How Does Anaerobic Digestion Work?

Last Updated January 22, 2021

Published by AgSTAR, EPA

As stated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, anaerobic digestion is a process through which bacteria break down organic matter—such as animal manure, wastewater biosolids, and food wastes—in the absence of oxygen.  Anaerobic digestion for biogas production takes place in a sealed vessel called a reactor, which is designed and constructed in various shapes and sizes specific to the site and feedstock conditions.

 

These reactors contain complex microbial communities that break down (or digest) the waste and produce resultant biogas and digestate (the solid and liquid material end-products of the AD process) which is discharged from the digester.

Multiple organic materials can be combined in one digester, a practice called co-digestion. Co-digested materials include manure; food waste (i.e., processing, distribution and consumer generated materials); energy crops; crop residues; and fats, oils, and greases (FOG) from restaurant grease traps, and many other sources. Co-digestion can increase biogas production from low-yielding or difficult-to-digest organic waste.  Read More...