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APECS research group, Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam

The APECS (Anaerobic Pathways to Renewable Energies and Carbon Sinks) research team at the German Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim (ATB) is headed by Dr. Jan Mumme. The team consists of 4 Postdoc researchers and 4 PhD students.

APECS focuses on efficient and sustainable production of biomethane as a high-quality fuel and biochar as a soil amender from organic waste.

Anaerobic digestion and thermochemical carbonization are integrated into an efficient hybrid method using several innovative and patent-pending technologies and state of the art chemical and microbiological methods such as GC, HPLC, T-RFLP, and laser scanning microscopy. APECS looks at the entire process chain from field to field and conducts an economic evaluation and a life cycle assessment. The goal is to create an innovative and sustainable process for biochar and bioenergy production which is attractive for both farmers and industrial enterprises.

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Biochar Production

While knowledge about pyrolytic production and soil use of biochar is still little, research about hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) has just started in recent years. As HTC promises energetically efficient conversion of wet feedstock such as digestate, APECS focuses on a better understanding of HTC and exploiting its potential for biochar production and soil amendment.

Both slow pyrolysis and HTC are investigated experimentally in the biochar lab of ATB. The results are subsequently used for software based process simulation and optimization. The equipment includes HTC reactors of 100 mL, 1 L and 20 L scales and a 30 kg/h rotary kiln for slow pyrolysis.

Biochar Refining

Without prior biological treatment biochar tends to show negative effects on plant growth. APECS aims to design an efficient biological process for refining biochar into an effective soil amender that supports plant growth directly after application. Furthermore, plant nutrients that were mineralized during anaerobic digestion are be adsorbed by the biochar turning it into a fertilizer.

Soil Effects

The biochar products are tested in incubation experiments as well as in field experiments. The emphasis is placed on carbon stability, GHG emissions and effects on plant growth.

Process modeling and system integration

Combining anaerobic digestion with biochar production yields an efficient but a complex process that has a high synergetic potential.

In order to exploit the full potential of this combined process software-based simulation is carried out using the powerful tool “Aspen Plus”. The goal is to evaluate the process effectiveness, to optimize the process integration and to identify the key parameters for the process control.