Process Description

Numerous types of composting systems exist, but for the most part, composting systems can be divided into three categories: windrow, static pile, and in-vessel. Windrow systems are composed of long, narrow rows of sludge mixed with a bulking agent. The rows are typically trapezoidal in shape, 1 to 2 m high and 2 to 4.5 m wide at the base. The rows are usually uncovered but can be protected by simple roofs. The sludge mixture is aerated by convec-tive air movement and diffusion. Wastewater treatment facilities periodically turn the rows using mechanical means to expose the sludge to ambient oxygen, dissipate heat, and refluff the rows to maintain good free air space. Windrows can also be aerated by induced aeration (Hay and Kuchenrither 1990). Windrows are space-intensive but mechanically simple.

Static pile systems are also composed of a sludge-amendment mixture but are aerated by forced-aeration systems installed under the piles (Epstein et al. 1976). The aeration can be either positive or negative. Finstein, Miller, and Strom (1986) stress the need for positive aeration for process control. Others note the advantage of negative (suction) aeration for better possibilities of capturing the process air for odor control. Currently, most facilities in the United States use the static pile method (Goldstein, Riggle, and Steuteville 1992).

In-vessel composting takes place in either partially or completely enclosed containers. A variety of schematics use various forced aeration and mechanical turning technologies (Tchobanoglous and Burton 1991). In-vessel composting is space efficient but more mechanically complex than the other two system categories. They offer excellent possibilities for process and odor control. Among the facilities commissioned within the past few years, a greater percentage are using in-vessel methods (Goldstein, Riggle, and Steuteville 1992).

Each of the system categories is capable of producing a good compost in a reliable and efficient manner. The choice of any given system depends on the site location, available space, and other local conditions.

Each system is composed of common basic steps. As shown in Figure 7.55.1, the basic steps of the composting process include the following:

1. Mixing dewatered sludge with a bulking agent

2. Aerating the composting pile by either the addition of air or mechanical turning

3. Further curing

4. Recovering the bulking agent

5. Final distribution

The first and second steps are critical to the process success. Recovering the bulking agent is an optional step that relates to system economy (reuse of the bulking agent) and product quality (the product compost with or without wood chips). The curing stage also relates to product quality because it influences compost stability. During this period, which can last as long as 30 to 60 days, further product stabilization with pathogen die-off and degassing occurs (Rynk 1992). Final disposal depends on the market for the product compost. The intended market for the compost dictates the need for bulking agent recovery as well as the length of the curing stage, and any other final operations (such as bagging).

While composting is a simple process, facilities must operate in a careful manner to ensure the production of a good-quality, stable compost while minimizing adverse environmental aspects, such as odor production. To ensure the production of a stable compost in a reliable and efficient manner while minimizing odor production, waste-water treatment facilities must operate any system to promote the growth of the microbial population and maintain these organisms under proper environmental conditions for a sufficient amount of time for the reactions (of stabilization) to occur.

The diagram proposed by Rynk (1992), as shown in Figure 7.55.2, shows the composting process. As described by Rynk (1992), the following conditions must be established and maintained:

• Organic materials appropriately mixed to provide the nutrients needed for microbial activity and growth, including a balanced supply of carbon and nitrogen (C:N ratio)

• Oxygen at levels that support aerobic organisms

• Enough moisture to permit biological activity without hindering aeration

• Temperatures that encourage vigorous microbial activity from thermophilic microorganisms

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Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

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