A proposed mechanism for the ammonia-LCFA synergetic co-inhibition effect on anaerobic digestion process

Hailin Tian*, Panagiotis Karachalios, Irini Angelidaki, Ioannis Fotidis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Ammonia and long chain fatty acids (LCFA) are two major inhibitors of the anaerobic digestion (AD) process. The individual inhibitory effect of each of these two inhibitors is well established; however, the combined co-inhibition effect has not been thoroughly assessed yet. In the current study, the ammonia-LCFA synergetic co-inhibition effect was investigated in both batch and continuous experiments. In the batch experiments, a clear ammonia-LCFA synergetic co-inhibitory effect was identified when the LCFA concentrations were higher than 0.05 g oleate L-1 and ammonia levels between 4.0 and 7.0 NH4+-N L-1. This synergetic effect for LCFA and ammonia levels above 1.1 g oleate L-1 and 4.5 NH4+-N L-1, respectively, was validated in continuous reactors experiments. Nevertheless, adaptation of the AD microbiome to this synergetic co-inhibition could occur after a period of continuous operation. A potential mechanism to explain the synergetic co-inhibition lies on the initial inhibition of methanogens caused by ammonia resulting in increased VFA and hydrogen concentrations, which in turn renders β-oxidation of LCFA thermodynamically unfavourable and thereby brings about further excess accumulation of LCFA and consequently higher unspecific toxicity of all AD steps. This is a vicious cycle, which makes the combined inhibition of the two toxicants more severe, compared to the sum of their individual inhibition effects at the same operational conditions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
Pages (from-to)574-580
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Anaerobic microbiome
  • Batch reactors
  • CSTR reactors
  • Methane
  • Toxicity


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