The four stages of Anaerobic Digestion


In general, hydrolysis is a chemical reaction in which the breakdown of water occurs to form H+ cat ions and OH- anions. Hydrolysis is often used to break down larger polymers, often in the presence of an acidic catalyst. In anaerobic digestion, hydrolysis is the essential first step, as Biomass is normally comprised of very large organic polymers, which are otherwise unusable. Through hydrolysis, these large polymers, namely proteins, fats and carbohydrates, are broken down into smaller molecules such as amino acids, fatty acids, and simple sugars. While some of the products of hydrolysis, including hydrogen and acetate, may be used by methanogens later in the anaerobic digestion process, the majority of the molecules, which are still relatively large, must be further broken down in the process of acidogenesis so that they may be used to create methane.


Acidogenesis is the next step of anaerobic digestion in which acidogenic microorganisms further break down the Biomass products after hydrolysis. These fermentative bacteria produce an acidic environment in the digestive tank while creating ammonia, H2, CO2, H2S, shorter volatile fatty acids, carbonic acids, alcohols, as well as trace amounts of other by products. While acidogenic bacteria further break down the organic matter, it is still too large and unusable for the ultimate goal of methane production, so the biomass must next undergo the process of acetogenesis.


In general, acetogenesis is the creation of acetate, a derivative of acetic acid, from carbon and energy sources by acetogens. These microorganisms catabolise many of the products created in acidogenesis into acetic acid, CO2 and H2. Acetogens break down the Biomass to a point to which Methanogens can utilise much of the remaining material to create Methane as a Biofuel.


Methanogenesis constitutes the final stage of anaerobic digestion in which methanogens create methane from the final products of acetogenesis as well as from some of the intermediate products from hydrolysis and acidogenesis. There are two general pathways involving the use of acetic acid and carbon dioxide, the two main products of the first three steps of anaerobic digestion, to create methane in methanogenesis:

CO2 + 4 H2 → CH4 + 2H2O


While CO2 can be converted into methane and water through the reaction, the main mechanism to create methane in methanogenesis is the path involving acetic acid. This path creates methane and CO2, the two main products of anaerobic digestion.