Anaerobic Digestion of Animal Manure

Animal manure is a valuable source of nutrients and renewable energy. However, most of the manure is collected in lagoons or left to decompose in the open which pose a significant environmental hazard. The air pollutants emitted from manure include methane, nitrous oxide, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter, which can cause serious environmental concerns and health problems. In the past, livestock waste was recovered and sold as a fertilizer or simply spread onto agricultural land. The introduction of tighter environmental controls on odour and water pollution means that some form of waste management is necessary, which provides further incentives for biomass-to-energy conversion.

Anaerobic digestion is a unique treatment solution for animal manure as it can  deliver  positive  benefits  related  to  multiple  issues,  including  renewable  energy,  water pollution, and air emissions. Anaerobic digestion of animal manure is gaining popularity as a means to protect the environment and to recycle materials efficiently into the farming systems. Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plants, based on anaerobic digestion of cow manure, are highly efficient in harnessing the untapped renewable energy potential of organic waste by converting the biodegradable fraction of the waste into high calorific gases.

The establishment of anaerobic digestion systems for livestock manure stabilization and energy production has accelerated substantially in the past several years. There are thousands of digesters operating at commercial livestock facilities in Europe, United States,  Asia and elsewhere. which are generating clean energy and fuel. Many of the projects that generate electricity also capture waste heat for various in-house requirements.

Important Factors

The main factors that influence biogas production from livestock manure are pH and temperature of the feedstock. It is well established that a biogas plant works optimally at neutral pH level and mesophilic temperature of around 35o C. Carbon-nitrogen ratio of the feed material is also an important factor and should be in the range of 20:1 to 30:1. Animal manure has a carbon – nitrogen ratio of 25:1 and is considered ideal for maximum gas production. Solid concentration in the feed material is also crucial to ensure sufficient gas production, as well as easy mixing and handling. Hydraulic retention time (HRT) is the most important factor in determining the volume of the digester which in turn determines the cost of the plant; the larger the retention period, higher the construction cost.

Process Description

The fresh animal manure is stored in a collection tank before its processing to the homogenization tank which is equipped with a mixer to facilitate homogenization of the waste stream. The uniformly mixed waste is passed through a macerator to obtain uniform particle size of 5-10 mm and pumped into suitable-capacity anaerobic digesters where stabilization of organic waste takes place.

In anaerobic digestion, organic material is converted to biogas by a series of bacteria groups into methane and carbon dioxide. The majority of commercially operating digesters are plug flow and complete-mix reactors operating at mesophilic temperatures. The type of digester used varies with the consistency and solids content of the feedstock, with capital investment factors and with the primary purpose of digestion.

Biogas contain significant amount of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas which needs to be stripped off due to its highly corrosive nature. The removal of H2S takes place in a biological desulphurization unit in which a limited quantity of air is added to biogas in the presence of specialized aerobic bacteria which oxidizes H2S into elemental sulfur. Biogas can be used as domestic cooking, industrial heating, combined heat and power (CHP) generation as well as a vehicle fuel. The digested substrate is passed through screw presses for dewatering and then subjected to solar drying and conditioning to give high-quality organic fertilizer.

Biochemical Conversion of Biomass

Biochemical conversion of biomass involves use of bacteria, microorganisms and enzymes to breakdown biomass into gaseous or liquid fuels, such as biogas or bioethanol. The most popular biochemical technologies are anaerobic digestion (or biomethanation) and fermentation. Anaerobic digestion is a series of chemical reactions during which organic material is decomposed through the metabolic pathways of naturally occurring microorganisms in an oxygen depleted environment. Biomass wastes can also yield liquid fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol, which can be used to replace petroleum-based fuels.

Anaerobic Digestion

Anaerobic digestion is the natural biological process which stabilizes organic waste in the absence of air and transforms it into biofertilizer and biogas. Anaerobic digestion is a reliable technology for the treatment of wet, organic waste.  Organic waste from various sources is biochemically degraded in highly controlled, oxygen-free conditions circumstances resulting in the production of biogas which can be used to produce both electricity and heat. Almost any organic material can be processed with anaerobic digestion. This includes biodegradable waste materials such as municipal solid waste, animal manure, poultry litter, food wastes, sewage and industrial wastes.

An anaerobic digestion plant produces two outputs, biogas and digestate, both can be further processed or utilized to produce secondary outputs. Biogas can be used for producing electricity and heat, as a natural gas substitute and also a transportation fuel. A combined heat and power plant system (CHP) not only generates power but also produces heat for in-house requirements to maintain desired temperature level in the digester during cold season. In Sweden, the compressed biogas is used as a transportation fuel for cars and buses. Biogas can also be upgraded and used in gas supply networks.

Working of Anaerobic Digestion Process

Digestate can be further processed to produce liquor and a fibrous material. The fiber, which can be processed into compost, is a bulky material with low levels of nutrients and can be used as a soil conditioner or a low level fertilizer. A high proportion of the nutrients remain in the liquor, which can be used as a liquid fertilizer.

Biofuel Production

A variety of fuels can be produced from waste resources including liquid fuels, such as ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, and gaseous fuels, such as hydrogen and methane. The resource base for biofuel production is composed of a wide variety of forestry and agricultural resources, industrial processing residues, and municipal solid and urban wood residues. Globally, biofuels are most commonly used to power vehicles, heat homes, and for cooking.

The largest potential feedstock for ethanol is lignocellulosic biomass wastes, which includes materials such as agricultural residues (corn stover, crop straws and bagasse), herbaceous crops (alfalfa, switchgrass), short rotation woody crops, forestry residues, waste paper and other wastes (municipal and industrial). Bioethanol production from these feedstocks could be an attractive alternative for disposal of these residues. Importantly, lignocellulosic feedstocks do not interfere with food security.

Ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass is produced mainly via biochemical routes. The three major steps involved are pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation. Biomass is pretreated to improve the accessibility of enzymes. After pretreatment, biomass undergoes enzymatic hydrolysis for conversion of polysaccharides into monomer sugars, such as glucose and xylose. Subsequently, sugars are fermented to ethanol by the use of different microorganisms.

An Introduction to Composting

The composting process is a complex interaction between organic waste and microorganisms. The microorganisms that carry out this process fall into three groups: bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetesActinomycetes are a form of fungi-like bacteria that break down organic matter. The first stage of the biological activity is the consumption of easily available sugars by bacteria, which causes a fast rise in temperature. The second stage involves bacteria and actinomycetes that cause cellulose breakdown. The last stage is concerned with the breakdown of the tougher lignins by fungi.

Central solutions are exemplified by low-cost composting without forced aeration, and technologically more advanced systems with forced aeration and temperature feedback. Central composting plants are capable of handling more than 100,000 tons of biodegradable waste per year, but typically the plant size is about 10,000 to 30,000 tons per year. Biodegradable wastes must be separated prior to composting: Only pure foodwaste, garden waste, wood chips, and to some extent paper are suitable for producing good-quality compost.

Composting Equipment

The composting plants consist of some or all of the following technical units: bag openers, magnetic and/or ballistic separators, screeners (sieves), shredders, mixing and homogenization equipment, turning equipment, irrigation systems, aeration systems, draining systems, bio-filters, scrubbers, control systems, and steering systems. The composting process occurs when biodegradable waste is piled together with a structure allowing for oxygen diffusion and with a dry matter content suiting microbial growth.

Biodegradable wastes must be separated prior to composting: Only pure food waste, garden waste, wood chips, and to some extent paper are suitable for producing good-quality compost.The temperature of the biomass increases due to the microbial activity and the insulation properties of the piled material. The temperature often reaches 65 to 75 degrees C within few days and then declines slowly. This high temperature hastens the elimination of pathogens and weed seeds.

Composting Methodologies

The methodology of composting can be categorized into three major segments—anaerobic composting, aerobic composting, and vermicomposting. In anaerobic composting, the organic matter is decomposed in the absence of air. Organic matter may be collected in pits and covered with a thick layer of soil and left undisturbed six to eight months. The compost so formed may not be completely converted and may include aggregated masses.

Aerobic composting is the process by which organic wastes are converted into compost or manure in presence of air and can be of different types. The most common is the Heap Method, where organic matter needs to be divided into three different types and to be placed in a heap one over the other, covered by a thin layer of soil or dry leaves. This heap needs to be mixed every week, and it takes about three weeks for conversion to take place. The process is same in the Pit Method, but carried out specially constructed pits. Mixing has to be done every 15 days, and there is no fixed time in which the compost may be ready.

Berkley Method uses a labor-intensive technique and has precise requirements of the material to be composted. Easily biodegradable materials, such as grass, vegetable matter, etc., are mixed with animal matter in the ratio of 2:1. Compost is usually ready in 15 days.

Vermicomposting involves use of earthworms as natural and versatile bioreactors for the process of conversion. It is carried out in specially designed pits where earthworm culture also needs to be done. Vermicomposting is a precision-based option and requires overseeing of work by an expert. It is also a more expensive option (O&M costs especially are high).

Different Strategies in Composting

Composting can be categorized into different categories depending on the nature of decomposition process. The three major segments of composting are anaerobic composting, aerobic composting, and vermicomposting. In anaerobic composting, the organic matter is decomposed in the absence of air. Organic matter may be collected in pits and covered with a thick layer of soil and left undisturbed six to eight months. Anaerobic microorganisms dominate and develop intermediate compounds including methane, organic acids, hydrogen sulphide and other substances. The process is low-temperature, slow and the compost formed may not be completely converted and may include aggregated masses and phytotoxic compounds.

Aerobic Composting

Aerobic composting is the process by which organic wastes are converted into compost or manure in presence of air. In this process, aerobic microorganisms break down organic matter and produce carbon dioxide, ammonia, water, heat and humus, the relatively stable organic end-product. Although aerobic composting may produce intermediate compounds such as organic acids, aerobic microorganisms decompose them further. The resultant compost, with its relatively unstable form of organic matter, has little risk of phytotoxicity. The heat generated accelerates the breakdown of proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates such as cellulose and hemicellulose. Hence, the processing time is shorter. Moreover, this process destroys many micro-organisms that are human or plant pathogens, as well as weed seeds, provided it undergoes sufficiently high temperature. Although more nutrients are lost from the materials by aerobic composting, it is considered more efficient and useful than anaerobic composting for agricultural production.

There are a variety of methods for aerobic composting, the most common being the Heap Method, where organic matter needs to be divided into three different types and to be placed in a heap one over the other, covered by a thin layer of soil or dry leaves. This heap needs to be mixed every week, and it takes about three weeks for conversion to take place. The process is same in the Pit Method, but carried out in specially constructed pits. Mixing has to be done every 15 days, and there is no fixed time in which the compost may be ready. Berkley Method uses a labor-intensive technique and has precise requirements of the material to be composted. Easily biodegradable materials, such as grass, vegetable matter, etc., are mixed with animal matter in the ratio of 2:1. Compost is usually ready in 15 days.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is a type of composting in which certain species of earthworms are used to enhance the process of organic waste conversion and produce a better end-product. It is a mesophilic process utilizing microorganisms and earthworms. Earthworms feeds the organic waste materials and passes it through their digestive system and gives out in a granular form (cocoons) which is known as vermicompost. Earthworms consume organic wastes and reduce the volume by 40–60 percent. Each earthworm weighs about 0.5 to 0.6 gram, eats waste equivalent to its body weight and produces cast equivalent to about 50 percent of the waste it consumes in a day. The moisture content of castings ranges between 32 and 66 percent and the pH is around 7.

The level of nutrients in compost depends upon the source of the raw material and the species of earthworm. Apart from other nutrients, a fine worm cast is rich in NPK which are in readily available form and are released within a month of application. Vermicompost enhances plant growth, suppresses disease in plants, increases porosity and microbial activity in soil, and improves water retention and aeration.

Resource Base for Biogas Plants

Anaerobic digestion is the natural biological process which stabilizes organic waste in the absence of air and transforms it into biofertilizer and biogas. Almost any organic material can be processed with anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic digestion is particularly suited to wet organic material and is commonly used for effluent and sewage treatment.  This includes biodegradable waste materials such as waste paper, grass clippings, leftover food, sewage and animal waste. Large quantity of waste, in both solid and liquid forms, is generated by the industrial sector like breweries, sugar mills, distilleries, food-processing industries, tanneries, and paper and pulp industries. Poultry waste has the highest per ton energy potential of electricity per ton but livestock have the greatest potential for energy generation in the agricultural sector.

Agricultural Feedstock

  • Animal manure
  • Energy crops
  • Algal biomass
  • Crop residues

Community-Based Feedstock

  • Organic fraction of MSW (OFMSW)
  • MSW
  • Sewage sludge
  • Grass clippings/garden waste
  • Food remains
  • Institutional wastes etc.

 Industrial Feedstock

  • Food/beverage processing
  • Dairy
  • Starch industry
  • Sugar industry
  • Pharmaceutical industry
  • Cosmetic industry
  • Biochemical industry
  • Pulp and paper
  • Slaughterhouse/rendering plant etc.

Anaerobic digestion is particularly suited to wet organic material and is commonly used for effluent and sewage treatment. Almost any organic material can be processed with anaerobic digestion process. This includes biodegradable waste materials such as waste paper, grass clippings, leftover food, sewage and animal waste. The exception to this is woody wastes that are largely unaffected by digestion as most anaerobic microorganisms are unable to degrade lignin.

Anaerobic digesters can also be fed with specially grown energy crops such as silage for dedicated biogas production. A wide range of crops, especially C-4 plants, demonstrate good biogas potentials. Corn is one of the most popular co-substrate in Germany while Sudan grass is grown as an energy crop for co-digestion in Austria. Crops like maize, sunflower, grass, beets etc., are finding increasing use in agricultural digesters as co-substrates as well as single substrate.

A wide range of organic substances are anaerobically easily degradable without major pretreatment. Among these are leachates, slops, sludges, oils, fats or whey. Some wastes can form inhibiting metabolites (e.g.NH3) during anaerobic digestion which require higher dilutions with substrates like manure or sewage sludge. A number of other waste materials often require pre-treatment steps (e.g. source separated municipal organic waste, food residuals, expired food, market wastes and crop residues).

Biogas Prospects in Rural Areas: Perspectives

Biogas, sometimes called renewable natural gas, could be part of the solution for providing people in rural areas with reliable, clean and cheap energy. In fact, it could provide various benefits beyond clean fuel as well, including improved sanitation, health and environmental sustainability.

What Is Biogas?

Biogas is the high calorific value gas produced by anaerobic decomposition of organic wastes. Biogas can come from a variety of sources including organic fraction of MSW, animal wastes, poultry litter, crop residues, food waste, sewage and organic industrial effluents. Biogas can be used to produce electricity, for heating, for lighting and to power vehicles.

Using manure for energy might seem unappealing, but you don’t burn the organic matter directly. Instead, you burn the methane gas it produces, which is odorless and clean burning.

Biogas Prospects in Rural Areas

Biogas finds wide application in all parts of the world, but it could be especially useful to developing countries, especially in rural areas. People that live in these places likely already use a form of biomass energy — burning wood. Using wood fires for heat, light and cooking releases large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The smoke they release also has harmful health impacts, particularly when used indoors. You also need a lot to burn a lot of wood when it’s your primary energy source. Collecting this wood is a time-consuming and sometimes difficult as well as dangerous task.

Many of these same communities that rely on wood fires, however, also have an abundant supply of another fuel source. They just need the tools to capture and use it. Many of these have a lot of dung from livestock and lack sanitation equipment. This lack of sanitation creates health hazards.

Turning that waste into biogas could solve both the energy problem and the sanitation problem. Creating a biogas system for a rural home is much simpler than building other types of systems. It requires an airtight pit lined and covered with concrete and a way to feed waste from animals and latrines into the pit. Because the pit is sealed, the waste will decompose quickly, releasing methane.

This methane flows through a PCV pipe to the home where you can turn it on and light on when you need to use it. This system also produces manure that is free of pathogens, which farmers can use as fertilizer.

A similar but larger setup can provide similar benefits for urban areas in developing countries and elsewhere.

Benefits of Biogas

Anaerobic digestion systems are beneficial to developing countries because they are low-cost compared to other technologies, low-tech, low-maintenance and safe. They provide reliable fuel as well as improved public health and sanitation. Also, they save people the labor of collecting large amounts of firewood, freeing them up to do other activities. Thus, biomass-based energy systems can help in rural development.

Biogas also has environmental benefits. It reduces the need to burn wood fires, which helps to slow deforestation and eliminates the emissions those fires would have produced. On average, a single home biogas system can replace approximately 4.5 tons of firewood annually and eliminate the associated four tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Biogas is also a clean, renewable energy source and reduces the need for fossil fuels. Chemically, biogas is the same as natural gas. Biogas, however, is a renewable fuel source, while natural gas is a fossil fuel. The methane in organic wastes would release into the atmosphere through natural processes if left alone, while the greenhouse gases in natural gas would stay trapped underground. Using biogas as a fuel source reduces the amount of methane released by matter decomposing out in the open.

What Can We Do?

Although biogas systems cost less than some other technologies, affording them is often still a challenge for low-income families in developing countries, especially in villages. Many of these families need financial and technical assistance to build them. Both governments and non-governmental organizations can step in to help in this area.

Once people do have biogas systems in place though, with minimal maintenance of the system, they can live healthier, more comfortable lives, while also reducing their impacts on the environment.

Food Waste Management

The waste management hierarchy suggests that reduce, reuse and recycling should always be given preference in a typical waste management system. However, these options cannot be applied uniformly for all kinds of wastes. For examples, food waste is quite difficult to deal with using the conventional 3R strategy.

Of the different types of organic wastes available, food waste holds the highest potential in terms of economic exploitation as it contains high amount of carbon and can be efficiently converted into biogas and organic fertilizer.

There are numerous places which are the sources of large amounts of food waste and hence a proper food waste management strategy needs to be devised for them to make sure that either they are disposed off in a safe manner or utilized efficiently. These places include hotels, restaurants, malls, residential societies, college/school/office canteens, religious mass cooking places, communal kitchens, airline caterers, food and meat processing industries and vegetable markets which generate food residuals of considerable quantum on a daily basis.

anaerobic_digestion_plant

The anaerobic digestion technology is highly apt in dealing with the chronic problem of food waste management in urban societies. Although the technology is commercially viable in the longer run, the high initial capital cost is a major hurdle towards its proliferation.

The onus is on the governments to create awareness and promote such technologies in a sustainable manner. At the same time, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations and environmental agencies should also take inspiration from successful food waste-to-energy projects in Western countries and try to set up such facilities in cities and towns.

Synthetic Biology – A Catalyst to Revolutionize Biogas Industry

Essentially a process operating by living organisms, the biogas industry is a natural target for synthetic biology. Synthetic biology combines biology and engineering to design and construct biological devices. Contrary to traditional genetic engineering that only alters an already existing DNA sequence, synthetic biology allows us to build entirely new sequences of DNA and put them to work in cells. This allows us to build novel biological devices that would never exist in nature.

Constructions and operations of devices that do not exist in nature, such as tools, vehicles, computers and the internet, have crafted modern civilization. Now, it is synthetic biology that is challenging nature’s limitations and advancing civilization to a higher level.

Generating biogas via anaerobic digestion of biomass and organic waste is one of the few proven, cost-effective, scalable biomass energy strategies. Biogas consists of mainly methane and carbon dioxide, and combustion of methane with air generates energy which can be used for many purposes such as cooking, heating, producing electricity and vehicle fuel. As a result, countless biogas plants are operating around the globe helping to clean up waste and generate energy. With more plants being built, they come in all sizes ranging from household to factory scales.

Anaerobic digestion is a process where extremely complex microbial communities degrade organic matter, such as sugars, fats and proteins, resulting in biogas as the primary end-product. Such inherent complexity makes this process very difficult to optimize. Mechanical engineers have made tremendous progress to optimize this process, but in many places it still requires government subsidies to be profitable.

Synthetic Biology and Biogas Industry

Essentially a process operating by living organisms, the biogas industry is a natural target for synthetic biology. In terms of their genetic content, organisms are classified into three natural groups, Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya. Most microbes are Archaea and Bacteria, while humans are Eukarya.

In an anaerobic digester, many different types of Bacteria convert the complex organic matter in waste or biomass to hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide, formate and acetate. A unique group of methanogenic Archaea then produces the invaluable part of biogas, methane, by eating hydrogen and carbon dioxide, formate or acetate.

One can imagine creating a super microbe to convert the complex organic matter directly into biogas, thus making anaerobic digestion faster, more efficient and easier-to-manipulate. Making a synthetic microbial community by reprogramming key microbes may also help them work together when a tough job (i.e., eating extremely complex waste) needs to be done.

Among numerous microbes in anaerobic digester, methanogenic Archaea are one of a few microbial groups that have been extensively studied, and a number of genetic tools are available for engineering via synthetic biology. Therefore, scientists have begun to reprogram methanogenic archaea, allowing them to eat organic matter such as sugars and directly produce methane. If they succeed, they may engineer a super microbe that never existed in nature and revolutionize the biogas industry by making anaerobic digestion much simpler and more efficient.

There is also the possibility of more applications downstream. For instance, upgrading biogas by removal of carbon dioxide improves its combustibility. A super microbe could be made to upgrade biogas using hydrogen gas or even electricity to form more methane from carbon dioxide.

Conceptualized super cell that converts idealized organic matter (2CH2O) directly into biogas.

Grand Challenges

However promising, grand challenges remain when it comes to applying synthetic biology to the biogas industry. About 10,000 moving parts are needed to make an automobile, millions of parts for an airplane, and all the parts are standardized.

Similar to those engineering sectors, synthetic biology also needs many standardized genetic parts and modules to be able to create biological devices that can really revolutionize an industry. Sophisticated genetic tools are needed as well to assemble these parts and put them to work. However, few such parts, modules and tools are at disposal for engineering microbes in an anaerobic digester.

Take methanogenic Archaea for example, only three parts are available in the iGEM registry, the world largest collection of biological parts for synthetic biology. Another challenge is an apparent neglect of synthetic biology by the biogas industry. Symposiums bringing professionals from biogas industry and synthetic biology together for discussions are rare, as are major investments for promoting synthetic biology.

As a result, few research groups are developing synthetic tools and parts for the biogas industry. For example, the aforementioned three iGEM parts were all contributed by only one group, the UGA-iGEM team at the University of Georgia.

Future Perspectives

Synthetic biology is developing faster than ever, and its cost continues to fall. Thanks to prompt actions of many industrial pioneers in embracing and supporting synthetic biology, it is already starting to revolutionize a few fields.

Synthetic biology also holds great potentials to revolutionize the biogas industry. To achieve this goal, joint efforts between the biogas industry and academia must be made. The former side needs to understand what synthetic biology can achieve, while the latter side should identify which parts of the process in the biogas industry can be re-designed and optimized by synthetic biology.

Once the two sides start to work together, novel synthetic parts and tools are bound to be invented, and they will make anaerobic digestion a better process for the biogas industry.

Bioenergy in the Middle East

The Middle East region offers tremendous renewable energy potential in the form of solar, wind and bioenergy which has remained unexplored to a great extent. The major biomass producing Middle East countries are Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Traditionally, biomass energy has been widely used in rural areas for domestic purposes in the Middle East. Since most of the region is arid/semi-arid, the biomass energy potential is mainly contributed by municipal solid wastes, agricultural residues and agro-industrial wastes.

Municipal solid wastes represent the best bioenergy resource in the Middle East. The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the region is not only accelerating consumption rates but also accelerating the generation of municipal waste. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries is estimated at more than 150 million tons annually.

In Middle East countries, huge quantity of sewage sludge is produced on daily basis which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment and human health. On an average, the rate of wastewater generation is 80-200 litres per person each day and sewage output is rising by 25 percent every year. According to estimates from the Drainage and Irrigation Department of Dubai Municipality, sewage generation in the Dubai increased from 50,000 m3 per day in 1981 to 400,000 m3 per day in 2006.

The food processing industry in Middle East produces a large number of organic residues and by-products that can be used as source of bioenergy. In recent decades, the fast-growing food and beverage processing industry has remarkably increased in importance in major countries of the Middle East.

Since the early 1990s, the increased agricultural output stimulated an increase in fruit and vegetable canning as well as juice, beverage, and oil processing in countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. There are many technologically-advanced dairy products, bakery and oil processing plants in the region.

date-wastes

Date palm biomass is found in large quantities across the Middle East

Agriculture plays an important role in the economies of most of the countries in the Middle East.  The contribution of the agricultural sector to the overall economy varies significantly among countries in the region, ranging, for example, from about 3.2 percent in Saudi Arabia to 13.4 percent in Egypt. Cotton, dates, olives, wheat are some of the prominent crops in the Middle East

Large quantities of crop residues are produced annually in the region, and are vastly underutilised. Current farming practice is usually to plough these residues back into the soil, or they are burnt, left to decompose, or grazed by cattle. These residues could be processed into liquid fuels or thermochemically processed to produce electricity and heat in rural areas.

Energy crops, such as Jatropha, can be successfully grown in arid regions for biodiesel production. Infact, Jatropha is already grown at limited scale in some Middle East countries and tremendous potential exists for its commercial exploitation.

The Middle Eastern countries have strong animal population. The livestock sector, in particular sheep, goats and camels, plays an important role in the national economy of the Middle East countries. Many millions of live ruminants are imported into the Middle Eastern countries each year from around the world. In addition, the region has witnessed very rapid growth in the poultry sector. The biogas potential of animal manure can be harnessed both at small- and community-scale.

Composting with Worms

Vermicomposting is a type of composting in which certain species of earthworms are used to enhance the process of organic waste conversion and produce a better end-product. It is a mesophilic process utilizing microorganisms and worms. Earthworms feeds the organic waste materials and passes it through their digestive system and gives out in a granular form (cocoons) which is known as vermicompost.

Simply speaking, vermicompost is earthworm excrement, called castings, which can improve biological, chemical, and physical properties of the soil. The chemical secretions in the earthworm’s digestive tract help break down soil and organic matter, so the castings contain more nutrients that are immediately available to plants.

Production of Vermicompost

A wide range of agricultural residues, such as straw, husk, leaves, stalks, weeds etc can be converted into vermicompost. Other potential feedstock for vermicompost production are livestock wastes, poultry litter, dairy wastes, food processing wastes, organic fraction of MSW, bagasse, digestate from biogas plants etc.

Earthworms consume organic wastes and reduce the volume by 40–60 percent. Each earthworm weighs about 0.5 to 0.6 gram, eats waste equivalent to its body weight and produces cast equivalent to about 50 percent of the waste it consumes in a day. The moisture content of castings ranges between 32 and 66 percent and the pH is around 7. The level of nutrients in compost depends upon the source of the raw material and the species of earthworm.

Types of Earthworms

There are nearly 3600 types of earthworms which are divided into burrowing and non-burrowing types. Red earthworm species, like Eisenia foetida, and are most efficient in compost making. The non-burrowing earthworms eat 10 percent soil and 90 percent organic waste materials; these convert the organic waste into vermicompost faster than the burrowing earthworms.

They can tolerate temperatures ranging from 0 to 40°C but the regeneration capacity is more at 25 to 30°C and 40–45 percent moisture level in the pile. The burrowing types of earthworms come onto the soil surface only at night. These make holes in the soil up to a depth of 3.5 m and produce 5.6 kg casts by ingesting 90 percent soil and 10 percent organic waste.

Types of Vermicomposting

The types of vermicomposting depend upon the amount of production and composting structures. Small-scale vermicomposting is done to meet personal requirements and farmers/gardeners can harvest 5-10 tons of vermicompost annually.

On the other hand, large-scale vermicomposting is done at commercial scale by recycling large quantities of organic waste in modern facilities with the production of more than hundreds of tons annually.

Benefits of Vermicompost

The worm castings contain higher percentage of both macro and micronutrients than the garden compost. Apart from other nutrients, a fine worm cast is rich in NPK which are in readily available form and are released within a month of application. Vermicompost enhances plant growth, suppresses disease in plants, increases porosity and microbial activity in soil, and improves water retention and aeration.

Vermicompost also benefits the environment by reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and decreasing the amount of waste going to landfills. Vermicompost production is trending up worldwide and it is finding increasing use especially in Western countries, Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia.

Vermicompost Tea

A relatively new product from vermicomposting is vermicompost tea which is a liquid produced by extracting organic matter, microorganisms, and nutrients from vermicompost. Unlike vermicompost and compost, this tea may be applied directly to plant foliage, reportedly to enhance disease suppression. Vermicompost tea also may be applied to the soil as a supplement between compost applications to increase biological activity.

Potential Market

Vermicompost may be sold in bulk or bagged with a variety of compost and soil blends. Markets include home improvement centers, nurseries, landscape contractors, greenhouses, garden supply stores, grocery chains, flower shops, discount houses, indoor gardens, and the general public.