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Title: Washing of wheat straw to improve its combustion properties with energy recovery by anaerobic digestion of the washwater
Author: Syazwani, Idrus
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2013
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Wheat straw is a major potential source of waste biomass for renewable energy production, but its high salt content causes problems in combustion. Work was undertaken to evaluate straw washing as a means of reducing the alkali index of the straw by washing out light metal cations, primarily potassium. In addition to loss of salts, organic matter is also washed out of the straw and this is a potential source of energy through anaerobic biodegradation to produce methane as a fuel gas. The rate of washout of both potassium and organic carbon was dependent on the temperature of the washwater, although cold water washing could reduce the alkali index to a suitable level, after a long retention time. Using this technique an organically dilute washwater was produced with a chemical oxygen demand of around 2.0 g l-1, suitable for a short hydraulic retention time immobilised cell digester. An upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) was chosen for initial trials, but this was later compared with an anaerobic filter. As a control throughout the experiments digesters were also maintained on a synthetic wastewater which gave a performance baseline against which the activity and methane production potential of the UASB digesters could be judged. Initial trials showed an accumulation of potassium in the granular sludge bed and an initial apparent drop in the specific methane production and COD removal efficiency. This could be recovered and the potassium washed out of the bed by switching the feed from wheat straw washwater (WSW) to synthetic sewage. Repetitive cycling between these two substrates did not damage or disrupt the digestion process. When allowed to stabilise on WSW alone the COD removal was around 83% and the specific methane production was 0.216 l g-1 CODadded under pseudo steady state conditions. The accumulation of potassium also stabilised at around 11 mg g-1 granule wet weight. Under these conditions the organic loading rate could be increased to ~3 g COD l-1 day-1 without adversely affecting digester performance. Whilst operating on wheat straw washwater the conversion of COD to methane compared to the stoichiometric potential was less than that seen for the synthetic wastewater in the same digester with the same granular biomass. It is hypothesised that a proportion of the carbon converted is used in maintaining the osmotic integrity of the cells by a metabolically-linked potassium transport system. Evidence to show intracellular accumulation of potassium was provided by transmission electron microscopy coupled to EDX analysis of granular sections. Complementary studies were carried out to determine the resistance to salt toxicity of two different types of anaerobic inoculum, taken from a mesophilic municipal wastewater biosolids digester and a saline estuarine mud, for comparison with the UASB granules. Both of these inoculums had a higher tolerance to both Na and K than the granular material, and the wastewater plant digestate was used to further acclimate a dispersed growth inoculum to seed an anaerobic filter. In the acclimatisation, which was carried out in semi-continuous fed stirred tank digesters, the digestate successfully acclimated to 10 g l-1 of KCl, NaCl and a mixture of the two salts. When operated at the same loading on either synthetic wastewater or WSW there was no difference between performance of the UASB and anaerobic filter in either COD removal efficiency or specific methane production. A simple energy balance was conducted taking into account only the energy required for heating washwater to reduce the washing time necessary to meet the alkali index for the straw. This would, however, consume most of the energy produced by anaerobic digestion of the washwater even when other energy consuming activities were not considered.
Supervisor: Heaven, Sonia Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: QH301 Biology ; TD Environmental technology. Sanitary engineering