Substrate Types and Management

From energypedia


Substrate TS [%] VS [%] Biogas [m³ / t FM] CH4 [m³/ t FM] Energy yield [Kwh/t FM]
Pig manure 6 80 28 16,8 167
Cattle manure 10 80 25 15 150
Poultry manure 30 75 140 84 837
Horse manure w/o straw 63 37,8 377
Energy crops
Maize silage 33 95 200 120 1196
Wheat Silage 33 95 190 114 1137
Wheat straw 0 0
Grass silage 35 90 180 108 1077
Sugar beet 23 90 130 78 778
Fodder beet 16 90 90 54 538
Rice straw 0 0
Rice seed coat 0 0
Cane trash (bagasse) 0 0
Substrates from processing industry / agricultural residues
Molasses 85 88 315 189 1884
Fruit pomace 3 95 15 9 90
Rapeseed cake 92 87 660 396 3948
Vegetables residue 100 60 598
Prunings and clippings 12 88 175 105 1047
TS: Total Solids VS: Volatile SolidsFM: Fresh Mass;
The figures for biogas yields and methane yields are stated in units of normal cubic metres (Nm3).
Source: Guide to Biogas, FNR 2012

Example for the demand of substrates to supply a 350 kWel biogas plant:

5500 t maize silage (125 ha)
3000 t cattle manure (150 cows)
1000 t wheat (28,5 ha)

Cattle Dung

Cattle dung is the most suitable material for biogas plants because of the methane-producing bacteria already contained in the stomach of ruminants. The specific gas production, however, is lower and the proportion of methane is around 65% because of pre-fermentation in the stomach. Its homogenous consistency is favourable for use in continuous plants as long as it is mixed with equal quantities of water.

Fresh cattle dung is usually collected and carried to the system in buckets or baskets. Upon arrival it is hand-mixed with about an equal amount of water before being fed into the digester. Straw and leftover fodder or hay is removed by hand in order to prevent clogging and reduce scum formation. Since most simple cow-sheds have dirt floors, the urine is usually not collected. When it is, it usually runs along the manure gutter and into a pail standing in a recess at the end of the gutter. The pail is emptied into the mixing pit - thereby replacing some of the mixing water - in preparation for charging the digester. Urine can considerably increase the gas production. A cemented stable floor, directly attached to the mixing pit, is the best solution to make optimum use of dung and urine and to save time for charging the digester.


Liquid cattle manure, a mixture of dung and urine, requires no extra water. However, the simple animal housing found on most farms in developing countries normally does not allow the collection of all animal excrement. Hence, most of the urine with its valuable plant nutrients is lost.

Pig Dung and Manure

When pigs are kept in unpaved areas or pens, only the dung can be collected. It must be diluted with water to the requisite consistency for charging the digester. This could result in considerable amounts of sand being fed into the digester, unless it is allowed to settle in the mixing vessel. Once inside the digester, sand and soil accumulates at the bottom and has to be removed periodically. Some form of mechanical mixer should be used to dilute the dung with water, since the odor nuisance makes manual mixing so repulsive that it is usually neglected. Similar to cow stables, a cemented floor, sloping towards the mixing pit, is a preferable solution.

Compared to cattle, pigs are more frequently kept on concrete floors. The water used for washing out the pens yields liquid manure with a low solids content. Thus, whenever the topography allows, the liquid manure should be allowed to flow by gravity into the digester. Wash-water should be used as sparingly as possible in order to minimize the necessary digester volume. Very frequently, the pig manure is collected in pails, which is advantageous, even though a sand trap should be provided to prevent sand from entering the digester.

Goat Dung

For goats kept on unpaved floors, the situation is comparable to that described for pigdung. Since a goat farm is practically the only place where any substantial amount of goat dung can accumulate, and then only if the animals are kept on straw bedding, the available feed-stock for a biogas system will usually consist of a mixture of dung and straw bedding. Most such systems are batch-fed versions into which the dung and an appropriate quantity of water are loaded without being pre-mixed. The feed-stock is usually hauled to and from the digester in wheelbarrows or baskets.

Chicken Droppings

Chicken droppings can only be used if the chickens roost above a suitable dung collecting area of limited size. Otherwise, the sand or sawdust fraction would be disproportionately high. Chicken droppings can be fed into plants which are primarily filled with cow dung without any problem. There is a latent danger of high ammoniac concentration with pure chicken dung, but despite this there are many well functioning biogas plants combined with egg or meat producing factories. The collected droppings are hard and dry, so that they have to be pulverized and mixed with water before they can be loaded into the digester. Mechanical mixing is advisable. The proportion of methane in biogas from chicken excrement is up to 60%.

Human Excrements

In most cultures, handling human excrement is loaded with taboos. Thus, if night soil is to be used in a biogas system, the toilets in question should drain directly into the system so that the night soil is fermented without pretreatment. The amount of water accompanying the night soil should be minimized by ensuring that no water taps or other external sources drain into the toilet bowls, and cleaning/flushing should be limited to rinsing out with about 0.5 - 1 liter water from a bowl. Western-style flush tanks should not be used in connection with small-size biogas plants.

In areas subject to frequent or seasonal water shortages, sand traps are a must, since wiping with stones is often the only means of cleaning after using the toilet.

Separation of Material

Straw, grass, stalks and even already dried dung tends to float to the surface. Solid and mineral material tends to sink to the bottom and, in the course of time, may block the outlet pipe or reduce the active digester volume. In properly mixed substrate with not too high water contents, there is no such separation because of sufficient friction within the paste-like substance.


With pure and fresh cattle dung there is usually no scum problem. Floating layers will become a problem when e.g. undigestible husks are part of the fodder. This is often the case in pig feeds. Before installing a biogas plant at a piggery, the kind of fodder and consequently the kind of dung, must be checked to ensure that it is suitable for a biogas plant. It might be necessary to grind the fodder into fine powder. The user must be aware of the additional costs before deciding on a biogas unit. The problem is even bigger with poultry droppings. The kind of fodder, the sand the chicken pick up, and the feathers falling to the ground make poultry dung a difficult substrate. In case of serious doubt, the building of a biogas plant should be re-assessed.

Scum can be avoided by stirring, but...

Scum is not brittle but very filthy and tough. Scum can become so solid after only a short time, that it needs heavy equipment to break it. It remains at the surface after being broken up. To destroy it by fermentation, it must be kept wet. Either the scum must be watered from the top or pushed down into the liquid. Both operations demand costly equipments. For simple biogas plants, stirring is not a viable solution for breaking the scum.

The only solution for simple biogas plants to avoid scum is by selecting suitable feed material and by sufficient mixing of the dung with liquid before entering the plant.

Further Information


GTZ: Biogas Digest Volume II: Biogas - Application and Product Development