Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Zitomer, Daniel H.

Second Advisor

Switzenbaum, Michael

Third Advisor

Maki, James S.


The need to develop renewable energy is important for replacing fossil fuel, which is limited in quantity and also tends to increase in price over time. The addition of high strength organic wastes in municipal anaerobic digesters is growing and tends to increase renewable energy production. In addition, conversion of wastes to energy significantly reduces uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions. Co-digestion of municipal sludge with any combination of wastes can result in synergistic, antagonistic or neutral outcomes. The objectives of this study were to identify potential co-digestates, determine synergistic, antagonistic and neutral effects, determine economic benefits, quantify performance of bench scale co-digesters, identify influence of co-digestion on microbial communities and implement appropriate co-digestion, if warranted, after full-scale testing. A market study was used to identify promising co-digestates. Most promising wastes were determined by biochemical methane potential (BMP) and other testing followed by a simple economic analysis. Performance was investigated using bench-scale digesters receiving synthetic primary sludge with and without co-digestates. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) analyses were performed on the gene encoding the alpha subunit of methyl coenzyme M reductase (mcrA) to compare methanogen communities among the digesters. One significant band contributing to the greatest difference in banding patterns was excised, cloned, amplified and sequenced. Full-scale co-digestion was conducted using the most promising co-digestate at South Shore Wastewater Reclamation Facility (Oak Creek, WI). Over 80 wastes were identified from 54 facilities within 160 km of an existing municipal digester. A simple economic comparison identified the greatest benefits for seven co-digestates. Methane production rates of two co-digester systems increased by 105% and 66% in comparison to a control system. These increases were great than anticipated based on theoretical methane production from the additional chemical oxygen demand (COD) of the co-digestates. Co-digestion of the most promising wastes with primary sludge was estimated to generate enough electricity to power more than 2500 houses. Synergistic outcomes of co-digestion may be caused by chances in microbial community resulting in more rapid methane production rate and higher specific methanogenic activities of the biomass against acetate, propionate and H2 as substrates. The presence of Methanospirillum hungatei correlated to higher SMAs in the Co-Digester 1 system. In subsequent full-scale testing, acid whey in addition to primary sludge increased methane production by 16 %, biogas methane content by 5%, methane yield per VS destroyed by 9% ( from 650 to 710 L CH4 / kg VSdestroyed ) and volatile solids removal by 20%. Co-digestion is a promising technology to increase renewable energy production and convert municipal digesters into regional renewable energy facilities.