Comparative characterization of digestate versus pig slurry and cow manure – Chemical composition and effects on soil microbial activity

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The growing number of biogas plants in Europe has resulted in increased production of nutrient-rich digestate with great potential as fertilizer for arable land. The nutrient composition of digestate varies with the substrate treated in the biogas plant and may contain compounds that stimulate or inhibit soil microbial activity. This study compared 20 digestates (D) with 10 pig slurries (PS) and 10 cow manures (CM) regarding their chemical content and their effect on soil microbial activities, i.e. potential ammonia oxidation rate (PAO) and soil respiration. The results showed no significant differences within the D group when divided based on substrate type. i.e. manure dominated vs. other organic waste materials in any of the tests. In general D contained significantly higher concentrations of ammonium while the concentrations of total carbon and volatile fatty acids were higher in PS and CM than in D. The D showed both stimulating and inhibiting effects on PAO, while all CM and all PS except one showed inhibiting effects on PAO. However, PAO activity was negatively correlated with the content of volatile fatty acids in the residues indicating that these compounds may be the cause of the inhibition. The maximum respiration activity (hpeakmax) was lower and the time point for the maximum respiration activity (tpeakmax) occurred earlier for D compared with CM and PS. This earlier peak time could be indicative of a high proportion of easily degradable carbon in D compared with PS and CM. However, the utilization rate of carbon, i.e. the proportion of added organic C converted to CO2-C during 12 days, did not differ significantly between D, PS and CM, indicating that overall carbon quality in the different fertilizers was still roughly comparable. In short, our results suggest that digestates were different compared with PS and CM but without posing a higher risk with respect to their impact on soil microbial activity.




Risberg, K., Cederlund, H., Pell, M., Arthurson, V., & Schnürer, A. (2017). Comparative characterization of digestate versus pig slurry and cow manure – Chemical composition and effects on soil microbial activity. Waste Management, 61, 529–538.

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