will contain less water-soluble organic carbon relative
to water-soluble organic nitrogen compared to raw and fresh compost. The compost is
shaken with water at a liquid-solid ratio of 20 (20 g H2O per g dry matter) for 2 hours and
the supernatant is analyzed for water-soluble organic carbon (non-volatile organic
carbon) and water-soluble organic nitrogen (total nitrogen minus ammonia nitrogen and
nitrate nitrogen). If the ratio of organic carbon to organic nitrogen is greater than 7 the
compost is raw.
It is important that the compost used for testing is adequately moist, as compost
that is too dry may appear stable because the biological activity on which the above tests
are based will be minimal at low water contents. Values of the test parameters (oxygen
demand, self heating and organic C to organic N ratio) and the corresponding level of
compost stability for each of the above tests are listed in Table 32.1.

Table 32.1. Methods for evaluating the level of compost stability (Christensen 1998)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Degree of stability Raw Fresh Stable Very stable
O2 demand (mg/Gvs) >40 20 – 40 10 – 19 <10
Self demand >60 40 – 60 30 – 39 20 – 29
Org. C/org. N >7 <7 <7 n/a
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Lecture No: 33
Composting examples
The following sections presents two different types of composting plants. In Vejle
biodegradable municipal wastes and garden wastes are composted separately using static
pile aeration and open turned windrows respectively. In Odense sewage sludge is
composted in open turned windrows with straw as structure material.

33.1. The Vejle system.


The Vejle solid waste-processing center located in the southern part of Jutland,
Denmark receives waste from the Vejle and Jelling counties. The center has several
activities related to the processing and recycling of solid waste materials. One of these
activities involve composting of organic residential waste, yard and garden waste, and
manure from horse stables located in the town of Vejle (Vejle commune 1996, 1998). The
two counties have imposed legislation that requires the citizens (including industries) to
sort their solid waste such that glass, paper, metal, furniture, building materials and
directly reusable items etc. are collected separately at the source or the citizens can
deliver the materials themselves at the processing plant where containers are available for
on-site sorting. Most of these materials are sold to reprocessing industries in both
Denmark and foreign countries. The biodegradable materials are collected together with
combustable materials that are not recyclable.
The citizens are required to sort these materials in colored plastic bags such that
the biodegradable materials are put in green bags and the combustable materials in black
bags. All bags are then put into the collection container located at each home or
apartment building. The contents of the container is collected once every one or two
weeks and transported to the processing plant. Yard wastes and horse manure are
collected separately or delivered by the citizens.
The composting system has two separate composting lines as illustrated in
Fig.33.1. One for the source separated organic waste and one for the yard waste and
horse manure. The system receives approximately 5000 tons of source separated
biodegradable waste and 15000 tons of yard waste and horse manure per year.
Fig 33.1. Schematic of the solid waste processing at the Vejle composting
plant
The total turnover of solid waste materials at the plant is approximately 350000
tons per year. The bags containing the source separated materials including the
combustable wastes are initially passed through an optical separation device where the
green bags are separated from the rest. The system is actually designed to handle bags of
six different colors. The sorting efficiency is about 99% that is one black bag will
accidentally enter the composting line per 100 green bags. After sorting the bags are
shredded to free the organic materials and the mixture is screened to remove the bags and
possible wrongly sorted materials from the organics. The screening materials are
incinerated in the county incineration plant
33.2. Odense North composting plant.
Odense composting plant is located near the city of Odense on the island of Fyn.
The plant receives sewage sludge from three wastewater treatment plants in the region as
well as park and garden waste from Odense community. The plant has been in full-scale
operation since 1999 and treats approximately 40000 tons sewage sludge and 20000 tons
park and garden waste per year (Ramboll 2000). An additional 8000 tons per year of
straw from nearby farms is used as structure material for the compost. The park/garden
waste and straw is initially chopped and mixed with the sludge. The mixture is then laid
up in open piles. During construction of the piles the compost is weighed automatically
by the machine constructing the piles.
The piles are turned regularly during the composting period (8 weeks) after which
it is cooled for two weeks and matured in unturned piles for 12 weeks. The finished
compost is then screened and is now ready for use in agriculture and gardening. The
screening material is recycled as cover for new piles. A schematic of the composting
process is shown in Figure 33.2.

Fig 33.2. Schematic of waste treatment at Odense North Composting plant


During composting approximately 50-60% of the initial compost mass is lost
primarily as water. The composting process is monitored using computers and probes for
measurement of temperature and water content (Ramboll 1999). In addition the reduction
of organic chemicals in the compost is monitored to document the quality of the finished
compost (see Fig. 34.1).
Lecture No: 34
34.1. Environmental impacts of composting
Composting of waste materials can have several different impacts upon the
surrounding environment. These impacts can be divided into three groups: impacts on
occupational health inside the composting facility itself, emissions to the environment
surrounding the facility, and impacts caused by the use of the composted materials at
other locations.
The main problem with respect to occupational health at the facilities stems from
the presence of microorganisms and dust in the air. It is particularly mold and fungi that
are important to control because they have been shown to have adverse effects on the
respiratory system. Problems with microorganisms and dust are of course highest at low
technology open composting systems such as windrow or mattress composting facilities.
At facilities using reactor technology the problems are minimized as the composting
takes place in an isolated system preventing the release of microorganisms to the
surroundings. In certain cases where the facility treats wastes contaminated with volatile
organic chemicals, the evaporation of these compounds from the compost can be
problematic as many of these materials are carcinogens. Increases atmospheric
concentrations of solvents such as trichloroethylene and trichloroethane have been found
at several composting facilities in the U.S. (Tchobanoglous et al. 1993).
Composting facilities, especially ones using open pile composting can produce
several types of emissions to the surroundings. Experience in Europe and the U.S. shows
that odor emissions is the main problem and have caused the most complaints from
nearby residents for most open facilities. Emissions of microorganisms and volatile
organic chemicals have been detected at some facilities but they are in general not a
serious problem in the far majority of the cases. Odor is caused by the development of
anaerobic zones in the compost resulting in the production of organic molecules and
ammonia that typically have foul smells. For facilities using reactor technology and open
systems using forced aeration, odor problems can easily be solved by controlling the
airflow and cleaning the air in a bio filter. Faulty bio filters (low water content) cause
most of the odor problems observed at these types of facilities. Odor problems are more
difficult to solve for systems using turned windrow or mattress technology. In these cases
it is not possible to collect and clean the air unless the composting takes place within and
enclosed building which in most cases is not an economically feasible solution. For
turned windrow composting most odor emissions are encountered when turning the piles
early in the composting process. Experience (Ramboll 1998) has shown that proper
oxygen levels in the compost at all times can reduce odor emissions. This means that the
compost should be turned more often in the beginning of the process in order to prevent
development of anaerobic zones. Experiments with turning technology indicate that
spraying water with very fine droplets into the air when turning the piles can also reduce
the odor problem because the odorous molecules will dissolve into the water droplets and
be carried to the ground. Surrounding the compost facility by earthen walls with trees
planted on them can also reduce odor emissions. Finally the weather can play a
significant role in the transport of the odor to the surroundings. On days with little or no
wind it is probably not a good idea to turn the piles because the odor will hang around for
a long period before it is dispersed (Ramboll 1998)
Finished compost often contains several unwanted microorganisms and chemicals
that can have negative impact upon the environment at the location where the compost is
used for instance earlier pathogens (toxic vira or bacteria), toxic organic chemicals and
heavy metals. Pathogens are important as they can enter animals or human that gets in
contact with a low content of pathogenic organisms. Pathogen control and reduction is
especially easy in reactor systems as discussed in the previous chapter. In open systems
pathogen control can be achieved by exposing all of the compost to the high temperatures
in the center of the piles.
A more serious problem that has gained attention very recently is the presence of
toxic organic chemicals in the incoming material to composting facilities treating sewage
sludge and other types of organic wastes. Some of these chemicals are carcinogens others
have a molecular structure similar to many of the hormones found in humans or animals
and others again have acute toxic effects on both animals and humans. The chemicals
typically originate from industrial processing or they are chemicals used in private
households. In most well operated waste management systems especially in developed
countries the contamination originating directly from the industry is relatively low
especially if the organic materials are source separated. Today most of the compounds
causing problems originate from private households and other activities not directly
linked to industrial processing. There are at present very limited information regarding
the contents of these organic chemicals in organic waste materials and there is therefore
diverging opinions regarding what chemicals that should be regulated by law. In
Denmark four different groups of organic compounds found in organic residuals,
especially in sewage sludge, are regulated. These compounds are (a) linear alkyl benzene
sulfonates (LAS) that is a group of compounds used as detergents (laundry and dish
cleaning agents). (b) the sum of the 6 lightest poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that are
compounds produced by incineration of especially wastes and are spread to the
surroundings. (c) Nonyl phenol ethoxylates (NPE) that are used as emulgators and
disinfectants in especially cosmetic products. (d). Di(2-ethylhexyl) phtalat (DEHP) that is
a softener used especially in PVC products such as soft toys water beds plastic wrappers
and plastic bags. We are therefore in close contact with these chemicals every day.
Experiments have shown that LAS, NPE and DEHP can be degraded aerobically and
there is therefore a potential for redueing the concentrations of these compounds during
the composting process. Most PAH’s can also be degraded aerobically but the
degradation rates are usually quite low compared to the other three compounds. Figure
34.1 shows data for degradation of these compounds at a windrow composting facility
using sewage sludge, straw and yard waste in Odense, Denmark. The figure shows the
degradation of the total masses of the four organic chemicals contained in 800 tons (wet
weight) organic material input to the compost facility. It is seen that all four types of
compounds are degraded. The largest degradation rates are observed for LAS and NPE. It
is noted that the compost mass (d.m.) is reduced by 36% during the composting process
shown in Fig.34.1.
In general there are relatively little information available on how these
compounds are degraded aerobically and more research is needed to investigate the
degradation of these and other toxic organic compounds during the composting process.
The last group of contaminants is the heavy metals. These include copper (Cu) cadmium
(Cd) mercury (Hg) zinc (Zn), chromium (Cr), lead (Pb), nickel (Ni) and others. The
acceptable concentrations of heavy metals in compost are regulated by legislation in most
developed countries. Table 34.1 shows suggested and maximum allowable
concentrations of heavy metals in organic residuals to be used as soil amendments put
forth by the European Union.
Table 34.1. Permissible concentration limits for heavy metals in organic wastes to be
used as soil amendments proposed by the EU and typical concentrations found in
compost.
Compound Suggested limit Maximum limit Typical in compost
mg/kg d.m. mg/kg d.m. mg/kg d.m.
Cd 20 30 0.3
Hg 16 25 0.1
Pb 750 1200 30
Ni 300 400 10
Zn 2500 4000 150
Cu 1000 1750 50

As seen heavy metals are generally not a problem in compost in European


countries. Identifying and removing the sources of heavy metals in the waste stream have
achieved this. If heavy metals are a problem that is also the only way to remove them as
they cannot be degraded biologically. Actually the metal concentrations will increase
during composting because part of the organic dry matter is removed during the
composting process.

Fig 34.1. Degradation of NPE, LAS, PAH and DEHP at a windrow compost
facility in Odense, Denm