Anaerobic digestion of stillage fractions – estimation of the potential for energy recovery in bioethanol plants

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Stillage processing can require more than one third of the thermal energy demand of a dry-grind bioethanol production plant. Therefore, for every stillage fraction occurring in stillage processing the potential of energy recovery by anaerobic digestion (AD) was estimated. In the case of whole stillage up to 128% of the thermal energy demand in the process can be provided, so even an energetically self-sufficient bioethanol production process is possible. For wet cake the recovery potential of thermal energy is 57%, for thin stillage 41%, for syrup 40% and for the evaporation condensate 2.5%. Specific issues for establishing AD of stillage fractions are evaluated in detail; these are high nitrogen concentrations, digestate treatment and trace element supply. If animal feed is co-produced at the bioethanol plant and digestate fractions are to be reused as process water, a sufficient quality is necessary. Most interesting stillage fractions as substrates for AD are whole stillage, thin stillage and the evaporation condensate. For these fractions process details are presented.

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