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Thermophilic anaerobic biodigestion of vinasse in combined acidogenic-methanogenic systems to enhance bioenergy recovery in first generation sugarcane biorefineries

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Lucas Tadeu Fuess
Total Authors: 1
Document type: Doctoral Thesis
Press: São Carlos.
Institution: Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Escola de Engenharia de São Carlos (EESC/SBD)
Defense date:
Examining board members:
Marcelo Zaiat; Sérgio Francisco de Aquino; Antonio Maria Francisco Luiz José Bonomi; Telma Teixeira Franco; Cláudio Augusto Oller do Nascimento
Advisor: Marcelo Zaiat; Marcelo Loureiro Garcia

The production of biofuels comprises an efficient alternative to overcome the economicenvironmental drawbacks inherent to the trade and use of fossil fuels. Ethanol is one of the main alternative biofuels, with sugarcane distilleries characterized as important examples of biorefineries, which, similarly to the oil industry, aim to obtain a spectrum of (bio)products and/or bioenergy from the vegetal biomass. Although the raw material is converted into ethanol, sugar and electricity in the current sugarcane biorefineries, a considerable fraction of the energy from sugarcane (as organic matter) is still wasted in vinasse. Potential negative impacts from fertirrigation, i.e., the direct application of vinasse into the agricultural soil, also comprise another relevant drawback of the current management of this wastewater in Brazil. Anaerobic biodigestion has great potential of application in the treatment of vinasse, aiming to reduce its polluting organic load concomitantly to the bioenergy recovery from biogas. Although this process enhances the energy extraction from sugarcane in the biorefinery, the reference literature still lacks on the definition of parameters that encourage the implementation of biodigestion in Brazilian distilleries. In this context, this study presents a holistic overview of the application of biodigestion in the treatment of sugarcane vinasse, defining operating conditions for an efficient and stable conversion of the organic matter into hydrogen and methane in two-phase (acidogenic + methanogenic) thermophilic systems (55ºC). Different scenarios for the production of bioenergy from biogas were also studied by using simulation tools, aiming to provide technical, economic and environmental aspects of the implementation of vinasse biodigestion plants in the Brazilian sucro-alcohol industry. In experimental terms, the results showed the ability of the acidogenic reactor to maintain a continuous long-term (240 days) biohydrogen production, characterizing the application of specific operating strategies, e.g. control of the pH and biomass concentration inside the reactor, as imperative for the recovery of systems subjected to performance losses. In the methanogenic phase, the application of increasing organic loadings (up to 30 kgCOD m-3 d-1) to a conventional sludge blanket reactor and a structured-bed reactor indicated a much superior performance of the adhered cell system, especially in terms of the long-term operating stability (240 days). Finally, regarding the technological assessment of the biodigestion, the feasibility of scaling-up anaerobic systems with phase separation to the treatment of vinasse in sugarcane biorefineries was demonstrated, regardless of the type of use proposed for hydrogen: non-recovery, sale as a value-added product, biohythane production or injection into the methanogenic reactor. The results also pointed out the determining role of the alkalinization of the systems to improve the economic-environmental performance of biodigestion, in order to overcome the effects of the reduction of investment costs in some cases. In short, it is expected that the results presented in this study will serve as reference to decision-makers in the sucro-alcohol industry, filling information gaps and highlighting the feasibility of implementing biodigestion. (AU)