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Efficient operation and stability of biogas plants requires continuous monitoring of the digester content. Traditional laboratory analysis of digester sludge is often complex and time-consuming and shows a delayed response to disruptions within the fermentation process. As a new approach, we applied an online measurement technique (laser absorption spectroscopy) for real-time monitoring of stable carbon isotopes of methane in a pilot-scale biogas digester (3500 L) regularly fed with maize silage. Generally, isotopic composition of methane gives information about specific substrate degradation, that is, methanogenic pathways that reflect the actual digester state. First results of a 2-wk monitoring experiment show that stable carbon isotopes of methane respond promptly and highly dynamic to changes in the process state of the digester. In combination with other monitoring parameters (methane production rate, concentration of volatile fatty acids, and pH) the fluctuations in can be interpreted as a change in methanogenic pathways due to a high organic loading rate. In this context, might be used as a new parameter tool for monitoring and characterization of the process state of the digester.
Polag, D., L. C. Krapf, H. Heuwinkel, S. Laukenmann, J. Lelieveld, & F. Keppler (2014) Stable carbon isotopes of methane for real-time process monitoring in anaerobic digesters, Engineering in Life Sciences 14(2):153-160.