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12.7 Digeponics

4 months ago

3 min read

Anaerobic processing of purposely cultivated biomass, as well as residual plant material from agricultural activity, for biogas production is a well-established method. The bacterially indigestible digestate is returned to the fields as a fertilizer and for building humus. Whilst this process is widespread in agriculture, the application of this technology in horticulture is relatively new. Stoknes et al. (2016) claim that within the 'Food to waste to food' (F2W2F) project, an efficient method for the utilization of digestate as substrate and fertilizer has been developed for the first time. The research team coined the term 'digeponics' for this circular system. Digeponics, in contrast to aquaponics, replaces the aquaculture part with an anaerobic digester, or, when comparing it to a three loop aquaponic system that includes an anaerobic, the aquaculture part is removed from the system, leaving two main loops, the digestion loop and the horticultural loop.

The required organic input that is provided in the form of the fish food to an aquaponic system is replaced with food waste from human food production for digeponics. The varying composition of nutrients in the input stream opposed to the well-known, constant and probably nutritionally optimized nutrient stream resulting from the fish feed will most likely call for a more strict nutrient analysis and management regime than that required in aquaponics.

The produced biogas, which mainly contains methane and carbon dioxide, can be utilized within the facility for electricity and heat production. The resulting carbon dioxide-rich exhaust gas can be used as a fertilizer directly in the greenhouse reducing emissions in comparison to classical biogas plants used in agriculture.

Since the 'fresh and untreated digestate in anaerobic liquid slurry (contains) plant toxic substances, a very high electrical conductivity (EC) and chemical oxygen demand (COD)' (Stoknes et al. 2016), it has to be treated to make it suitable for plant fertilization. Several methods of moderation have been examined within the F2W2F project. The relatively high EC of the digestate and the operational flexibility of a digester fed with low-cost food waste alleviate some of the tight coupling issues often attributed to coupled aquaponic systems (see Chap. 7). Thus digeponics may serve as an interesting alternative to aquaponics in situations where the aquaculture part represents a challenge. With respect to a three loop aquaponic system that already comprises a loop with an anaerobic digester, the inclusion of a food waste stream for organic input might represent an interesting future direction. The methane yield of aquaculture sludge is rather limited. A targeted inclusion of residual agricultural biomass with the aim of methane yield optimization could enhance overall performance.