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Lee G.A. Potts

Biwater Treatment, Lancashire, UK
Duncan J. Martin
University of Nottingham, UK
Keywords: anaerobic, biogas, char, combustible, digestate, digestion, gasification, methane,
municipal solid waste, pyrolysis
1. Conversion of Municipal Solid Waste to Gaseous Fuels
2. Anaerobic Digestion
3. Pyrolysis and Gasification
Related Chapters
Biographical Sketches
Incinerators for municipal solid waste can be used for electricity generation or space heating.
However, they need complex burners to handle unsorted municipal solid waste (MSW) as a
very low-grade fuel and also costly cleaners for the flue gas, so they are only economic at
large scales. This heightens local objections to their construction and extends haulage
distances. However, there are alternative methods of utilizing MSW as an energy source, by
converting the organic fractions to gaseous or liquid fuels. These may be cleaner and suitable
for a wider variety of uses. They require a sorted feedstock, which is best provided by
separation at source but they can be applied to an organic fraction separated from mixed
wastes. Plants may also be smaller and less intrusive, especially with source separation, so
better suited to smaller towns. The methods of conversion fall into two broad categories,
microbial and physical/chemical. The former use anaerobic digestion, a slow process best
suited to kitchen and garden wastes, which consumes little or no energy and conserves much
of the complex organic matter, of potential value as a soil conditioner. The latter rely on fast
thermal treatments, such as pyrolysis and gasification, which can convert all organic matter,
including paper, wood, and synthetic polymers, to simple products. These processes may yield
more energy but the net yield is reduced by the energy consumed in the process. Although all
three processes are well established for other feedstocks, their application to MSW remains
under development and few full-scale plants have accumulated a long period of operating
1. Conversion of Municipal Solid Waste to Gaseous Fuels
The stabilization of MSW can be combined with the generation of energy through its partial
conversion to a gaseous fuel, by such processes as anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis, or
gasification. In the first of these, the organic fraction of MSW is slowly digested by
microorganisms under anaerobic conditions. The products are a methane-rich biogas and a
solid digestate, which can be used as a compost or soil conditioner after maturation. The
alternative thermal treatments, pyrolysis and gasification, also yield fuel gases and are much
faster. The liquid products can be used as chemical feedstock or as fuels, while the solid char

remaining can also be used a low-grade fuel. The distinction between them is that pyrolysis
takes place in the absence of air, and so requires an energy input to reach the high
temperatures required, while gasification achieves a similar effect by partial combustion of
MSW with a restricted supply of oxygen.
All these processes use wastes as a source of renewable energy. It may therefore be
misleading to ameliorate the public image of incinerators by referring to them as "Waste to
Energy" (WtE) or "Energy from Waste" (EfW) plants. "Energy Recovery Incinerator" would
be a more accurate title.
2. Anaerobic Digestion
2.1. Background
The main biological treatment methods for MSW are aerobic composting and anaerobic
digestion (AD). Each relies upon the action of a diverse group of microorganisms to stabilize
the waste but a fundamental difference between the two processes is the presence or absence
of oxygen. Aerobic composting, which is not further discussed here, produces no fuel and, as
it requires active aeration to reach maximal reaction rates, it is a net energy consumer.
However, it is faster than AD and breaks down more of the organic matter.
Anaerobic digestion is a natural biological decomposition process that occurs in oxygen-free
conditions. It involves the conversion of organic matter by microorganisms to generate a
gaseous product, known as "biogas," leaving a stabilized solid product, known as "digestate."
It occurs in some natural environments, such as sediments and marshlands and also in the
digestive tracts of ruminants and termites. Methane is generated from all these sources.
However, suitable conditions can also be created artificially, in landfills and digestion plants.
AD has been used for over 100 years in sewage treatment to stabilize waste sludges and more
recently to treat selected farm and industrial wastes.
Modern landfills also develop anaerobic conditions, due to the depth and compaction of the
waste, so they generate a biogas known as "landfill gas." The feedstock is usually unsorted
MSW, often mixed with industrial, construction, and other wastes. Stabilization is very slow
and little process control is possible. Recent experiments with leachate recycle, in the
"flushing bioreactor" landfill, suggest that considerable acceleration might be feasible. Proof
of this concept in long-term large-scale trials is eagerly awaited. However, the conditions in
landfills differ widely from those in digesters, so this discussion will be restricted to the latter.
Anaerobic digestion first became of interest in the 1970s, as a means of stabilizing MSW and
also as a renewable energy source, following the "energy crises" of this period. More recent
drivers include the increasing levels of MSW generation and the problems associated with
landfilling, such as biogas migration and groundwater pollution. The many years of
experience developed from sewage sludge and farm waste digestion led naturally to
development work on AD and it is now an established, reliable treatment for MSW. In 1999,
there were more than 50 full-scale operational plants, mostly in Europe, with a combined
annual treatment capacity of over one million tonnes.
The first large-scale plant for AD of MSW was, however, built in Florida (USA). It was
known as the "RefCoM project" (Refuse Converted to Methane) and ran intermittently from
1978 to 1985. Much operating information was determined in this pioneering work, which
formed a basis for future developments. Among the major problems encountered were waste
preparation and the use of mechanical stirrers. The plant was fed between 6 and 18 tonnes per
day of sorted and shredded MSW mixed with sewage sludge, giving a dry solids content of

2.76.3%. (Feed concentrations were limited by the use of mechanical stirring.) Biogas
production was 13003500 m3/d, with average methane content of 53%. A residence time of
626 days gave a volatile solid reduction of about 75%.
This was followed by many pilot scale plant investigations in Europe. For example, research
trials were conducted using the Valorga process on a 5 m3 pilot plant in Montpellier, France.
This plant utilized food waste from MSW. A larger pilot plant in La Buisse (France), treated
around 8000 tonnes per year. The waste entering this facility was initially crushed and
screened to remove some of the nonbiodegradable materials, which also created a particle size
more suitable for degradation. Instead of slurried feed, this process was fed with moist solids,
giving a solids content of around 30%. It operated in the mesophilic temperature range. The
biogas production was 4.45.0 m3/day per cubic meter of reactor volume. Another early
European pilot plant using the DrAnCo process (Dry Anaerobic Composting) operated in
Ghent (Belgium), from 1984. This process also used high-solids digestion but in the
thermophilic temperature regime.
These trials exemplify the two major strands in AD process development. "Wet" (or low
solids) processes are similar to the AD systems utilized in wastewater treatment and need a
slurried feed, with a total solids content of up to 10%. "Dry" (or high solids) processes such as
DrAnCo and Valorga, use a feed of moist solids at 3040% TS. All can achieve waste
stabilization within 20 days.
The advantages of AD over incineration include:
(a) lower emissions of carbon dioxide (because some complex compounds are not digested)
(b) conservation of these complex organics as a potential soil conditioner
(c) easy treatment of the "wet" fraction of MSW (which is problematical in incineration)
(d) elimination of odors (AD plants are fully enclosed)
(e) no production of such toxic products as dioxins
It is also important to recognize that, when biogas is utilized as a renewable fuel, the
combustion of its methane content makes no net addition to carbon dioxide emissions. This is
because the combustion of the fossil fuel it replaces would generate at least as much carbon
Compared with landfill, its advantages include process acceleration and the elimination of
biogas emissions and leachate escapes. Compared with composting, it uses much less land
and energy and does not generate smells and fungal spores.
However, AD has some disadvantages:
(a). it is slow, so it needs large, costly digesters (capital costs for composting are much lower)
(b). material handling and preparation problems can arise
(c). wastewater treatment can be costly
(d). the need for separate treatment of the nonbiodegradable materials imposes additional
(e). the digestate is often of poor quality, unsuitable for sale as a compost
2.2. Principles
In an oxygen-free environment, a consortium of microorganisms convert most organic
materials to biogas, a carbon dioxide and methane mixture, containing 5570% methane.
Bacteria conduct the majority of the biochemical processes in AD. Four successive phases can
be identified: hydrolysis, acidogenesis, acetogenesis, and methanogenesis, each being

generally conducted by a different group of bacteria. Some of the microorganisms have a

symbiotic dependence on others for metabolic intermediates, so the relationships between
these groups are very complex. Acidogenesis is a relatively fast reaction but all the other three
steps can be very slow. The conditions and the composition of the waste may determine which
of them is rate controlling: different authorities have proposed all three.
In hydrolysis, extracellular microbial enzymes convert the insoluble polymeric materials in
the waste (polysaccharides, proteins, and lipids) into simple sugars, amino acids, and fatty
acids. These soluble products can be transported into the microbial cells as substrates, so the
remaining steps are intracellular. Hydrolysis may be the rate-limiting step in the overall
process for some wastes and its rate depends upon such factors as temperature, pH, inhibition,
substrate availability, and bacterial population.
Acidogenesis converts these simple molecules to a mixture of volatile fatty acids plus carbon
dioxide and hydrogen. The proportion of the different substrates generated by acidogenesis
depends upon conditions, which also affects which bacterial species are dominant. Most of the
acids formed cannot be utilized as substrates by the methanogenic bacteria, the only
exceptions being formic and acetic acids. This highly exothermic step yields the energy
utilized in the endothermic steps of hydrolysis and acetogenesis.
Acetogenesis then converts the larger volatile fatty acids (for example, propionic, butyric, and
valeric acids) to acetic acid, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen, all of which can be utilized in
methanogenesis. The acetogenic phase is energetically coupled to the following methanogenic
The methanogenic bacteria are obligate anaerobes, severely inhibited by traces of oxygen.
They are not closely related to the more familiar kinds of microorganisms and are believed to
be survivors of the earliest living organisms. They evolved before photosynthesis created the
atmosphere we have today, which is toxic to them, so they can thrive only in anaerobic
environments, such as the depths of boggy soils and marshes, in the sediments at the bottoms
of lakes, and in the guts of animals. However, within these ecological niches, they are
They can utilize only a few substrates, which include formic and acetic acids, carbon
monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methylamine. About 70% of the methane produced
is formed by "acetoclastic" bacteria, which simply split the acetic acid molecule. Most of the
rest is produced by "hydrogentrophic" methanogens, which combine hydrogen with carbon
dioxide. Neither reaction is highly exothermic, so the energy yield is low and growth is very
slow. These major reactions can be written as:
CO2 +4H2 = CH4 + 2H2O


The AD environment is extremely complex and competitive. Other bacterial groups are also
involved and a balance between them is essential. The sulfate-reducing bacteria may for
example compete with the methanogenic bacteria for substrates. Under most conditions,
natural processes commonly establish a viable balance but AD is consequently sensitive to
any rapid changes which might upset this equilibrium.
2.3. Conditions
Successful AD requires the careful control of conditions in the digester.

2.3.1. Moisture Content

Moisture content is considered to be one of the most important factors affecting waste
stabilization. Moisture may aid digestion by:
controlling cell turgidity;
reacting, in polymer hydrolysis;
solubilizing and transporting nutrients, intermediates, products, inhibitors, enzymes and
by modifying the shapes of enzymes and other macromolecules; and
by exposing more of the waste surface to microbial attack.
The moisture content of raw MSW varies with waste composition, climatic conditions, and
collection methods but is usually 2030%, too low for efficient AD. Raising the moisture
content of an anaerobic digester increases generation of methane. Studies have shown that the
minimum moisture content is 36% for a mechanically mixed, mesophilic digester fed with the
putrescible fraction of MSW. Water must therefore be added, usually in the form of recycled
leachate or an aqueous waste, such as sewage sludge. However, the addition of excess water
can lead to greater capital and operating costs due to the larger digester volume required and
may complicate handling of the waste and digestate.
2.3.2. Temperature
AD can proceed in three temperature ranges:
cryophilic, less than 20 C (very slow, so rarely used for digestion of MSW);
mesophilic, 2045 C (35 C is generally used for mesophilic operation); and
thermophilic, above 45 C (55 C is generally used for thermophilic operation)
Although digestion is faster in the thermophilic range, much of the biogas is used to heat the
digester. The process is also less stable, as the microbial population is less diverse. Mesophilic
operation is therefore most common. The exact optimum temperature might vary with waste
composition and digester design but the temperatures must be kept constant to maintain
constant biogas production. External heating is usual in wet digestion. A proportion of the
digester contents may be recycled and mixed with the feedstock, then passed through an
external heat exchanger for heating to digester temperature.
Some recent AD processes include a pasteurization step, in response to tighter standards for
pathogen levels in composts. National standards vary but may specify permissible thermal
regimes, as well as maximum counts of key species in the finished compost. Generally, there
are three design approaches. The first involves pasteurizing the waste prior to digestion, so it
might enter the digester at 70 C or above, eliminating the need for heating. The second relies
on thermophilic digestion, which can achieve pasteurization at 55 C if the retention time is
long enough. In each of these methods, additional fuel may be needed to supplement the
biogas generated by the process. The third method uses aerobic composting of the digestate.
Aerobic biological processes are highly exothermic, so can achieve temperatures high enough
to kill pathogens, while also stabilizing and sweetening the digestate.
2.3.3. pH
The three parameters alkalinity, acidity, and pH are closely related so will be considered
together. They combine to indicate the state of the in AD process, so it is important to check
them regularly. If methanogenesis fails to utilize the volatile fatty acids (VFAs) as they are

formed, a biochemical imbalance develops. VFAs then accumulate and progressively inhibit
methanogenesis, until it stops completely.
The VFA concentration is thus an important indication of stability, as high levels can indicate
such an imbalance. A low pH usually occurs with high VFA levels but if there is enough
alkalinity available the acids may be buffered. Buffering agents, such as calcium carbonate,
may be added. However, buffering can be provided by the reaction of ammonium ions with
bicarbonate ions to form ammonium bicarbonate, so much of the buffering capacity is due to
the high solubility of the ammonia and carbon dioxide generated by the process. An alkalinity
of greater than 500 mg/l is an indication of good buffering capacity.
High VFA levels can occur for many reasons, such as: overloading, inhibition, poor mixing,
nutrient shortage, variations of temperature, or other conditions, or an excessive loss of
bacteria in the discharge. A VFA level above 500 mg/l is detrimental. The optimum pH level
is different for each bacterial group in AD, but the methanogenic bacteria are the most
susceptible to the acidic conditions that tend to arise. A narrow range of 6.87.5 is optimal for
methanogenesis and there is little reaction below 6.4.
2.3.4. Waste Composition
Only the biodegradable fraction of MSW can be stabilized in AD. MSW typically contains
4050% cellulose, 1015% lignin, 512% hemicellulose, 45% lipids, and 2% protein.
Kitchen waste is readily biodegradable and is ideal as AD feedstock. Some paper wastes are
also suitable for AD but there is a public preference for recycling such materials. Garden
wastes can be digested but are more suitable for aerobic composting, as woody materials
contain lignin, which is stable in an anaerobic environment. However, such wastes are
commonly found in the feedstock for digesters.
The waste source and the degree of preseparation control the amount of nonbiodegradable
matter in the feedstock. At best, this is unaffected by the process and takes up space in the
digester. Often, however, it is inhibitory or reduces the quality of the digestate, so it is
advantageous to remove it before digestion. After this sorting, the biodegradable fraction is
usually reduced in size prior to digestion, commonly by use of a pulverizer, in which the
waste is physically broken down and water is added. An alternative method uses a
hydropulper, in which water breaks up the waste.
2.3.5. Gas Phase Composition
The methanogenic bacteria are very sensitive to molecular oxygen, requiring a redox potential
below -330mV. The start up of anaerobic digesters can be a slow process due to the initial
presence of air.
Studies of the digestion of sewage sludge have shown that high partial pressures of carbon
dioxide also affect methane production. The mechanism of carbon dioxide inhibition is not
clearly understood but it may be due to the reduced pH, to damage to the cell membrane or to
the inhibition of key enzymes. The partial pressure of carbon dioxide rises quickly at start up
in MSW digestion, to approach 100%, before falling again when methanogenesis begins, so
may also have an inhibitory effect. Methane, however, does not affect methanogenesis greatly,
even at high partial pressures. The VFA concentration rises but does not exceed safe limits.
The hydrogen produced by acidogenesis and acetogenesis can adversely affect microbial
metabolism but both the hydrogentrophic methanogens and the sulfate-reducing bacteria can
utilize it. At the low hydrogen concentrations typical of a well-balanced process, the products
of acidogenesis are hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and acetic acid. However, at high

concentrations the acetic acid is replaced by related compounds, such as butyric and propionic
acids, which cannot be utilized in methanogenesis. However, provided the partial pressure of
hydrogen is below 9x10-5 atmospheres, the acetogenic bacteria convert these higher acids to
acetic acid. Failing this, they accumulate, inhibiting methanogenesis, so that the VFA
concentration also rises. A balance between the generation and consumption of hydrogen is
therefore essential and hydrogen concentrations can be a further indicator of the state of the
process. Hydrogen is harder to measure than pH or VFA but can give earlier warning of
2.3.6. Retention Time
The waste must be held in the digester until biological stabilization is complete. The retention
time for single-stage mesophilic digestion is 1225 days but 6 days can suffice under
thermophilic conditions. Even this requires a large digester, a major contributor to the high
capital costs of AD.
2.3.7. Seeding
As the methanogens are so slow growing, a "seed" material (or inoculum) may be added, to
accelerate the development of a balanced microbial population. Wet digesters are commonly
started by filling with a seed of digested sewage sludge and gradually feeding slurried MSW.
In dry digestion, however, the initial seeding (or inoculation) practices vary widely.
Bacteriological studies of MSW show that all the necessary microorganisms are present in
fresh waste but methanogen counts may be very low in the absence of soil or construction
wastes. The best seed appears to be digestate. However, the 1:1 seed:waste ratio commonly
needed occupies half the digester volume. Digested sewage sludge would be expected to be at
least as good, as it is rich in methanogens. However, although high ratios of up to 20%
sewage sludge have been successful, lower ratios often show no improvement over the natural
inocula present in garden and construction wastes. Consequently, seeding is often omitted in
landfills receiving mixed wastes.
Current research suggests that there is a minimum viable size for seed particles, not yet
quantified. This could explain why sludges seem much less effective than solid digestate.
However, most digestate particles are probably far larger than needed, so much less seed
might suffice if the size were optimized. Moreover, particles of viable size might not be
highly mobile, so subsequent irrigation, as in the "flushing bioreactor" landfill might fail to
redistribute the seed. If so, its initial dispersal might be crucial. These concepts, if proved
correct, have the potential to effect very significant improvements in the efficiency of both
digesters and landfills.
After seeding, the development and maintenance of a high microbial population are essential,
so growth rates are important. However, both rates and yields are low in anaerobic
metabolism. The minimum doubling time for the methanogens is 14 days, whilst for the
acidogens it is 0.20.5 days. For this reason, some researchers consider the methanogenic step
to be rate limiting. Methanogens may thus be lost in the digestate faster than they are replaced
by growth, so it is common practice to compensate for this loss by recycling a portion of the
2.3.8. Nutrients
The nutritional requirements of the methanogenic bacteria are the most critical for process
optimization; the populations of the faster-growing species are less likely to be rate limiting.

Carbon sources are present in excess in MSW and their metabolism has been covered in
Section 2.2 Due to the low energy yield of anaerobic metabolism, most of the carbon source is
used as an energy source or excreted as energy-rich methane. Only a little is available as the
raw material for microbial growth. AD thus needs much less nitrogen and phosphorus than a
similar aerobic system.
Nitrogen too is usually plentiful in MSW and digestion can proceeds at a C:N ratio as high as
45:1. However, a balance between carbon and nitrogen will give a more efficient process and
the optimum ratio is 2030:1. Rates of biodegradation differ, however, and the C:N ratio
decreases as carbon is converted to biogas. The preferred nitrogen source for the methanogens
is ammonia, which is released in the hydrolysis of proteins, but nitrates can also be used.
Phosphorus is mainly utilized in the form of phosphate ions. The ideal C:P ratio is 100150:1
and methane production falls sharply in phosphate-limited conditions. In mixed wastes, soil
and building materials are important sources of phosphates but their low solubility may allow
local shortages. A sorted organic waste fraction might require supplementation with extra
Some methanogens can utilize organic sources of sulfur but most use sulfide ions, so a low
sulfide concentration can reduce methanogen growth. The relationship between the sulfate
reducing, which produce sulfide, and the methanogenic bacteria may control the level of
Other essential nutrients for the methanogens include traces of calcium, magnesium,
potassium, iron, zinc, copper, cobalt, molybdenum, selenium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. A
deficiency of any of these can cause a decrease in digester performance. However, the waste
usually supplies plenty of the metals, while the complex organic compounds may be secreted
by other microbial species.
MSW is a rich feedstock and not generally nutrient deficient but its extreme heterogeneity can
lead to local deficiencies. Codigestion with sewage sludge can eliminate such spatial effects
and improve nutrient levels. Sewage sludge also adds to the moisture content of the feedstock
and may acts as a seed (see Section 2.3.7). However, it can contain high levels of heavy
metals, which would reduce the quality of the digestate.
2.3.9. Inhibitors
AD systems are particularly sensitive to inhibitory effects due to excessive amounts of many
ions (such as sulfides and heavy metals) and certain organic compounds. Many essential
nutrients can also be toxic at high concentrations.
Although the ammonium ion is the main nitrogen source for the methanogens, there is
potential for ammonia inhibition. Its effect is pH-related because above a pH of 7.5, molecular
ammonia predominates over the ammonium ion, which is less inhibitory. A total ammonia
concentration of 3000 mg/l is inhibitory and the process stops at 4000 mg/l. Ammonia toxicity
is more problematical in dry digestion (see Section 2.5), as there is less moisture available for
MSW also contains a wide range of metal ions. Some ions are stimulatory at low
concentrations but inhibitory at higher concentrations. For example, sodium is stimulatory at
100200 mg/l but at 35005500 mg/l it is moderately inhibitory and at 8000 mg/l it is highly

Inhibitory organic compounds may also be present in MSW. For example, phenol at a
concentration of 2400 mg/l gives a 50% reduction in methane generation, while nitrobenzene
at just 12 mg/l has a similar effect.
Apparently inhibitory effects can, however, be due to other mechanisms arising from the
competitive AD environment. For example, the sulfate-reducing bacteria can use a much
wider range of substrates than the methanogens. On a sulfate-rich waste, the sulfate-reducing
bacteria compete successfully with the methanogens for carbon sources. As the reduction of
sulfate to sulfide yields more energy than methanogenesis, the sulfate-reducing bacteria grow
faster. Consequently, an increase in sulfate concentration causes a drop in methane
production. However, this suppression of methanogenesis by sulfate is because of competition
for nutrients and not because of inhibition. Fortunately, the methanogens can coexist with the
sulfate-reducing bacteria under low sulfate conditions.
Many heavy metals are toxic to living organisms but their inhibitory effects in AD may differ
from their effects under less highly reducing conditions or in higher organisms. A guide to the
toxicity of some common metals in AD is as follows:
The toxicity is dependent upon the form the metals take, which in turn depends upon
temperature and pH. Metals affect the acetogens and methanogens more than the acidogens,
so methane formation is inhibited. The resulting acid buildup releases more heavy metals, so
increases the inhibition of methanogenesis.
2.3.10. Mixing
Mixing allows rapid dispersion of the feed and its maximum exposure to the microorganisms
present. It also removes waste products from the microorganisms to the bulk contents of the
digester. In addition, it aids heat transfer and helps maintain a uniform temperature and solids
concentration. It also prevents dead (unmixed) zones in the digester and distributes the
microbial population.
Mixing in AD is achieved either by mechanical means or by recirculation of biogas. In
continuously fed digesters, mixing of the feedstock with recycled liquors is usually used. This
recycling of liquors from the dewatering of digestate also benefits the process by inoculating
the feedstock. Mixing can be achieved by an external mixing system, which allows a
proportion of the digestate to mix with the incoming feed, maximizing the exposure of the
raw waste to an acclimatized microbial population.
2.4. Feedstock Preparation
Successful digestion of MSW depends largely on feedstock quality and thus on the initial
separation of the waste. MSW can be broadly classified into:
(a) A digestible organic fraction, traditionally referred to as "putrescibles" and consisting
mainly of kitchen and garden waste.
(b) A combustible fraction (that is, self-combustible, without an external energy source, in
contrast to the putrescible fraction), consisting of such materials as wood, paper, cardboard,
plastic, and textiles, mainly organics which do not biodegrade quickly under anaerobic
(c) An inert fraction, which consists of metals, ceramics, glass, soil, and so on.

The proportions vary with the season and the geographical location. Significant variables
include climate, population density, diet, wealth, industrialization, religious practices, and the
general standards of social welfare and public health protection. In poorer countries, the
putrescible fraction can approach 50% but it is much lower in richer areas, mainly due to
dilution with disposable goods and packaging.
2.4.1. Waste Collection and Separation
Some waste collection methods lead to greater contamination of the digestible fraction with
combustibles and inerts. The method of collection therefore determines the separation and
pretreatment processes required for the feedstock. Five collection methods can be
(a) Householders take mixed waste to a waste management facility or "bring center."
(b) Householders separate waste at source into various fractions and take it to a "bring center."
(c) Householders separate waste at source and take the recyclables to a "bring center.", leaving
the residue for a waste collection vehicle.
(d) Mixed waste is collected from the household.
(e) The waste is source-separated and separately collected from the household.
Where householders take all their waste to a centralized facility, the absence of any collection
service reduces the cost to the householder and the workload on the local authority. However,
a participation rate of 100% is difficult to achieve in most societies but essential from a public
health point of view. Moreover, if the waste is mixed, it requires as much sorting before
further treatment as it does with a collection service.
Where householders take waste to a "bring center," the motivation is usually to maximize the
recovery of recyclable materials. However, a side effect is removal of these fractions from the
AD feedstock. The fractions separated can include glass, paper, cardboard, wood, garden and
kitchen wastes, dense plastics, and ferrous and nonferrous metals. The preferred fractions
depend upon the local recycling market, so may even very regionally within one country.
Such schemes have a low capital cost but participation can be low due to the extra effort
required. The need for frequent removal of food waste imposes a requirement for local "bring
centers," which are therefore numerous and small-scale, imposing staffing and management
costs that restrict them to areas with low labor costs. In developed countries, "bring centers"
are usually supplementary to a collection service for mixed waste and often accept only two
or three of the "cleanest" and most readily recyclable fractions. Participation is therefore
variable and the AD feedstock does not benefit greatly, unless food and garden wastes are
separated at source.
Collection, often referred to as "curbside collection," needs much less householder
participation but the costs are higher. Where mixed waste is collected, it may be transported
for a distance of some kilometers to a large, centralized, materials recovery facility for
sorting. A typical separation process would produce several recyclable fractions (for
reprocessing), a putrescible fraction (for digestion or composting), a combustible fraction (for
incineration), and an inert fraction (for landfilling). The level of separation and material
recovery from these facilities depends on both the separation technology and the degree of
contamination of the incoming waste.
Separation plants may include mechanical and electrical equipment such as trommel screens,
magnetic separators, eddy current separators, and rag rollers. Separation is far from perfect, so
cross-contamination of the separated fractions can reduce their market value or their
suitability for further processing. Such plants can be labor intensive, with many employees

handpicking items out of a waste stream on a conveyor belt. However, hand sorting has many
limitations. These include the waste pickers reaction time, especially when tired, the
monotony of the task, and the physical constraints associated with reaching across the belt.
Health and safety concerns include hazardous wastes and infection risks, especially by
inhalation. Hand sorting should therefore be done in a controlled atmosphere, with sufficient
air changes. High costs are associated with such materials recovery facilities.
Source-separated collection services commonly pick up "dry" recyclables (for example, glass,
metals, paper, card, plastics, and textiles) in special vehicles for transport to a "clean"
materials recovery facility handling source-separated materials only. This can be simpler and
cheaper than similar plants handling mixed wastes but this saving must be set against the
additional costs of an extra curbside collection. Recyclables are further separated at this
facility and stored for transport to a reprocessing plant.
A second vehicle for treatment or disposal then collects the remaining waste materials.
Potentially, the digestible fraction could also be collected separately for transport to the
digester but the cost of a third vehicle makes this practice rare. The alternative of a single
multipurpose collection vehicle is simple in principle but difficult to reconcile with the need
for compaction of the waste in high-cost countries, the different kinds of storage needed for
different wastes, and the difficulty of predicting the relative capacities required. Moreover,
even with good source- separation, the mixed waste residue may still contains a substantial
element of putrescible matter, so must be collected frequently and may have to be treated as
unsorted waste.
The AD plant would ideally receive an uncontaminated feed of digestible waste. However, the
digestible fraction is diverse in size, shape, and texture, so it is difficult to separate from any
nondigestible contaminants. Source-separation is by far the most effective method. While
100% participation is rare, many countries have found the majority of households participate
with enthusiasm and regularly produce well-separated wastes. Surveys in Germany, Denmark,
Switzerland, and the Netherlands showed 5070% of the organic fraction of MSW was
successfully collected. The quality of the separated waste varied from reasonable to very good
and it generated an acceptable compost. Nevertheless, the presence of some materials
deleterious to the process or the digestate is inevitable.
2.4.2. Feedstock Preparation
Once the digestible feedstock has been separated, it usually needs size reduction. A slowly
rotating drum pulverizer/screen is often used, relying on self-attrition within the waste mass.
This physically excludes any inerts larger than the screen size. Water is usually added to
increase the moisture content and the pulverizing process also helps to disperse it. The water
also weakens any paper wastes. An alternative process is hydropulping, which uses hydraulic
forces to break down the waste and also helps to remove any inorganics by settling or
floatation. Where wet digestion (see Section 2.5) is to be used, additional water is added to
produce a slurry.
2.5. Processes
Many AD systems have been developedeach system with its own benefits and constraints.
They can be categorized, based on moisture level and feeding arrangements, as dry batch
digestion, dry continuous digestion, wet continuous digestion, and multistage wet digestion.
2.5.1. Dry Batch Digestion

This system has similarities to the flushing bioreactor landfill concept and can be fed with raw
MSW without sorting or size reduction. The digester is charged with waste mixed with a seed
of digestate from a previous batch, then sealed and left to digest for 23 weeks. Any leachate
generated during digestion is recirculated. This method is simple and requires little handling
of the waste. However, batch operation may be disadvantageous and the digestate needs
substantial post treatment.
2.5.2. Dry Continuous Digestion
The putrescible fraction of MSW is fed, at a dry solids content of 2040%, on a continuous
basis or in small batches every hour or so. Operation may be on a completely mixed or, with a
proportion of the outgoing digestate recycled as a seed, on a plug-flow basis. The low water
content of the feed reduces the heating load, which is especially advantageous for
thermophilic operation.
2.5.3. Wet Continuous Digestion
The putrescible fraction of MSW is fed as slurry, with a dry solids content of up to 10%. This
slurry is fed into a conventional completely mixed digester, similar to a sewage sludge
digester. Such systems require effective exclusion of dense inerts, such as glass and stones,
which could accumulate in the digester. The digestate is dewatered after digestion and the
bulk of the liquor is reused for feed preparation, minimizing the wastewater treatment load.
This system can be used to codigest sewage sludges or industrial wastewaters with MSW.
2.5.4. Wet Multistage Digestion
The putrescible fraction of MSW is again slurried with recycled liquor and fed into an
acidogenic digester. Volatile fatty acids are generated in this first stage. The product is then
pumped into a high-rate methanogenic digester such as an anaerobic filter or an upflow
anaerobic sludge blanket plant. Conditions can be optimized for methanogenesis in this
second stage, in which acid levels can be kept below the inhibitory level by controlling the
pumping rate. However, few commercial plants follow this model due to its cost. Moreover, it
does not convincingly outperform single-stage systems, despite its complexity.
2.6. Products
2.6.1. Biogas
AD produces 100200 m3 of biogas per tonne of putrescible matter, with both the yield and
methane content dependent upon the process conditions and the quality of the feedstock. For
example, a high content of slowly digestible matter like garden wastes can reduce the yield.
At optimum conditions, the biogas has a calorific value of 2025 MJ/m3.
It is thus a net producer of energy, yielding 100150 kWh of electricity per tonne of
putrescible waste input. This compares favorably with aerobic composting which consumes
power at 3035 kWh per tonne. A typical mesophilic AD process uses 2040% of the biogas
for plant power and heating but the remainder is available for sale to off-site users of gas or
electricity. However, much of this may have to be diverted to post treatment of the digestate,
if required.
Biogas has a methane content of 5570% by volume, so it can be directly combusted in a
range of devices. At larger plants, electricity is generated, by firing reciprocating engines or
gas turbines with the biogas and using their waste heat to warm the digester. However, trace
constituents can affect the combustion technique. Hydrogen sulfide is the most problematic,

as it causes corrosion: when burned it generates sulfur dioxide, which combines with water to
generate acids. Hydrogen levels from a healthy digester are too low to cause operational
problems. Nitrogen and oxygen can occur at higher levels, usually indicating an inward leak
of air, but cause no problems in utilization. There are many other minor constituents,
dependent upon the feedstock but biogas from a digester is much cleaner gas than landfill gas,
due to the cleaner feedstock, and comparable to the biogas generated from sewage sludge,
which is well proven as a fuel.
2.6.2. Digestate
The stabilized solid residue of digestion can be used as compost or soil conditioner, with
potential markets in domestic use, landscaping, horticulture, forestry, and agriculture.
However, it needs dewatering and refining before use.
The best way of ensuring a high quality digestate is to digest source-separated waste, as the
digestate from a poorly separated waste is usually high in contaminants. Thus, both the AD
process and the waste collection and separation method determine the kind of post treatment
required. Dewatering, generally achieved by means of centrifuges or presses, is essential after
wet digestion. The liquor separated may find use as a liquid fertilizer but much of it is usually
recycled within the process.
The digestate usually needs maturing after dewatering. Aerobic composting is the usual
method, most simply in a windrow (see composting). This exothermic process kills any
residual pathogens, helps in dewatering and completes the stabilization process. If the
digestate is not fully stabilized, microbial activity in the soil will divert essential nutrients
from the crops. Therefore the digestate usually needs 24 weeks maturation to produce an
acceptable compost substitute or soil conditioner. A final screening or classification process
may follow, to remove any visible contaminants and to grade the product by particle size to
meet market needs. Screening might use a trommel or a flat deck or disc screen. Trommels are
more expensive but also more successful and self-cleaning so not liable to blinding.
Classification might use an air classifier, a wet elutriator, a ballistic separator, or a de-stoner.
Air classification uses an upflow of air to separate denser particles from lighter, so it is
successful in removing heavy contaminants such as stones and glass. Wet elutriation is similar
but uses water instead of air so it must precede dewatering. A ballistic separator projects the
digestate though the air, so that the denser contaminants follow a different trajectory. Destoners remove stones and other dense debris on a vibrating deck through which air is passed.
This stratifies the digestate, with the denser materials at the bottom and the lighter particles at
the top. However, these methods are not practicable when the quality of the digestate is very
The uses of digestate as compost depend upon local markets and on quality. Composts must
achieve defined standards for nutrient concentrations, physical structure, appearance (for
example, the absence of metals, glass, and plastic film), and low levels of pathogens and
heavy metals, to meet diverse national guidelines. Post treatment can remove only some of
these contaminants and heavy metal levels dependent wholly on feedstock quality. Concerns
include health and safety issues and user acceptance, as well as environmental protection.
However, digestates of lower quality may be acceptable for reclaiming contaminated land or
the restoration of landfill sites.
The benefits of composting include improvements in soil structure, nutrient content, and
water retention and disease resistance. Digestates of high quality can therefore be used in
agriculture, horticulture, landscaping, land reclamation, and domestic applications. However,

in agriculture they must compete with animal manures and sewage sludge, already applied
quite widely but subject to tight regulation. Even higher quality soil conditioners are essential
for the horticulture and domestic markets. AD plants must maintain the quality of the
digestate in order to develop public confidence in the product. In the UK today, as in many
other developed countries, high-quality peat products dominate the compost market, so it is
difficult for alternatives to enter. Consequently, digestate sales cannot currently be relied upon
in most countries as a major contributor to the economics of AD.
2.7. Conclusions
AD has the advantage of converting only the putrescible fraction of MSW to a gaseous fuel,
thus treating the unstable material, which must be stabilized in the interests of public health,
while conserving the stable fraction for recycling to the soil. The process has a long history in
sewage treatment and is now quite well established for the organic fraction of MSW.
However, it is slow, which imposes high capital costs, so most AD plants have been built
under subsidy. However, further process optimization, perhaps through better seeding, might
greatly improve its economics in the foreseeable future.
3. Pyrolysis and Gasification
3.1. Background
Thermal treatments for MSW are developing as an important part of the waste management
strategy within the European Union. The simplest version, incineration, was originally seen as
a volume reduction exercise prior to landfilling but energy recovery is major design objective
of modern, large-scale plants. Many early incinerators were of the "mass burn" type, in which
the MSW is delivered directly into a fuel storage bunker for delivery into the furnace.
However, presorting of the waste to remove the noncombustible and wet, putrescible fractions
is much more suitable for energy recovery. This adds to the cost and complexity of the plant,
as does the modern requirement for extensive treatment of the flue gases. Substantial volumes
of residues (ash and much of the noncombustible fraction) remain to be landfilled and may
contain soluble forms of some heavy metals. A landfill receiving these residues alone will not
emit greenhouse gases but control of leachate escapes may be just as important as it would be
for raw wastes.
The alternative thermal treatments covered here suffer some of the same drawbacks but
produce high-grade gas and liquid fuels plus a solid char, which can also be used as fuel.
Pyrolysis and gasification are thus beginning to establish themselves as alternatives to
incineration. A high degree of waste separation is usual, so that the process feedstock is easier
to handle and has a higher calorific value, with less of the contaminants likely to cause
gaseous emission problems. The remaining organic fraction may then be pulverized before
feeding into the process but this is not universal practice.
Both these treatments are based on long-established processes, in which high temperatures
break down the complex organic matter in the feedstock under oxygen-limited conditions. In
pyrolysis, air is excluded, as in such traditional processes as production of charcoal and
metallurgical coke, where the solid residue is the desired product. In gasification, the air
supply is restricted. Thus, alternating air and steam gasification could produce coal gas (or
town gas). A limited air supply raised the temperature of the coal feedstock into the reaction
range, producing carbon monoxide, then steam was introduced, producing hydrogen and
carbon monoxide. This reduced the temperature until air was admitted again.
3.2. Pyrolysis

Pyrolysis utilizes a high temperature and an oxygen-free atmosphere to initiate chemical

reactions that convert organic materials to volatile compounds and a solid, carbon char mixed
with an inert ash residue. The volatile fraction consists mainly of carbon monoxide, hydrogen,
and short-chained hydrocarbons, subject to the composition of the feedstock and the process
conditions. In practice, it is difficult to exclude all air from the waste feedstock, so a small
amount of oxidation is usual. Reaction occurs at 350800 C, though most of the volatiles are
driven off below 700 C.
The products of pyrolysis are:
(a) Gas (or pyrogas), with a relatively high calorific value of up to 20 MJ/m3, consisting of
noncondensable compounds (mostly hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane,
and other simple molecules).
(b) Oils, a mixture of condensable vapors (mostly unsaturated hydrocarbon molecules,
combining on cooling to form complex molecules such as oils, tars, and aromatic compounds,
mixed with water).
(c) Nonvolatile residues, a mixture of inerts, such as salts and minerals, with carbonaceous
The proportions are dictated by the technology and the feedstock. The most influential
variables are the maximum temperature achieved, the rate of temperature rise, and the
Thermal decomposition is less complete at a lower maximum temperature, so the more stable
organic compounds remain in the char. At higher temperatures, decomposition is more
complete. Moreover, if the volatile products are held at these temperatures, further
decomposition biases the mixture towards gases rather than oils. Rapid heating also leaves
less carbon in the solid residue but biases the volatile products towards oils. Operation under
vacuum also promotes the formation of oils, with the added benefit that lower temperatures
will suffice, while high pressure promotes the formation of larger molecules in the gas phase,
increasing its calorific value. Many wastes such as MSW, tires, or sewage sludge can be
pyrolyzed successfully, liberating suitable products for energy or chemical production.
3.2.1. Processes
Pyrolysis is an endothermic process, so an external heat source is required. Product gas may
be used but electric heating can give faster heating and closer temperature control. The term
"direct heating" is sometimes applied to forms of pyrolysis deriving their energy from partial
combustion but such processes might be better classified as gasification.
Most systems operating near to atmospheric pressure are continuousthe most efficient mode
of operation. However, the need for adequate air sealing during feeding usually restricts
pyrolysis under vacuum or at high pressure to batch operation.
Pyrolysis processes can be classified as follows:
(a) carbonization or slow pyrolysis
(b) conventional pyrolysis
(c) fast or flash pyrolysis
(d) ultra pyrolysis
Variation of the conditions allows considerable control over the product mix.

In carbonization or slow pyrolysis, slow heating with a low maximum temperature maximizes
the production of char. With the maximum temperature around 400 C, residence times could
be hours or even days, as in the conversion of wood into charcoal, with a yield of 3040%.
In conventional pyrolysis, heating rates are 20100 C per minute, to a maximum of 600 C.
This generates char, oils, and gases in approximately equal concentrations. A long residence is
needed, leading to many secondary reactions and a wide variety of products.
In fast pyrolysis or flash pyrolysis, heating at 1001000 C per second reaches a temperature
below 650 C and is followed by rapid quenching. Oils are the main products. Char formation
from the oil products is minimized by quenching, as is the volume of gaseous products. With
a maximum temperature above 700 C, however, the oil products are quickly converted to
gases. The gas yield can be as high as 70% of the feedstock carbon.
In ultra-pyrolysis, exceptionally high heating rates are combined with maximum temperatures
above 1000 C. The main products are gases, with some oils.
3.2.2. Gas Products
With indirect heating, pyrolysis gas has a calorific value of 1418 MJ/m3, depending on the
waste feedstock and the process parameters. In contrast, "direct heating" (see Section 3.2.1)
yields a gas of 46 MJ/m3, which can be compared with natural gas at 37 MJ/m3. They can be
used directly for heating or steam raising or indirectly for power generation, for use on site or
for sale.
The gas yield from MSW is mainly carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, methane,
and lower concentrations of short-chain saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons and a
significant proportion of uncondensed oils. A feedstock less rich in oxygen would yield less
carbon monoxide and dioxide.
3.2.3. Liquid Products
The liquid mixture often referred to as "oils", can be upgraded for use as a fuel or further
refined for use as a chemical feedstock. Unlike gases, oils can be transported inexpensively
over long distances for use off-site.
The composition of the oils depends on both the feedstock and the process, so their calorific
values vary. Scrap tires can yield oils with a CV of 42 MJ/kg, which compares well with
petroleum-derived fuel oils at 46 MJ/kg. Oils derived from MSW can have a CV of around 25
MJ/kg. However, if wet wastes are included in the feedstock, their water content adds to that
produced in the process and can reduce this CV to zero. The water content also affects such
physical characteristics as viscosity. It is difficult to remove, as heating causes side-reactions
and a highly polluted wastewater may remain.
Oils derived from MSW are not well suited for direct combustion in diesel engines or small
furnaces. They are not only viscous and acidic but also tend to polymerize and to contain char
particles. They are chemically very complex, due to the polymeric nature of the original
wastes, and may contain hundreds of different chemical compounds, including organic acids,
phenols, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, and cyclic molecules. The diversity adds to the
potential of these oils as a chemical feedstock but separation costs could be high and a
substantial waste fraction would remain. However, catalytic processes now under
development may enable upgrading, for either feedstock or fuel use.

The liquid products vary widely with the process. Fast pyrolysis generates a mixture of highly
oxygenated hydrocarbons, which are unstable, so difficult to handle. The oxygen content is
high and can be up to 50% by weight on a wet basis. The calorific value is 20 MJ/m3, slightly
lower than the original feedstock. Slow pyrolysis produces a vastly different product as the
additional time allows secondary reactions to degrade the primary products. A two-phase
mixture results from a lower proportion of water-soluble products, simplifying removal of the
unwanted aqueous fraction.
3.2.4. Solid Products
The pyrolysis of MSW typically generates 35% char, with a high ash content of up to 37%.
The char may be used to produce an activated carbon adsorbent, used directly as a fuel,
densified to produce an upgraded solid fuel or pulverized and mixed with the liquid product to
make a slurried fuel. However, flash pyrolysis produces very little charand zero char
production is attainable.
The calorific value of chars is relatively high. The char derived from MSW has a CV of about
19 MJ/kg, compared to wood char at 33 MJ/kg or bituminous coal at 30 MJ/kg.
Unfortunately, the high ash content reduces its value as a fuel and also as a feedstock for
activated carbon. Moreover, traditional methods of activated carbon production are well
established, so that it is difficult to market an alternative feedstock.
3.3. Gasification
In gasification, carbon is partially oxidized by oxygen, air, or steam under oxygen-limited
conditions at high temperature. The "water gas" or "producer gas" generated consists mainly
of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The gasification of coal has a long history but major
process developments occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, when the oil crisis led to pressures for
alternatives to oil-based fuels. The application of gasification to MSW was driven more by the
growing volume of waste, the scarcity of landfill capacity and environmental concerns about
landfill disposal.
Gasification is an effective means of making a relatively high-grade fuel from a wide range of
carbonaceous materials by partial oxidation. Some of the material is oxidized to maintain a
high temperature and the remainder reacts to produce a fuel gas. After cleaning, this gas can
be burned in conventional boilers or reciprocating engines but is most efficiently used in gas
turbines. Following expansion in the turbine, the combustion gases can raise steam in a heat
exchanger, to generate further power in a steam turbine.
3.3.1. Processes
Air gasification is most common at small scale, in plants often intended to fuel a reciprocating
engine. However, in larger plants, the air may be replaced by oxygen to avoid dilution of the
combustion products with nitrogen. There are several process variants, generally described as:
(a) fixed bedupdraft or downdraft
(b) fluidized bedbubbling, circulating, entrained, or twin bed
(c) moving bed
(d) rotary kiln
(e) cyclonic or vortex
Fixed and fluidized beds are most common. In updraft gasification, the air flows upwards,
while the waste passes counter-current, down the reactor. Updraft plants cost less and can
handle wetter biomass. However, gas exit temperatures can be below 300 C, resulting in

some tar formation. In downdraft gasification the air and waste pass cocurrently down the
reactor. This method is better at breaking down residual tars to light hydrocarbons. In
fluidized bed gasification, the waste is fed into a bed of inert particles fluidized by a rapid
upflow of recycled gases. The residence time in this bed is much shorter than in fixed beds.
The gas generated has a similar tar content to that from an updraft gasifier.
3.3.2. Products
As gasification involves partial combustion, it usually reaches higher temperatures than those
used in pyrolysis. Ash and tar products are produced, as well as a gaseous mixture of low to
medium CV.
Air gasification is conducted at 9001100 C, while oxygen gives 10001400 C. Air, which
is more common, yields a low CV gas of up to 10 MJ/m3. The use of oxygen can give a gas of
up to 18 MJ/m3, which compares better with natural gas at 39 MJ/m3, but with higher costs
and more health and safety problems. In steam gasification, however, the main reaction is
endothermic at low pressure, so steam is usually used to supplement the air or oxygen, to give
better temperature control. Steam gasification needs a minimum of 850 C and does not
readily progress until temperatures over 900 C. However, high-pressure steam gasification is
exothermic and generates a gas with a CV of 1520 MJ/m3 at 20 bar and 700900 C
The main reactions in air gasification are:
(a) C + O2 = CO2
(b) C + CO2 = 2 CO


The water present in the waste leads to the generation of some hydrogen. Pyrolysis reactions
also occur, liberating some methane and higher hydrocarbons. The product gas contains
nitrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, water, and small amounts of
higher hydrocarbons.
The main reactions in steam gasification are:
(a) C + H2O = CO + H2
(b) C + 2H2O = CO2 + 2H2
(c) CO + H2O = CO2 + H2
(d) C + 2H2 = CH4


Steam gasification produces carbon monoxide and hydrogen by direct reaction of the water
with carbon but cannot remove all the carbon in the fuel. The only condensable product is any
excess steam.
Additional reactions occur in high-pressure steam gasification:
(a) CO + 3H2 = CH4 + H2O
(b) CO2 + 4H2 = CH4 + 2H2O


3.4. Combined Processes

Processes combining pyrolysis and gasification are at or near the stage of commercial
application. Typically, the waste feedstock is first pyrolyzed at 600800 C, then the char is
gasified to increase the yield of gaseous products. The two gas products are burned together at
10001300 C in a reactor configured for a significant retention time, with the turbulence
needed to optimize combustion and minimize pollutant formation. The hot flue gases are used
to generate power and then passed through a pollution control system before release.

3.5. Conclusions
Neither pyrolysis nor gasification is yet a mature technology, as applied to MSW, but both
have clear advantages over incineration.
Molecular decomposition ensures that only fairly simple molecules are volatilized and the
more complex of these are broken down in the gas phase. This minimizes the emissions of
such pollutants such as dioxins and furans.
The conversion of the waste material into a gas ensures more complete combustion. Much
less excess air is required, so a higher combustion temperature is attained, resulting in a
higher grade of heat, higher efficiency, and reduced emissions. The volume of flue gases to be
cleaned before release is also reduced.
The lower gas velocity through the waste also reduces the uptake of particles.
The endothermic nature of pyrolysis and steam gasification creates uniform temperatures in
the solid phase and thus homogeneity of reaction, as does the autothermic (self-heating)
nature of air gasification. In contrast, the more heterogeneous conditions of an incinerator
may lead to incomplete combustion in cool spots, while hot spots will increase the volatility
of metals.
Thanks are due to David Sweeting of Compact Power, UK, and Paul Zuber of Biwater
Treatment, UK. The views in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect
those of Biwater Treatment or of The University of Nottingham.
Related Chapters
Click Here To View The Related Chapters

: The acetogenic bacteria convert higher volatile fatty acids into lower VFAs,
such as acetic acid, a process known as acetogenesis, the third step in AD.
: The acidogenic bacteria that convert a range of soluble organic molecules
into VFAs, a process known as acidogenesis, the second step in AD.
: Any kind of microorganism utilizing air or another source of molecular
oxygen in its metabolism.
: Any kind of microorganism not requiring molecular oxygen for
metabolism. "Facultative anaerobes" use oxygen if it is available but can
grow in its absence, although not as efficiently or as fast. However, "obligate
anaerobes" are not only unable to use oxygen but also unable to grow in its
presence, even at trace levels.
: The degradation and stabilization of organic materials by the action of
digestion (AD) bacteria in the absence of oxygen and generating biogas.
: A mixture of gases consisting mainly of methane and carbon dioxide
produced by AD.
: A chemical compound that helps to stabilize the pH of a system, typically
by conversion between ionized and un-ionized forms, thus neutralizing or
absorbing any other ions tending to change the pH.
Calorific value : The heat released on burning a fixed mass of a fuel.


: The solid, carbonaceous residue from thermochemical processing of an

organic material.
Combustible : Used here to describe the fraction of municipal solid waste that will
undergo combustion but is not readily biodegradable. It may be referred to as
"self-combustible" to distinguish it from the biodegradable fraction, which is
generally too wet to burn on its own.
: The dewatered, solid residue of AD. (There is also an aqueous waste
requiring treatment before disposal. The volume varies widely, according to
the processing conditions.)
: Used as shorthand for anaerobic digestion in this article (in other contexts,
any process in which insoluble materials are solubilized, whether by aerobic
or anaerobic microbial action or by enzymatic or chemical processes).
"Digester" is similarly short for anaerobic digester. The AD process may also
be referred to as "anaerobic composting" but this additional confusion of
terminology is not recommended.
Endothermic : Describes a chemical reaction that consumes energy, usually in the form of
: A biological catalyst, a protein synthesized by a living cell to perform a
specific chemical reaction. Most enzymes remain within the cell but
hydrolytic enzymes are secreted into the fluid around the cell, as their
substrates are too large to enter it.
: Describes a chemical reaction that releases energy, usually in the form of
: The production of a gaseous fuel at high temperature by the partial
oxidation of a carbonaceous material using air, steam, or oxygen.
: The breakdown of a large, polymeric molecule into smaller molecules, the
first step in AD. Hydrolysis can be effected by chemical treatment but is
carried out in AD by enzymes. The substrate may be insoluble but the
products, which may include both monomers and oligomers (groups of
several monomers), are usually readily soluble. The reaction involves the
insertion of water molecules into the polymer molecule, hence the name.
: Water that has passed through a landfill, acidic and highly polluting if
: A microorganism with an optimum temperature of 2045 C, most
commonly 35 C.
: The complex system of controlled chemical reactions occurring within
living cells, on which their survival and growth depends.
Methanogen : The methanogenic bacteria convert acetic acid, hydrogen, and a few other
less common substrates into methane, a process known as methanogenesis,
the fourth and final step in AD.
: An old term for microorganism, from which the adjective microbial is
Microorganism : A simple, very small, living organism consisting of a single, autonomous
: Typically a mixture of household and commercial waste but definitions
solid waste
vary from country to country, with differences in collection practice and in
the degree of separation of housing from commercial premises, usually

collected by or for the local authority.


: A measure of concentration in gas mixtures.

: A microorganism capable of causing disease, usually in humans unless

otherwise specified.
: A material liable to rot or decay rapidly.
: High temperature degradation in the absence of air generating char, oil, and
gas products.
: A measure of the chemical conditions in any environment or process,
quantifying its tendency to oxidize or reduce the compounds present. Many
reactions are classed as oxidation or reduction but the simplest are the
addition or removal of an oxygen atom.
Recycle (in a : The return of partially processed material to an earlier stage in the process,
either for further treatment or to introduce active material to the feedstock.
The habit of rabbits eating their own droppings is a natural example. The
meaning of recycling in waste management is similar but extends to open
systems, so the risk of downgrading or contamination is greater, due to the
slow and indirect route.
: A chemical compound used a source of one or more nutrients by a
microorganism. Also used to mean a compound acted upon by an enzyme.
Thermophile : A microorganism with an optimum temperature of 5065 C, most
commonly 55 C.
Volatile fatty : Organic acids including acetic and propionic which are produced during
acids (VFA)
anaerobic decomposition.
Volatile solids : The ratio of the mass of sample lost when heated to 600 C to the initial
sample mass, commonly used as a simple assay to volatile material in
organic material.
Bridgewater A.V. and Evans G.D. (1993). An Assessment of Thermochemical Conversion Systems for Processing
Biomass and Refuse, Report number B/T1/00207/REP, Harwell, UK: Energy Technology Support Unit. [A
general report on the status of pyrolysis and gasification technologies for the treatment of wastes.]
IEA Bioenergy (1996). Biogas from Municipal solid waste: Overview of Systems and Markets for Anaerobic
Digestion of MSW. Energy Recovery from MSW. Task Anaerobic Digestion Activity, Harwell, UK: National
Renewable Energy Laboratory. [A general report on the anaerobic digestion of municipal solid waste.]
IEA Bioenergy (1998). Advanced Thermal Conversion Technologies for Energy from Solid Waste, Harwell, UK:
IEA CADDET Center for Renewable Energy, Energy Technology Support Unit. [Review document for pyrolysis
and gasification, highlights developments, and conducts comparisons with mass burn incineration.]
Institute of Wastes Management (1998). Anaerobic Digestion, report by the Working Group on Anaerobic
Digestion, Northampton, UK: Institute of Wastes Management.
Martin D J. (1999). Mass-transfer limitations in solid-state digestion, Biotechnology Letters, 21(9), pp. 809814
(September 1999). [A report on the importance of seed particle size in the application of AD to raw MSW.]
Martin D J. A novel mathematical model of solid-state digestion, Biotechnology Letters (in press to be
published JanuaryFebruary 2000). [A very simple model of AD, based on localized reaction at a slowly
advancing interface between the raw and stabilized waste. This suggests that close initial spacing of the seed
particles would accelerate the process.]
Biographical Sketches:

Lee G.A. Pott is a graduate of the University of Sheffield with a BEng in Chemical Process Engineering with
Biotechnology. He then studied for a PhD with the research focussing upon anaerobic digestion of solid waste at
the University of Nottingham. He worked for Greenways Waste Management (now known as Hanson Waste
Management) a leading waste management company within the United Kingdom. This position was to
investigate alternative solid waste treatment, recycling, and disposal methods to sanitary landfilling. He was also
involved in the project management of the installation of a landfill gas utilization plant. He is now with Biwater
Treatment designing wastewater treatment plants for water companies within the United Kingdom and overseas.
Duncan J. Martin is a graduate of Birmingham University, with BSc in Chemical Engineering, MSc in
Biological Engineering and PhD in Chemical Engineering. He is a Member of the Institution of Chemical
Engineers, the Institute of Wastes Management and the International Solid Waste Association. He has worked in
the industrial enzyme and Scotch whisky businesses before moving into academia. Now at the Department of
Chemical Engineering of NUST in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, after periods with Teesside Polytechnic and The
University of Nottingham. Primary research and teaching interests in Environmental Protection. His main
research focus is on solid-state digestion (SSD), the application of anaerobic digestion to a moist bed of solid
wastes. He has recently developed a heterogeneous model of the SSD process, radically different from previous
hypotheses. This proposes that the major biodegradation reactions are confined to a thin, multilayered reaction
front. Within this, an intervening passive layer separates an acid-sensitive methanogenic layer from a layer in
which acids are generated. Such a front develops around each particle of seed material above a minimum viable
size, then gradually advances through the surrounding waste. Each viable seed particle thus initiates a distinct
reaction zone, which forms a discrete, expanding, microreactor. The resulting kinetics bear no resemblance to the
conventional, first-order decay kinetics predicted from homogeneous or dispersed reaction models. However,
they fit experimental data well. His current work is aimed towards the development of greatly accelerated SSD
processes, at little cost and without the use of leachate recycle. Such processes would be applicable to the
stabilization of wastes in both anaerobic digesters and engineered landfills. Simple but efficient bioreactor
landfills are likely to be of particular interest to less developed countries.

To cite this chapter

Lee G.A. Potts, Duncan J. Martin, (2004), ANAEROBIC DIGESTION, GASIFICATION, AND
PYROLYSIS, in Waste Management and Minimisation, [Eds. Stephen R. Smith, and Nick Blakey], in
Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Developed under the Auspices of the UNESCO, Eolss
Publishers, Oxford ,UK, [] [Retrieved April 12, 2007]