ACS Eng Au. 2023 May 13;3(4):224-234. doi: 10.1021/acsengineeringau.3c00006. eCollection 2023 Aug 16.
The by-products generated from the whiskey distillation process consist of organic liquids with a high chemical oxygen demand (COD) and residues with a high solid content. Low-carbon strategies that repurpose and valorize such by-products are now imperative to reduce the carbon footprint of the food and beverage industries. The operation of a two-phase anaerobic digester to produce volatile fatty acids (VFAs) and biogas may enable distilleries to transition toward a low-carbon bioeconomy. An example of such a system is a leach bed reactor connected to an expanded granular sludge bed (LBR-EGSB) which was designed, commissioned, and conceptually validated in this paper. Several design improvements progress the LBR-EGSB beyond previous reactor designs. An external gas-liquid-solid separator in the EGSB was used to capture any residual gases produced by the effluent and may reduce the amount of methane slippage and biomass washout. The implementation of a siphon-actuated leachate cup is a low-cost alternative that is less prone to actuation malfunction as compared to electrically actuated solenoid valves in previous reactor designs. Furthermore, replacing fresh water with distillery’s liquid by-products as leachate promotes a circular repurpose and reuse philosophy. The system proved to be effective in generating VFAs (10.3 g VFAs L-1Leachate), in EGSB COD removal (96%), and in producing methane-rich biogas (75%vol), which is higher than the values achieved by traditional anaerobic digestion systems. The LBR-EGSB could ultimately provide more by-product valorization and decarbonization opportunities than traditional anaerobic digestion systems for a whiskey distillery.