Dynamics of the anaerobic process: Effects of volatile fatty acids

Peter Frode Pind, Irini Angelidaki, Birgitte Kiær Ahring

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    A complex and fast dynamic response of the anaerobic biogas system was observed when the system was subjected to pulses of volatile fatty acids (VFAs). It was shown that a pulse of specific VFAs into a well-functioning continuous stirred tank reactor (CSTR) system operating on cow manure affected both CH4 yield, pH, and gas production and that a unique reaction pattern was seen for the higher VFAs as a result of these pulses. In this study, two thermophilic laboratory reactors were equipped with a novel VFA-sensor for monitoring specific VFAs online. Pulses of VFAs were shown to have a positive effect on process yield and the levels of all VFA were shown to stabilize at a lower level after the biomass had been subjected to several pulses. The response to pulses of propionate or acetate was different from the response to butyrate, iso-butyrate, valerate, or iso-valerate. High concentrations of propionate affected the degradation of all VFAs, while a pulse of acetate affected primarily the degradation of iso-valerate or 2-methylbutyrate. Pulses of n-butyrate, iso-butyrate, and iso-valerate yielded only acetate, while degradation of n-valerate gave both propionate and acetate. Product sensitivity or inhibition was shown for the degradation of all VFAs tested. Based on the results, it was concluded that measurements of all specific VFAs are important for control purposes and increase and decrease in a specific VFA should always be evaluated in close relationship to the conversion of other VFAs and the history of the reactor process. It should be pointed out that the observed dynamics of VFA responses were based on hourly measurements, meaning that the response duration was much lower than the hydraulic retention time, which exceeds several days in anaerobic CSTR systems.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
    Issue number7
    Pages (from-to)791-801
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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