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Modelling of anaerobic digester biogas production: case

study of a pilot project in Morocco
Youssef Abarghaz, Khiyati Mohammed El Ghali, Mustapha Mahi,
Christine Werner, Najib Bendaou, Mohammed Fekhaoui
and Ben Houssa Abdelaziz

An anaerobic digestion pilot system was implemented in June 2010 in the Moroccan village of Dayet
Ifrah. The input material consists of toilet wastewater and cattle manure. Biogas is produced under
anaerobic conditions. It is used for heating and cooking. This biogas system could be an useful
sanitation technology due to its ability to treat wastewater. The biogas system was monitored over
86 days in summer 2012 to measure gas production. The average gas production recorded was
about 1,870 l per day. This amount is sufcient for a farming family composed of 17 people. Our work
seeks to nd the most appropriate formula to predict biogas production under Moroccan conditions.
We compared and ranked different formulas by applying principal component analysis and the
ELECTRE III method. The variables studied were the chemical oxygen demand reduction and biogas
volume measurements. The results show that the formula of Vedrenne (2007) is the most
appropriate equation to predict biogas production in Moroccan rural areas.
Key words

| anaerobic digestion, biogas, ELECTRE III method, methanisation, Moroccan rural areas,
principal component analysis

Youssef Abarghaz (corresponding author)

Khiyati Mohammed El Ghali
Najib Bendaou
Ben Houssa Abdelaziz
Faculty of Science,
Mohammed V-Agdal University,
E-mail: youssef-a.b@hotmail.com
Mustapha Mahi
Institut International de lEau et de
lAssainissement de lONEE,
Christine Werner
GIZ, Rabat,
Mohammed Fekhaoui
Scientic Institute Mohammed V-Agdal University,

Anaerobic digestion is a series of biological processes in

hydrolysis are further split during acidogenesis, the second

which anaerobic microorganisms break down biodegrad-

step. Volatile fatty acids are produced by acidogenic (or fer-

able material, such as municipal wastewater, food waste,

mentative) bacteria along with ammonia (NH3), carbon

fats, oils, grease and various other organic waste streams,

dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulde (H2S) and other by-products

without using oxygen. Multi-molecular organic substances

(Appels et al. ). The third step is acetogenesis. During this

are decomposed into simple, chemically stabilized com-

phase, the main substrates of methanogenesis (acetic acid

pounds mainly formed of methane and carbon dioxide

(CH3COOH), CO2 and H2) are produced by fermentation

(Naik et al. ).

through the action of acetogenic bacteria. The fourth step is

Anaerobic digestion usually takes place in four stages.

methanogenesis. It is the biological production of methane

The rst two stages are often grouped together as they are per-

mediated by anaerobic microorganisms from methanogens

formed by the same microorganism populations, according to

(organisms not requiring the presence of free or dissolved

Couturier & Galtier (). The hydrolysis step degrades both

oxygen). There are two major pathways for methane pro-

insoluble organic material and high molecular weight com-

duction (Hill ) (Figure 1):

pounds, such as lipids, polysaccharides, proteins and

nucleic acids, into soluble organic substances (e.g. amino
acids and fatty acids). The compounds formed during
doi: 10.2166/wrd.2013.097

First, acetate methanogenic bacteria convert acetate to

methane. This is responsible for 70% of the methane

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time, carbon/nitrogen ratio and toxic elements, affect the

rates of the different stages of the biomethanisation process.
Temperature has a signicant effect on the physicochemical
properties of the components found in the digestion substrate. It also inuences the growth rate and metabolism of
microorganisms and hence the population dynamics in the
anaerobic reactor (Appels et al. ). In fact, anaerobic
digestion materials in a digester are optimal when the
methanogenic bacteria assimilate acids at the same speed
as they are produced. However, temperature variations in
the mixture can inhibit methanogens, disrupt the process
and thus cause failures in the chain of methane production
(Balsam ). Biogas sanitation is often applied in
Figure 1

Flow chart of the Hill (1982) model.

countries where the ambient average temperature ranges


are above 15 C. When the temperature is less than 8 C,

digestion capability is much reduced. The process is also

sensitive to temperature variations of more than 3 C; therefore, variations have to be kept within a limited range to


ensure steady biogas production. To cope with this constraint, the digester should be covered with a good thermal

Second, CO2 and H2 are converted to methane:

insulation layer (mixture of soil and straw). Thus, the level

of gas production coming out the digester in Dayet Ifrah

2H2 CO2 ! CH4 O2

Other reactions arise from different compounds such as

could be maintained at a constant level even under negative

temperatures (winter).

methanol, formic acid and methyl or dimethyl compounds.

Sulfate-reducing bacteria are also present. They reduce sul-

In order to form methane, the pH must be between 5.5 and

fates and other sulfur compounds to hydrogen sulde

8.5, with an optimum around 78 (Al Saedi et al. ). The

(H2S) and mercaptans, which give biogas its characteristic

system pH is controlled by CO2 concentration in the gas


phase and the HCO

3 alkalinity of the liquid phase. If CO2

In short, anaerobic digestion is the process of degra-

concentration in the gas phase remains constant, the poss-

dation and stabilization of organic materials by the action

ible addition of HCO

3 alkalinity can increase the digester

of anaerobic bacteria to produce biogas (biomethanation).

pH (Turovskiy & Mathai ).

The main stages of anaerobic digestion are: hydrolysis, acidogenesis, acetogenesis and methanogenesis.


Parameters affecting of biomethanisation

Partial alkalinity, as a measure of bicarbonate concentration, and intermediate alkalinity, as a measure of the

Within the anaerobic environment, various important par-

concentration of volatile fatty acids (VFA) are useful par-

ameters, such as temperature, pH, alkalinity, retention

ameters for monitoring anaerobic digestion processes.

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A total alkalinity (partial alkalinity plus intermediate alka-

The biodigester implemented in Dayet Ifrah village oper-

linity) of 1.5 g CaCO3/l is recommended for the adequate

ates normally and successfully without any problems, which

performance of the anaerobic systems. However, the true

implies that biogas production is at its optimum.

monitoring parameter used is the intermediate alkalinity to

The results of the Dayet Ifrah biogas system analysis car-

total alkalinity ratio which must be maintained lower than

ried out from April 2011 to July 2011 are summarized as

0.30.4 (Franco et al. ). A buffering capacity of 70 meq


CaCO3/l or a molar ratio of at least 1.4:1 of bicarbonate/

VFA should be maintained for a stable and well-buffered

As shown in the Table 1, the ratio of acidity on alkalinity

digestion process, although it has been shown that the stab-

is around 0.5, which shows that there is no accumulation

ility of the ratio is of great importance, and is not so reliant

of VFAs (propenoic acid, acetic acid, butyric acid), which

on its level (Appels et al. ).

would certainly disturb the anaerobic digestion process

Solids and hydraulic retention time

and consequently the production of biogas.

As shown in Table 2, the pH in the biodigester entrance
is lower than the pH in the outlet, which corresponds

The solids retention time (SRT) is the average time solids spend
in the digester, whereas the hydraulic retention time (HRT) is

Table 1

Measurements of CaCO3 and fatty-acid concentrations

the average time the liquid sludge is held in the digester. The
subsequent steps of the digestion process are directly related
to the SRT. A decrease in the SRT decreases the extent of the
reactions and vice versa. Each time sludge is withdrawn, a fraction of the bacterial population is removed thus cell growth
must at least compensate cell removal to ensure steady state

Alkalinity (g CaCO3)

Acidity (g)

Ratio acidity/alkalinity

13 June 2011



16 June 2011




23 June 2011




27 June 2011




and avoid process failure (Appels et al. ).

Table 2

pH measurements

Carbon/nitrogen (C/N) ratio

It is always important to maintain by weight a carbon/nitrogen
(C/N) ratio between 15 and 30:1 to achieve an optimum digestion rate. The C/N ratio can be manipulated by combining
materials low in carbon with those that are high in nitrogen.
If the C/N ratio is very high, nitrogen limitation could cause
low gas production, since nutrients for the growth of anaerobic
bacteria are lacking. If the C/N ratio is very low, the pH value
may increase, with a toxic effect on bacteria, and also result in
lower biogas production (Van der Wal et al. ).
Toxic compounds
These may interfere with the process of digestion and alter
the quality of the digestate. Among these compounds,
there are usually interferents and pollutants. Interferents
include sand, glass, plastics, leather, pieces of metal, etc.,
while pollutants include disinfectants, heavy metals, antibiotics, etc. (Lesenfants ).



01 April 2011



13 April 2011



14 April 2011



15 April 2011



04 May 2011



05 May 2011



06 May 2011



16 May 2011



17 May 2011



18 May 2011



01 June 2011



02 June 2011



03 June 2011



14 June 2011



20 June 2011



23 June 2011



27 June 2011



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to the results of research carried out by Kupper & Fuchs

improve the digestion performance and the biogas pro-


duction efciency, allowing the gas production to reach








treatment reaches a performance about 82% as shown

3.34 m3/d.
Currently, the average biogas production recorded
during summer 2012 by the ow meter installed on site as

in Table 3.

shown in Figure 2 is about 1.87 m3/d. So, the measurements

According to the results shown in Tables 1, 2 and 3, the
Dayet Ifrah biogas system works normally and operates
properly. So, the low volume of biogas produced is only
due to the equation used to dimension the production of
According to a study conducted in 2009 in order to
design the biodigester in Dayet Ifrah village, we predicted
that biogas production in summer can reach 35 l/kg of
fresh matter (Wauthelet et al. ). In winter, biogas production could be reduced to 5 l/kg (Wauthelet et al. ).
The daily quantity of biogas produced by the slurry and
toilet wastewater is given in Table 4. When adding faeces,
biogas production is increased by only 190 l per day because
faeces have a relatively weak energy performance. Manure

conrm that the quantity of biogas predicted in 2009 was

overestimated. It seems that the anaerobic digestion
system produces less biogas than expected. Thus, the following question arises: which mathematical model could be
applied to predict biogas production in the case of this
Our study aimed to nd the most appropriate mathematical model to predict biogas production and to
choose the one best adapted to Moroccan conditions. To
do this, we compared and ranked different formulas by
applying principal component analysis and the ELECTRE
III method. The variables studied were the chemical
oxygen demand (COD) removed and the biogas volume

was added to the anaerobic digestion process in order to

Specications of biogas system in Dayet Ifrah
Table 3

The domestic toilet linked biogas system implemented in

BOD5 analysis results

Dayet Ifrah village consists of a biodigester tank as shown

BOD5 inlet (mg/l)

BOD5 outlet (mg/l)

18 May 2011



The biodigester of volume of 30 m3 is made of on-site

27 May 2011



13 June 2011


fabricated blocks tted in an excavated pit. The biodigester

16 June 2011



23 June 2011



27 June 2011



Table 4

Biogas production per day (slurries and wastewater)

Quantity of:

Biogas production

Slurry (kg/d)



in Figures 3 and 4.

Wastewater (kg/d)














Figure 2

Gas ow meter installed on site for measuring the biogas production.

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Figure 3

Anaerobic digester biogas plant

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First biogas system of xed-dome during construction in June 2010.

formulas described below at 20 C. We were limited to

this temperature as the biogas amount was measured
during summer.
The six formulas used are explained below:
Model used in Dayet Ifrah according to Wauthelet et al.
It has been estimated that biogas production can reach 35 l/
kg of fresh matter in summer and 5 kg in winter (Wauthelet
et al. ).
It was expected that the biogas production would be
about 3.34 m3/day.
Figure 4

The model used in Dayet Ifrah was:

Schematic diagram of the Dayet Ifrah Biogas System.

Qbiogaz 0:3 COD reduced m3 =d

is designed for 17 inhabitants. The calculated retention time
is approximately 150 days.



where: COD_reduced: chemical oxygen demand removed

per day (kg COD/d).

Formula according to Boursier ()

Vg Ps COD reduced


Formulas used to calculate COD removed and biogas


where: Vg: the quantity of biogas produced (m3); Ps: the specic
gas production (from 200 to 900 l gas) (Figure 5);

We calculated the COD removed that corresponded to

COD_reduced/d: chemical oxygen demand removed per day

each measured biogas volume by applying the different

(kg COD/d), is a measure of the oxygen required to oxidize

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where K: inhibition constant depending on the value of Mo:

It depends on the nature of the substrate and its concentration in organic matter. At low concentrations, the
kinetics of the gas production is faster (dilution of the
inhibitors). K 0.6 0.021 10(0.05Mo); Mm: kinetic coefcient 0.013 T  0.129. It depends on the temperature T

and is positive only above 10 C; Bo: potential production


of methane 0.35 m /kg Mo potential production of

methane per kg of oxidizable matter, i.e. the total volume
of biogas produced per unit of treated organic matter. It is
Figure 5

based on the biodegradability of the substrate.

Temperature effect on gas production (Nijaguna 2002).

all decomposed compounds, both organic and inorganic, in

Formula according to Vedrenne ()


Q Bo  Mo  MCF  Sg

Formula according to Bouille & Dubois ()

where: Bo: potential production of methane per kg of oxidiz-

Q Bo:Mo


where: Q: amount of biogas produced (m3); Bo: the potential of biogas production, i.e. the total volume of biogas
produced per unit of treated organic matter; Mo: oxidisable


able matter, i.e. the total volume of biogas produced per unit
of treated organic matter. It is based on the biodegradability
of the substrate; Mo: oxidizable matter; Sg: part of cattle
excreta directed towards anaerobic system; MCF: methane
conversion factor (Table 5).
Formula according to Executive Board-CDM ()


Q Sy  COD  MCF  CODf  F  16=12

Model Hashimoto (Chen & Hashimoto ; Hashimoto &
Chen ; Hashimoto )
Q m(m3 =d) VVJ:V


where VVJ: technological efciency (m3/m3.d). Daily

volume of biogas produced per unit volume of digester,


where: Sy: volume of wastes feeding the biodigester; COD:

chemical oxygen demand is a measure of the oxygen
required to oxidize all compounds, both organic and inorganic, in water; MCF: methane conversion factor; the
proportion of the methane producing potential that is

expressed in m3 of gas per m3 of digester per day; V: biodi-

achieved. The MCF can theoretically range from 0 to

gester volume (m3).

100%; CODf: fraction of COD converted to biogas; F: fraction of methane in gas (0.5, IPCC 2006); 16/12: fraction of
carbon converted to methane.


The daily COD removal depending on the biogas pro-

where B: biological efciency (m3 CH4/kg Mo). It denes

duction is shown in Figure 6.

the progress of the anaerobic reaction, expressed in m of

gas produced per kg of feed material; Mo: oxidizable

Table 5

Methane conversion factor (MCF) for storage of cattle slurry at different temperatures and durations

matter; HRT: hydraulic retention time, i.e. the number


of days that organic matter or bacteria remain in the

Temperature ( C) Retention time (Days)

















B(m3 CH4=kgMo) Bo:[(1  K)=(Mm HRT K  1)]

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decision aid, typically used in the eld of waste management; its principle is to class different proposed actions
and select the most suitable one (Saaty ). We adopt
the ELECTRE III method in this work because it has been
executed with success during the last two decades on a
large range of real applications in ranking problematics.


Figure 6

Daily COD removal (kg/d) depending on the biogas production (m /d).

Formulas evaluation calculating COD removed

By applying the methods previously mentioned, i.e. PCA

Methods used to evaluate and compare formulas

and ELECTRE III, it was found that the formula of VedrA biogas ow meter was installed on site in 2012 and the

enne is the most appropriate for estimating the production

biogas production was measured. The measurements made

of biogas in the context of our digester. Indeed, this formula

conrm that the quantity of biogas predicted in 2009 was

is ranked rst by applying the ELECTRE III method.

overestimated. It seems that the anaerobic digestion

system produces less biogas than expected especially

Results of the PCA

under high-temperature conditions (summer).

In this paper, in order to compare the equations described
above, we chose principal component analysis (PCA) (Le
Moal ). The results of the PCA were then compared and

Figure 7 shows the position of each biogas production formula compared to others.
To choose the appropriate formula, we applied the

ranked using the ELECTRE III multi-criteria method.

PCA is a well-known descriptive method that consists of
analysing data and representing through graphics the simi-

Results of ELECTRE III method

larities between individuals from all variables. PCA was

implemented according to the factor analysis procedure of

All studied formulas were ranked by the ELECTRE III

SPSS software (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences).

method depending on the distance between the point of

Factor analysis is based on the calculation of averages, var-

each formula represented in the eigenvectors plane

iances and correlation coefcients. It is a multivariate data

analysis technique whose main purpose is to reduce the
dimensions of the observations and thus simplify the analysis
and the interpretation of data, as well as facilitate the construction







dimensionality reduction technique that identies orthogonal

directions of maximum variance in original data, and projects
the data into a lower dimensionality space formed of a sub-set
of the highest variance components (Le Moal ).
ELECTRE (ELimination and Choice Expressing REality) is a family of multi-criteria analysis and decisionmaking methods. ELECTRE III was developed by Roy
(, ) in response to the deciencies of existing
decision-making methods. It is a mathematical method of

Figure 7

Formulas estimating biogas production represented in the eigenvectors plane.

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above and its projection in the line passing through the

different values around the average of 1.87 m3/d of biogas

barycentre point and the origin (0,0). Thus, the closest for-

production. This alternation is explained by the succession

mula to the line remains the most appropriate formula to

of biogas production and its consumption for cooking. The


gas is used immediately after its production. The value of

As shown in Table 6, the Vedrenne formula ranked rst

biogas volume increases and drops successively. Biogas is

among all the formulas sorted by the ELECTRE III method.

produced after the addition of the continuous substrate of

It is then the most appropriate for calculating COD and

manure and human excreta; which conrms that the pro-

biogas amount.

cess of methanogenesis is operating normally and the

In conclusion, the study carried out in 2009 predicted


digester is fed with biodegradable organic substrates.

that the biogas production will reach nearly 3.34 m /d,

This also conrms that the continuous feeding of sub-

whereas, the biogas ow meter indicated lower production.

strate helps digestion and accelerates the development of

methanogenic bacteria, hence triggering the methanogenic

Evolution of biogas production volume versus time

stage (Djafri et al. ).

We monitored the evolution of biogas production for 86

approximately 160 m3 of biogas as shown in Figure 9.

During this 86-day period, the digester produced

days. The results are shown in Figure 8.
We observe, in Figure 8, that the biogas production

Evolution of the pressure of gas holder

varies around an average of 1.87 m3/d ranging between

0.25 and 3.79 m3/d. We also observe the alternation of

The biogas is produced and accumulates under the dome when

the pressure is not zero. At the maximum pressure, the amount

Table 6

of available biogas is limited by the level of the inlet nozzle. If

Ranking formulas using ELECTRE III method

Ranking formulas

there is little gas in the gasholder, the gas pressure will be low
and the farmers needs cannot be satised.

Formula used in Dayet Ifrah

Formule according to Boursier

Formula according to Bouille and Dubois

Formula according to Hashimoto

Formula according to Vedrenne

Formula according to CDM-Executive Board

Figure 8

Daily biogas yield (in m3) versus time (86 days).

In the biodigester built in Dayet Ifrah village, a manometer was introduced to measure gas pressure Figure 10).
Figure 11 shows the evolution of pressure in the gasometer over a period of 41 days. It shows that biogas is
produced under an average pressure equal to 52.7 mbar in
the reactor. This pressure is sufcient in the case of direct

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Figure 9

Anaerobic digester biogas plant

Journal of Water Reuse and Desalination

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Cumulative biogas production during 86-day period.

pressure pushes the inverted gasholder upwards and as the

gas is being used, the gasholder gradually lowers down. An
average amount of approximately 1.87 m3 was recorded for
cooking food with an average pressure value of about
52 mbar. According to plant owners, about 2 hours/day burning period of gas was noted during the measurements made.
The gas production was found to be approximately 1,870 l/
d. The gas ow meter works properly as indicated by the
measured high pressure.
Capital, operation and maintenance costs
Figure 10

Manometer installed in Dayet Ifrah for measuring the pressure of the biogas.
Photo: Abarghaz 2012.

The capital cost of the pilot biodigester constructed in Dayet

Ifrah in 2010 is about USD 84 per cubic meter of biodige-

use of biogas (e.g. stoves), because it exceeds 50 mbar. This

ster. It was estimated that 3.34 m3/d of biogas would be

is sufcient to provide a ow of gas for consumption

produced. In fact, the biogas production is only about

(Wauthelet et al. ).

1.87 m3/d. So, this cost can be reduced by 56% using

According to Figure 11, the amount of biogas production

Vedrennes formula. The produced biogas is sufcient for

increased gradually along with increasing pressure and con-

cooking purposes throughout the whole year. The project

sumption and vice versa. When gas is produced, the gas

was assumed to be economically feasible because it shows

Figure 11

Pressure evolution in the gasometer during 41-day period.

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a payback period of 5 years as the farmer family needs USD

determine whether satisfactory biogas production can be

460 per year to buy wood, fertilizers and some bottles of


natural gas. In rural areas of Morocco, people usually use

rewood for cooking and heating.
The biodigester incurs very small operational and main-


tenance (O&M) costs. Annual O&M costs can be estimated

at 1% of capital costs. It was constructed in 2010 and is still
operating in good condition. Its lifetime is more than 20 years.
Biogas generates economic benets. It is used in gas
stoves with high efciency and replaces energy from burning
wood. Switching from consuming wood to biogas would
have a positive effect on forest conservation. The potential
for biogas is even more relevant when considering that
wood is the main energy source in rural areas.
Using biogas will also generate social benets. People
will no more need to collect wood; indoor pollution will
be reduced. Monetisation of these benets is difcult and
has not been taken into the consideration in the economic
Under local conditions, biogas systems with improved
efciency and decreased costs are economically feasible.

According to the PCA and ELECTRE III method, our
study nds that the amount of biogas production and
COD removed in the digester are governed by the Vedrenne formula. Therefore, we conclude that the Vedrenne
equation remains the most appropriate model for the Moroccan context in estimating biogas production and COD
The technology is new and needs to be shared and tested
in order to be better applied in other Moroccan rural areas.
The outcome of this study will help in the design of new
biogas systems planned in Morocco. The goal behind this
research is to optimize capital, operation and maintenance
costs. All in all, only a well-planned and carefully designed
biogas system will improve living conditions in rural areas.
These results will improve the design of future biodigesters
planned shortly in Dayet Ifrah by GIZ and in other locations
in Morocco.
Other experiments using toilet wastewater in combination with cattle manure must be carried out to

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First received 1 December 2012; accepted in revised form 21 February 2013. Available online 24 April 2013