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United States Environmental Protection Agency

Air and Radiation (6202J)

EPA 430-F-97-004 February 1997

AgSTAR Technical Series:


Complete Mix Digesters
Complete Mix Digesters - A Methane Recovery Option For All Climates
Most confined or partially confined livestock production facilities handle manure as liquids and slurries that are stored in lagoons, concrete basins, tanks, ponds, and other types of containment structures. These structures are typically designed to comply with local and state environmental regulations and generally add costs to production. By adding a complete mix digester methane recovery system, dairies and swine farms can earn financial and environmental benefits that may prove essential to remain competitive in todays industry. Greater use of complete mix digesters as a waste management option contributes to environmentally sound agri-business growth and sustainable rural economic development. Complete mix digesters anaerobically decompose manure to produce methane gas and biologically stabilized effluent. Complete mix digesters are versatile, able to handle manure of 3 to 8% solids. Complete mix digesters are also heated to optimize methane production. This allows complete mix digesters to be economically sized and used in any climate. Methane produced by the complete mix digester can offset on-farm energy purchases. An engine-generator fueled by the methane can produce most, if not all, of the electricity needed to run a livestock farm. Thus, a complete mix digester can be a practical way to handle manure and increase productivity and profitability.

How do Complete Mix Digesters Work?


Complete mix digesters are heated, constant volume, mechanically-mixed, tanks that decompose medium solids swine or dairy manure (3-8% total solids) to produce biogas and a biologically stabilized effluent. The basic complete mix digester design is a vertical, poured concrete or steel circular container, with a gas-tight collection cover. The circular shape is the strongest and most economical design for the digester vessel. In the complete mix digester system, manure is collected daily in a mixing pit where the percent total solids can be adjusted and the manure can be preheated. The manure then enters the digester vessel through either a gravity-flow or pump system. Manure is intermittently mixed within the digester vessel to prevent the formation of a surface crust and to keep solids in suspension. The digester vessel is heated with waste heat from the engine cooling system. The volume of the digester equals the volume of the influent (manure and waste water) times the average manure retention time, typically between 15 and 20 days. (Shorter retention times are important for keeping the volume of the tank as small as possible.) A gas-tight cover placed over the digester vessel maintains anaerobic conditions and traps the methane that is produced. The gas is collected through a pipe supported above the manure. The amount of methane produced is about 5-8 ft3/lb volatile solids (volatile solids are the organic portion of the manure and represent about 8 to 11% of the total manure.) The produced methane is removed from the digester, processed, and transported to the end use site. The remaining effluent manure flows from the digester and is stored in a storage tank or lagoon until it can be land applied. For dairy manure, solids may be separated out of the digested effluent and sold as soil amendments.

Environmental Benefits

Manure management using enclosed digesters reduces odors. Digestion converts organic nitrogen into ammonium compounds, significantly reducing the potential for ground and surface water contamination. Digestion reduces BOD levels, reducing the potential for surface water contamination Heated digestion significantly reduces harmful pathogens.

Schematic of a Complete Mix Digester

Successful Systems
Mutzu Farm, Japan: This 2,400 sow farrow to finish swine farm installed a complete mix digester for odor control and BOD reduction. The biogas powered enginegenerator runs an aerobic treatment system for the digester effluent, completing the treatment cycle. This system has proven to be cost effective and efficient.

Complete Mix Digester at Mutzu, Japan


this system, $250,000, was paid for in 4 to 5 years. Home, and retrofitting of the retirement homes boilers to operate on biogas. The capital cost of the complete upgrade was $500,000, and the annual operating cost is $4,125. The farm sells 17,000 to 18,000 gallons of fuel oil equivalent to the Retirement Home each year. In addition, The energy savings are estimated as $10,600 per year. The digester effluent is stored in a slurry tank for land-application on corn. The effluent fertilizer value is estimated to be $25,000 per year.
Valley Pork Complete Mix Digester Economics
Total Capital Costs Annual Benefits Annual Operating Cost NPV Simple Payback $250,000 $65,000 appx. $5,000 $89,000 4-5 years

Mix Tank at Cooperstown Farm

Cooperstown Holstein Corporation Farm, Cooperstown, NY. In 1985, this 270 milk cow dairy installed a mixed tank digester as a part of a manure management system upgrade to allow growth in herd size. A third of the recovered biogas is used to heat the digester while the remainder is piped to a nearby retirement home to fuel their boilers. The upgrade also included three manure pits, a pump and

Complete Mix Digester at Valley Pork


underground manure lines from the barns to the digester, an underground gas pipeline to the Meadows Retirement

For more information about complete mix digesters and the AgSTAR Program, write: AgSTAR Program U.S. EPA, 6202-J 401 M Street, SW Washington, DC 20460 or call: 1-800-95AgSTAR

Valley Pork, Seven Valleys, PA: Valley Pork, a 1,500 sow farrow to finish facility, installed a mix digester in 1986 for odor control and on-farm energy production. The recovered biogas is used for electricity and to heat the farrowing rooms and nurseries. The estimated annual electricity

benefits are $50,000 while the thermal benefits are $15,000. The effluent is land applied onto croplands producing corn, wheat, and soybeans. The capital cost of