A farm-scale pilot plant for biohydrogen and biomethane production by two-stage fermentation
AbstractHydrogen is considered one of the possible main energy carriers for the future, thanks to its unique environmental properties. Indeed, its energy content (120 MJ/kg) can be exploited virtually without emitting any exhaust in the atmosphere except for water. Renewable production of hydrogen can be obtained through common biological processes on which relies anaerobic digestion, a well-established technology in use at farm-scale for treating different biomass and residues. Despite two-stage hydrogen and methane producing fermentation is a simple variant of the traditional anaerobic digestion, it is a relatively new approach mainly studied at laboratory scale. It is based on biomass fermentation in two separate, seuqential stages, each maintaining conditions optimized to promote specific bacterial consortia: in the first acidophilic reactorhydrogen is produced production, while volatile fatty acids-rich effluent is sent to the second reactor where traditional methane rich biogas production is accomplished. A two-stage pilot-scale plant was designed, manufactured and installed at the experimental farm of the University of Milano and operated using a biomass mixture of livestock effluents mixed with sugar/starch-rich residues (rotten fruits and potatoes and expired fruit juices), afeedstock mixture based on waste biomasses directly available in the rural area where plant is installed. The hydrogenic and the methanogenic reactors, both CSTR type, had a total volume of 0.7m3 and 3.8 m3 respectively, and were operated in thermophilic conditions (55ô€€€ 2 Â°C) without any external pH control, and were fully automated. After a brief description of the requirements of the system, this contribution gives a detailed description of its components and of engineering solutions to the problems encountered during the plant realization and start-up. The paper also discusses the results obtained in a first experimental run which lead to production in the range of previous laboratory results, with a typical hydrogen and methane specific productivity of 2.2 and 0.5 Nm3/m3reactor per day, in the first and second stage of the plant respectively. At our best knowledge, this plant is one of the very first prototypes producing biohydrogen at farm scale, and it represents a distributed, small scale demonstration to obtain hydrogen from renewable waste-sources.
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