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War. Sci. Tech. Vol. 27, No.2, pp. 97-107, 1993.

0273-1223193 $24'00
Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved. Co pyright © 1993 IAWQ



D. Kostenberg and U. Marchaim

Department of Biotechnology, MIGAL - GaUllee Technological Center, Kiryat

Shmona 10200, Israel


In the process of producing "instant coffee", large quantities of

relatively solid waste (20%) are left, causing ecological harm to the area
by polluting ground water, and which therefore have to be carted from the
factory and dumped, at considerable expense. Several solutions and
alternative uses of the coffee wastes have already been examined (as
fertilizers, livestock feed, compost) without giving economically viable
The aim of this research was to develop biogas technology for the
treatment of coffee wastes and the evaluation of the digested material as
a growth medium for horticulture. The study included anaerobic,
thermophilic, methanogenic digestion of solid coffee wastes in laboratory
scale digesters. Optimal conditions for the process in loading rates,
retention time, solids concentration and chemical parameters were
examined. The results of these experiments showed that digestion of
instant coffee waste is a feasible process, not requiring the expected
addition of nitrogen, nor prior grinding of the coffee waste, though pH
control was necessary. The continuous anaerobic digestion process can
achieve a steady state of fermentation at loading rates up to 4.7 g
The overall qualities of the digested slurry were determined, with a view
to their suitability for horticulture. It was found that there is a clear
similarity in both root and plant growth using peat-moss or digested
coffee slurry, after thermophilic digestion, as soil growth media for
growing Gypsophila. Growth promotion effects on phlox plants were found,
as well as a positive effect on the growth-rate of rootlets sprouting in
Lysimachia fontuni.


Anaerobic, Digestion, Coffee waste, Biogas, Thermophilic, Slurry, Growth

Media, Peat-moss.


Coffee is a tropical tree or shrub, belonging to the Rubiaceae family.

Its fruit grows in bunches and is the size of cherries. These kernels,
known as "coffee beans" are hard, and are ground and processed into a


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powder that is used as a drink. Coffee beans contain 8-15% oils, 2-3%
sugar, 11-13% nitrogenous materials, 1-2% alkaloids, 4-5% tannic acid,
other oils, and caffeol which gives coffee its distinctive aroma.
The ground coffee beans are subject to an extraction process to produce
"instant coffee". As a result of the process, a great amount of coffee
waste is produced, which has to be carted from the factory and thrown on
the rubbish dump (at considerable expense to the factory) where it poses
the threat of pollution to the environment. It causes odour pollution,
attracts flies to the dumping area and pollutes ground water sources, and
therefore demands high disposal charges. During the process of production,
liquid wastes are also created, which are discharged into the city sewage

The composition of the coffee bean is such that 80% solid wastes (pulp)
are produced during the process (Adam and Dougan, 1980): even without
taking liquid wastes into account, this gives rise to significant
ecological and economic problems. It is unpalatable as an animal feed
supplement (Bressani and Braham, 1980), while other uses, such as the
production of ethyl alcohol, have proved uneconomic (Krishnamoorty Bhat
and Deepak Singh, 1975). The high level of solids and a high percentage
of fiber cause difficulties in the biodegradation of this material
(Beristain et � 1985).

A more promising approach is treatment by anaerobic digestion, a process

that has proved its viability in many investigations into the treatment of
complex organic wastes (McCarty, 1982). The digested material could be
used either as a fertilizer or as a growth medium for horticulture or
mushrooms, while the biogas that is produced could be used as a source of
energy (Marchaim, 1983; 1991).

A small number of studies on anaerobic digestion of coffee pulp have

already been performed. Anon (1987), in Kenya, showed promising results,
with a maximum yield of 1.2 v/v/day. Precomposted pulp produced higher
concentrations (up to 78%) but lower volumes of gas (Calzada et al., 1981;
1984). Boopathy and Mariappan (1985a, b) reported on such studies, and
Beristain et � (1985) reported on experiments in which coffee wastes
were mixed with cattle manure. Such studies have shown that the anaerobic
digestion of coffee wastes is feasible, but requires additional
investigation. The experiments of Calzada et al. (1981) and Boopathy and
Mariappan (1985a) have shown that the parameters-of the digestion process
are very changeable, depending on internal and external factors. No
extensive research has been performed on solid instant coffee waste.
The main problem in the anaerobic digestion process of solid instant
coffee waste is concern with the nature of this waste. The high
percentage of solids, containing high concentrations of fibers, alkaloids
and phenolic compounds, as well as low pH, causes difficulties in
achieving steady operation.

Anaerobic Digestion

Anaerobic methanogenic digestion is an effective method for the treatment

of many organic wastes, particularly of crop residues, which has been
widely and successfully used in a number of developed and developing
countries (Stafford et al., 1981; Fannin et al., 1984). This treatment is
ef f ected by facultative-an d obligate anaerob� microorganisms which, in
the absence of oxygen, convert complex organic materials (both soluble and
insoluble) into a gaseous end-product.

The overall result of this process is the conversion of a complex

substrate to methane-rich gas (Zehnder et �, 1982; Large, 1983). Biogas

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Anaerobic thermophilic digestion 99

consists of a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, plus 1% of various

other gases, such as NH3, H2, H2S, H20 and N2• The methane
produced by the system can be sold or used within the operation. The
digested slurry can then be used as a protein additive for fish and cattle
feed (Marchaim, 1983) or as a fertilizer for crops (Stafford et al., 1981;
McCarthy, 1982). Thus, the anaerobic fermentation of organiC-residues is
an attractive process. For semi-solid organic wastes, anaerobic treatment
may also be an interesting alternative to aerobic composting processes,
because wet organic wastes can be converted to biogas without any need for
auxiliary agents. Nutrient-deficient residues and wastes, which often
occur in agro-industrial processing, can usually be treated anaerobically,
without any addition of nutrients (Ten Brummeler et al., 1986, 1988). The
rate-limiting step depends not only on the type -of�he waste and the
structure of its solids, but also on the types of bacteria present in the
digester and the physico-chemical conditions in the reactor (Anderson et
�, 1982; Gujer and Zehnder, 1983).

The process of Anaerobic Methanogenic Thermophilic Digestion (AMTD) when

examined in Israel, was found to be effective in destroying coliform
bacteria and Salmonellae (Klinger and Marchaim, 1987). The biogas
produced can be used as an energy source on-site to produce hot water,
steam or electricity. As was found in other analyses, the energy
production is only a by-product, and the main income to the plant comes
from the digested slurry produced and from the saving in fines and levies
on the sewage treatment.

Uses of Digested Slurry for Horticulture

It is widely accepted that an improved growth medium for horticulture is

obtained when organic materials are included. The most common organic
component is peat-moss (Chen et al., 1984) which may also serve as the
sole component of the growth medium. The use of peat, however, involves
a number of problems: (1) The price of horticultural peat is
high, and shipping it long distances considerably increases its price.
(2) Peat resources throughout the world are limited and non-renewable
(ibid.). (3) In some cases, sterilized peat serves as an enrichment
medium for various phytopathogenic fungi species such as Pythium sp.
(Mandelbaum and Hadar, 1990). It seems, therefore, that finding
substitutes for peat is an important task for soil scientists and

Chen et al. (1984) have described the main physical and chemical
propertiesOf "Cabutz", derived from the AMTD of cow manure (Marchaim,
1983), comp.'ired to sphagnum peat-moss, while Klinger and Marchaim (1987)
did the same for "peatrum", an end product of a similar process, in
which cows' rumen content, cow manure and blood are anaerobically
fermented. The similarity in major physical properties is striking:
The bulk density of the digested slurries ranges from 0.08-0.12 g/cm3
compared to 0. 09 g/cm3 for peat; particle density is the same (1.6
g/cm3); the porosity for the slurries was calculated to be 93-95%
compared with 95-97% for peat-moss; the hydraulic conductivity values for
slurries and peat are 120-150 cm/h and 150 cm/h, respectively. However,
a significant difference in the water/air ratio should be noted. One of
the most important requirements of a growth substrate is its ability to
hold and supply large quantities of water, while at the same time it
should be structurally adapted to entrap large volumes of air. The
minimum air space in peat should be around 15% of volume, while the ideal
value is around 20-30%. When water-saturated slurry was allowed to drain
for two hours, the air space was found to be 32%, while in peat moss it
reached about 18%. After 24 hours of drainage, the air space was 43% and

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24%, respectively. The slurries are well aerated becauoe of their

comparatively large particles. As a result, they also require more
frequent irrigation.

The chemical properties of the slurries are also close to those of

enriched sphagnum peat, although generally higher values for N, P, K were
observed in slurry. Experiments with sensitive plants grown on slurry
have shown response to fertilization with iron che1ates (Raviv et �,
1983) .

The comparison of the physical and chemical properties of sieved and

leached Peatrum with peat were reported by Marchaim et - al. (1991),
together with a comparison with "Cabutz" which had been reported on
earlier (Raviv, 1983; Chen et a1., 1984). One of the uses of "Cabutz" and
"Peatrum", already demonstrate�is as a rooting medium for ornamental and
garden plants. Another commercial use is as casing soil for mushroom
production (Levanon et al., 1983; Marchaim et al., 1991). Growing
cucumbers on Peatrum after different composting--Periods showed that
Peatrum, if not completely mature, is a lower quality substrate than peat­
moss. In comparing Peatrum and peat-moss as casing materials for the
production of edible mushrooms (Agaricus Bisporus) in standard commercial
conditions, it was found that the mushroom yield in Peatrum was somewhat
lower. This may be because Peatrum has a lower water-holding capacity and
requires watering accordingly.

The aim of this research was to develop biogas technology for the
treatment of coffee wastes and especially to evaluate digested instant
coffee waste as a growth medium for horticulture.


Digestive System

The digestive system used consisted of 20 fed-batch, stirred digesters

(CSTR), of 3 1 working volume, maintained at thermophilic conditions
(55°C). The system was mixed for 2 min in every 20 min at 150 rpm,
controlled by a timer. The system was operated under semi-continuous
feeding conditions. Slurry was removed every second day, and the feeding
solution was added. Samples of slurry were taken to measure the pH
(CORNING "Ion-analyzer" 250) and to determine VFA composition and
concentration. Biogas production was measured on the water displacement

Feed Materials

In the first series of experiments 40 9 "instant coffee" waste was mixed

with 110 9 of water and fed per digester every second day. This applied
to all coffee waste, whether ground, treated or untreated. In some
experiments, ammonium nitrate (5 ml of 1 M solution of NH.N03) was
added to obtain a C: N ratio of 30: 1.

In the second series of experiments, instant coffee waste was added

without water, 40 g/digester/day (2.6 9 VS/l/d), then 60 g/digester/d and
later 70 g/digester/d. The pH of the coffee waste was stabilized by
adding CaO to the coffee mixture in the range of 0.75 - 1.5 g/digester/d,
depending on the different amounts of VFA and loading in the digesters.

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Anaerobic thermopbilic digestion 101

Start of Anaerobic Digestion

The anaerobic digestion system was started by using 1500 ml inoculum per
digester, from a thermophilic anaerobic digested cow manure plant at
Kibbutz Yagur (Marchaim, 1983) and the mixture was left undisturbed for a
few days, at 55°C. The bacterial populations were adapted to work on
coffee waste by feeding each digester with 40 g coffee waste, mixed with
110 g water, every third day, without withdrawing the digested slurry,
until the volume was 3, 000 mI. Thereafter, daily feeding was 150 ml,
including 40 g coffee waste. Experiments were started after 30 days of

The second set of experiments used 2, 000 ml of the above experiment, after
biogas production had apparently stopped. Feeding 80 g coffee waste,
without the addition of water, brought the volume up to 3, 000 ml, after
which feeding proceeded according to the above feeding instructions.
Experiments were started after 30 days of acclimation.

Analytical Measurements

VFA and biogas composition were analyzed by gas chromatography (Carlson,

1973). Samples of slurry were stored in the freezer (-18°C) until
analysis. Samples were prepared and determined as described by Dosoretz et
al. (1987), by gas chromatograph (Varian 6000, USA), equipped with a flame
ionization detector (FID). Samples of biogas were analyzed by gas
chromatography (GOW HAC series 150, USA), equipped with a thermal
conductivity detector, to determine their composition.

Total solids were determined at 105°C for 24 h. Organic and inorganic

solids (ash) were differentiated by the difference in weight, after
ignition of dried samples at 600°C for 3 h. The concentration of nitrogen
in the digested slurry was determined by using the Kje1dah1 method in an
automatic Kje1tec Unit (Tecator, Sweden) (Dosoretz et a1. , 1987; Marchaim,


Coffee waste was collected after the production process of extracting

instant coffee, and the constituents of the coffee waste had been analyzed
(Table 1).

TABLE 1: Chemical Composition* of Input Materials

and Digested Slurry Output of the Methanogenic
Fermentation System of Coffee Waste Materials.

Digested Slurrl
Input Material EXp!!riment 1 EXp!!rimcnt 2
Solids (%) 19.20 t 1.04 5.28 t 1.51 11.48 t 1.14
Ash (%) 0.54 t 0.15 0.68 t 0.18 12. 75 t 1. 29**
Organic matter (%) 99.72 t 1. 44 97.12 t 1.19 86. 49 t 2.54
Ammonia (g/l) 0.05 t 0.01 0.11 t 0.05 0.22 t 0.03
Nitrogen (g/l) 0.33 t 0.05 0.15 t o. 03 0.18 t 0.01
Phosphorus (g/l) 0.10 t 0.02 0.08 t 0.03 0.09 t 0.01
Potassium (g/l) 0.03 t 0.01 0.03 t 0.01 0. 03 t 0.01
Volatile Acids (g/l) 6.73 t 1.53 2.55 t 0.84 1.38 t 0".62
pH 4.31 t 0.58 7.84 t 0. 21 7.72 t 0.24
EC25 (mmohos) 2.45 t 0. 39 6.93 t 1.42 7.84 t 0. 93

*Average of 12-15 analyses. *. High ash content due to addition of CaO.

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The waste was treated by anaerobic, thermophilic fermentation. The

constitution of the waste matter caused many problems in the experiments
performed, because at such a high level of solids and such a high
percentage of fiber, it is difficult to achieve anaerobic fermentation.
Preliminary mechanical and chemical pre-treatment of the waste, to break
down the cellulose and hemicellulose and to raise the availability of the
organic matter, can improve the fermentation process and can improve the
structure of the material obtained after fermentation, as a growth
medium, by improving its water retention ability and porosity.
In these experiments, coffee wastes ground up by a soil-grinder were used.
The organic material was converted into biogas whose production is shown
in Figs. 1 and 2, after different treatments. Fig. 1A shows biogas
production during the digestion of intact and ground instant coffee waste,
feeding the system every second day (HRT 40 days), at a loading rate of

1. 7 9 VS/ l digester volume. Fig. 2A shows the results of digesting coffee

waste with daily feeding (HRT 20 days) at a loading rate of 3.4 9 VS/ l

and addition of ammonia nitrate on the days indicated by arrows in Fig 2.

In spite of almost constant biogas production, the concentration of VFA
changed considerably, especially in the high loading rate experiment. In
Fig. 2B the level of VFA almost reached 2. 5 g/ l and was accompanied by
decreases in biogas production and pH level. This was not noted in the
lower loading rate experiment. Methane constituted around 56' of the
biogas produced, as analyzed by gas chromatography, in both experiments.

> 0.8 �2500

�6 1\ 0.6
� 2000
:: 1500
g 0.4
C. � 1000
til u
� 0.2 � 500
o >

7 13 19 25 31 37 43 49 55 81 13 25 37 49 01
TIME(Days) TIIoIE(Days)
Fig 1: Biogas production (A) and VFA concentration (B) of the
thermophilic anaerobic digestion of intact (-.-) and ground (-+-)
instant coffee wastes at loading rate of 1.7 9 VS/ l/ d.
3000 �------��

> 0.8
� 2:100
.. S
� 2000
� 0.6 E::
:: 1500
g 0.4 ..,
'" u
c. Z 1000
til 8
� 0.2 � 500
o����� o L-T---�---T----�--�-- __ -J
7 13 19 25 31 37 43 49 55 81 13 25 37 49 81
TUIE(Days) TIME(Days)
Fig 2: Biogas production (A) and VFA concentration
the (B) of
thermophilic anaerobic digestion of intact (-.-) and ground (-+-)
instant coffee wastes at loading rate of 3.4 g VS/ l / d, with added
NH.. NOs (arrows).

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Anaerobic thennopbilic digestion 103

In a second series of experiments, we examined the digestion process under

stable pH conditions, adding CaO as pH stabilizer. Fig. 3 shows biogas
production and other parameters, at loading rates from 2.6 to 4.7 g
VS /l /d. Despite the high loading rates, biogas production, biogas
composition and VFA concentration were relatively stable.


15 22 30
TIME ID••• )


Z 400
Z 200

1� 22 30 15 22 30
TIME (0 •••) TIME (DRYS)

Fig. 3: The �ffect of changes in loading rates (A) on biogas production

(B); biogas composition (C: -*- CH4; -+- CO2); pH (D) and
VFA concentration (E:-.- acetic aCid; -+-propionic acid; -cr
total acids) in a pH-controlled anaerobic thermophilic digestion.

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The results of these experiments showed that AMTO of instant-coffee waste

is a feasible process, not requiring the expected addition of nitrogen to
maintain the known essential ratio of C:N of 30:1, nor requiring prior
grinding of the coffee waste. Control of pH was required, however.
The principal product of AMTO is the sludge. It was separated, prior to
experimentation, into liquid and solid components (Marchaim,. 1983). The
solid component was taken to examine its value as a partial substitute for
sphagnum peat-moss, an organic growth medium used for the cultivation of
Gypsophila. Cultivation in a mixture of 50% peat with 50% digested solid
coffee waste component was compared with cultivation in peat alone. The
growth media that consisted of 50% coffee component gave better results in
growth rates of Gypsophila. During the course of the experiment, a root
disease, Pythium, attacked over 5% of the plants growing in 100% peat,
while the disease hardly appeared at all in those growing in the SO/50
mixture. Total growth of Lysimachia fontuni in the two media was similar,
but the percentage of successful plants in the experimental mixture was
higher (Fig. 4 ).
8 r------,

o 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
Fig. 4: Growth rates of Lysimachia fontuni grown in different media (6 x
25 plants per treatment) in 50% peat-moss and 50% media of the
following thermophilic anaerobic treatments:
1. 75% coffee waste + 25% cow manure;
2. 100% coffee waste + 3 g CaC03;
3. 75% coffee waste + 25% manure + 19 CaC03
4. 100% coffee waste;
5. Control with 100% Sphagnum peat-moss.

8 r-------�

� 7


3 5 7 9 11 13 15 17 20 24 28
Fig. 5: Effect on length of rootlets of Phlox sprouting using peat-moss
(-+-) or digested coffee w� (-.-) as growth media.

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Anaerobic thermophilic digestion 105

Fig. 5 presents the results of a recent experiment, in which some growth

promotion effects on Phlox plants were found, as a result of substituting
peat-moss as a soil conditioner by a mixture containing 50% digested
coffee waste. There is a clear change in root growth, using peat-moss or
coffee slurry after thermophilic digestion as soil growth media. We also
noted accelerated growth of rootlets.


The results of these experiments showed that AMTO of instant coffee waste
is a feasible process, not requiring the expected addition of nitrogen to
maintain the known essential ratio of C: N of 30: 1, nor prior grinding of
the coffee waste, though pH control was necessary. The continuous
anaerobic digestion process can achieve a steady state of fermentation
only if the free organic concentration, expressed as the difference
between the initial organic load and the level of degradation, is below
the acetogenic inhibitory capacity of the methanogenic bacteria. This
takes into account the fact that part of the intermediate biodegraded
compounds were expected to be inhibitory to the bacteria. Furthermore,
since the start-up of the continuous system, adapted to coffee waste,
includes the formation of bacteria (i.e. growth phase) - in the absence of
high organic loading, to achieve maximal col onization prior to
commencing the feeding of coffee waste, the operating conditions were more
conducive to such an inhibitory environment. The inhibitory effect
depends on the properties of the intermediate compounds, and can be
controlled by operating conditions, such as volumetric flow rate of the
feed, the concentration of pollutant solids, a multi-stage process, or by
the addition of buffering agents.

In our first experiment, it was found that there is a clear similarity in

both root and plant growth, using peat-moss or digested slurry, after
thermophilic digestion, as a growth medium for Lysimachia fontuni (Fig.
4). Substituting peat-moss by a mixture containing 50% coffee waste after
AMTO, as a soil conditioner for Phlox, gave such a high growth rate (Fig.
5) that it may indicate that during the AMTO some growth promotion
material was produced, with positive effects on growth.

Mandelbaum and Hadar (1990) discussed the suppression of soilborne

pathogens due to competition for available carbonaceous nutrient in
compost and peat container media and suggested that the rate of
consumption of available nutrients is a key factor in the suppression of
Pythium in compost medium. This effect can also be the reason for the
inhibition effect found in the use of the coffee waste material after
digestion. We are now examining the possibility that during AMTO some
compounds are l iberated from the coffee waste that also, or mainly,
contribute to the suppression of Pythium.
In terms of environmental pollution, the process of degradation of coffee
waste compounds implies their transformation into an intermediate
metabolite, or metabolites, sometimes more toxic than the initial
compound; and digestion implies the degradation of organic matter into the
terminal products H20 and CO2• The authors emphasize that the
biological digestion of the pollutant compound, leaving a peat-like
material, is the main target of the study.
Taking into account the benefits of treating the instant coffee wastes,
both in solving the expensive need to transport and dump the waste from
the factory; and the income to the factory from using the biogas as
alternative energy for its. steam system, on the one hand, and selling the
digested sl urry to greenhouses, on the other (the main income from the
process). the process looks very attractive from an economic point of view.
The investigation described wil l therefore contribute to the solution of
both economic and ecological problems of instant coffee wastes.

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JIST 27.2-1

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