Dry Anaerobic Digestion (AD) presents different advantages if compared to wet AD, i.e. smaller reactor size, lesser water addition, digestate production and pretreatment needed, although several studies have demonstrated that water promotes substrate hydrolysis and enables the transfer of process intermediates and nutrients to bacterial sites.
To better understand the role of water on AD, dry and semidry digestion tests of selected complex organic substrates (food waste, rice straw, carrot waste), with various TS contents of the treated biomass have been carried out in the present study. The results confirm that water plays an essential role on the specific methane production rate, final methane yield and Volatile Solids (VS) degradation. The final methane yield in semi-dry and dry conditions was 51% and 59% lower for rice straw and 4% and 41% lower for food waste, respectively, if compared with wet conditions.
Inhibition tests, based on Volatile Fatty Acid (VFA) analysis, were carried out to investigate the specific inhibition processes that take place with the selected substrates at different TS contents. In wet AD of carrot waste no VFA accumulation was found, and all VFA concentrations were lower than the inhibition limits. A direct correlation between TS content and total VFA (TVFA) concentration was noticed for rice straw and food waste AD. For rice straw a maximum TVFA concentration of 2.1 g/kg was found in dry condition, 1 g/kg in semidry conditions and 0.2 g/kg in wet conditions, whereas for food waste the TVFA concentration was 10 g/kg in dry condition, 9 g/kg in semidry conditions and 3 g/kg in wet conditions.
A Mathematical model of complex organic substrate AD in dry and semidry conditions has been proposed to simulate the effect of TS content on the process. The data obtained from batch experiments, in terms of methane production and VFA concentrations, were used to calibrate the proposed model. The kinetic parameters of VFA production and degradation, calibrated using the experimental data, resulted highly dependent on the TS content and different from wet AD literature values. This is due to VFA accumulation in dry conditions, which implies lower values of the kinetic constants function of the TS content introduced in the model.
Finally, as dry AD takes usually place in Plug Flow (PF) reactors, an historical and critical review on the role of hydrodynamics in PF bioreactors has been carried out.