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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Nutrient challenges with solid-phase anaerobic digestate as a peat substitute-Storage decreased ammonium toxicity but increased phosphorus availability

Caspersen, Siri; Oskarsson, Camilla; Asp, Hakan


The solid fraction (SD) obtained after liquid - solid separation of anaerobic digestate is interesting as a potential fertilizer as well as a peat substitute in horticultural growing substrates. We investigated the effect of incubation of the SD obtained by screw-press separation of digestate produced from food waste and plant residues on potentially plant available mineral nutrients and plant growth. The NH4-N concentration was initially > 1000 mg L-1 but rapidly decreased, probably due to NH3 emission promoted by a high initial pH. No nitrate was detected during the first four weeks of incubation. The concentrations of potentially available P and Mg were closely related and strongly increased during incubation. The effect of adding 20 or 30 vol% of SD to a peat-based growing substrate on the growth of basil and lettuce was investigated before and after the incubation period. With the unincubated SD, the initial substrate NH4-N of 200-300 mg L-1 was potentially phytotoxic. Plant growth response ranged from inhibition to stimulation, probably reflecting variation in substrate ammonium status. After 96 days of incubation, ammonium concentrations had decreased with > 50% and basil growth was generally positively affected by addition of incubated SD. However, available P concentrations of 140-210 mg L-1 in the incubated substrates posed a high risk of P leakage. In conclusion, storage greatly reduced NH4-N con-centrations and phytotoxicity when the SD was used as a partial substituent for peat in a horticultural growing substrate. Measures are needed, however, to limit available P concentrations in high-P solid digestate fractions.


Available nutrients; Biogas effluent; CAT-extraction; Circular economy; Growing media; Lactuca sativa; Ocimum basilicum

Published in

Waste Management
2023, Volume: 165, pages: 128-139