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Thermophilic Anaerobic Digestion

thermophilic graphic for anerobic digestion pageWhat is Thermophilic Anaerobic Digestion?

It is all about temperature. Anaerobic digestion (AD) will take place at any temperature above about 10 degrees C, but only very slowly. Over the years research has established that there are two temperature ranges which are the most efficient for biogas production using the normal bacteria and other synergstic organisms which contribute, which are the most efficient for the process and for biogas production.

Those two temperature ranges are known as the mesophilic and the thermophilic temperature ranges. The mesophilic is the cooler range, and the thermophilic range is the hotter one.

According to Wikipedia:

“A thermophilic digester or thermophilic biodigester is a kind of biodigester that operates in temperatures above 50 °C producing biogas. … In fact, it can be as much as six to ten times faster than a normal biodigester.”

For most digester feed materials, both mesophilic and thermophilic anaerobic processes will work. Mesophilic digesters (33-35 °C) are normally designed for retention time of 20-30 days, while operation in the thermophilic range (53-55°C) enables the retention time to be as low as 10-12 days.

Advantages of Thermophilic

Advocates of thermophilic digestion (or thermophilic biodigestion) give several advantages over the more common mesophilic anaerobic digestion temperature range, such as better sludge quality and higher biogas production.

In our experience those benefits vary according to the type of material which is digested. Municipal Solid Waste lyses (breaks down within the cells) relatively easily when compared with, for example, sewage sludge. So, while thermophilic anaerobic digestion is becoming the norm for sewage sludge, it is unlikely that the additional sacrificial burden on heating the reactor will be worthwhile for MSW AD in most cases.

The hydrolysis stage of the AD process is widely regarded as a rate-limiting step in sludge digestion, thus improvements in hydrolysis rates which occur naturally at higher temperatures have the potential for significant improvements in overall apparent sludge digestion rates. Therefore, many “optimized” thermophilic reactors operate right at the top of the thermophilic temperature range. At this point the naturally occurring methanogenic bacteria begin to be come less efficient, so any further increse in temperature tends to reduce efficency and not raise it.

Improvements in the rate of the AD process, at thermophilic temperatures, have beneficial knock-on effects as they also lower mixing energy requirements, maintenance of mixing equipment, and overall heat loss per unit volume of material processed which also reduces costs. But, more energy is consumed to raise the temperature initially, and for high rates of throughput this can be significant.

Also, when a reactor is initially commissioned from cold on a new site, the entire reactor must be heated to the higher thermophilic temperature range largely using “bought in power”, normally from the local electricity provider, adding to the initial invetsment needed to start-up a new biogas plant installation.

Thermophilic anaerobic digestion can offer higher biogas production, more complete volatile organics destruction and pathogen destruction.

Some researchers have reported that they have been able to reduce the hydraulic retention time (HRT) from a necessary 15 to 20 days in mesophilic digestion down to as little as 3 days at a thermophilic temperature in the region of (55°C) with stable fermentation and methanogenic activity. That is an illustration of just how much an effect the temperature of an AD plant reactor can have, but for reliance on the lowest possible hydraulic retention time any AD facility developer would need to be very confident in their ability to keep the system stable in operation as there would be very little time to react if the eractor started to experinece problems. Loss of reactor up-time while high rate reactors can be teased back into full health, can be very costly and all decisions on optimizing throughput need to balance economy of initial capital spend, and robustness in plant operation throughout its life.

Visit our bio-thermic digestion article here


    • Phillip Chiew
    • September 29, 2017

    Why do you need to heat the digestate still hotter than in a thermophilic digester? This is already hot and is hot for a long period. I read that the liquor stays in a thermophilic biogas digester for say 10 to 20 days. This is hot enough? No?

    • Mary Yu
    • October 8, 2017

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    • Tommy Truman
    • October 10, 2017

    Many people think that it’s extremely hard to promote Thermophilic Anaerobic Digestion in the UK. Even so, many of the signs and symptoms can indeed be improved to the level that their impcts are virtually negligible. So long as you be cautious about signs of worsening symptoms, these pointers will be able to allow you to ease your most detrimental signs or symptoms. Astonish your mates with your pictures, and videos, utilising the photography ideas.

    • The Sippler
    • October 17, 2017

    Is pasteurisation really needed for thermophilic systems? Surely it is held at a very hot temperatures for so long – pasteurisation should not be necessary?

    • Velter Liz.
    • October 22, 2017

    My question is what’s so hard about thermophilic digesters? Why isn’t everyone going thermophilic?

    • NatalieW
    • November 8, 2018

    Good info. But, you fail to mention anywhere about Psychrophilic biogas production in the temperature range around 20 degrees Centigrade (68 degrees Fahrenheit). It isn’t as rapid but it can still work, especially for large volumes of lower level organics present.

    • biogasman
    • November 14, 2018

    Natalie – Yes. You are right. This article was written in 2014, and I guess that things have moved on since then. I’ll do an article on psychrophilic biogas production as soon as I can find time.

    • Ashok more
    • March 18, 2019

    With appropriate bacterium consortium and heating only at upper and central part, that have 3-4 days equivalent amount of feed . It is possible. If it is possible for me ,why others can’t do?

    • Rusli
    • March 20, 2019

    Question to the author: which companies currently offer best thermophilic AD for energy plants such as maize, grass etc? Thanks

      • biogasman
      • March 20, 2019

      Rusli. Hi! That’s an interesting question but I’m afraid there is no answer I can give you “off the cuff”. There are so many factors involved, not least the geographic factor of where this biogas plant would be located.

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