Determination of thermal properties of composting bulking materials

H. K. Ahn, T. J. Sauer, T. L. Richard, T. D. Glanville

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Thermal properties of compost bulking materials affect temperature and biodegradation during the composting process. Well determined thermal properties of compost feedstocks will therefore contribute to practical thermodynamic approaches. Thermal conductivity, thermal diffusivity, and volumetric heat capacity of 12 compost bulking materials were determined in this study. Thermal properties were determined at varying bulk densities (1, 1.3, 1.7, 2.5, and 5 times uncompacted bulk density), particle sizes (ground and bulk), and water contents (0, 20, 50, 80% of water holding capacity and saturated condition). For the water content at 80% of water holding capacity, saw dust, soil compost blend, beef manure, and turkey litter showed the highest thermal conductivity (K) and volumetric heat capacity (C) (K: 0.12-0.81 W/m °C and C: 1.36-4.08 MJ/m3 °C). Silage showed medium values at the same water content (K: 0.09-0.47 W/m °C and C: 0.93-3.09 MJ/m3 °C). Wheat straw, oat straw, soybean straw, cornstalks, alfalfa hay, and wood shavings produced the lowest K and C values (K: 0.03-0.30 W/m °C and C: 0.26-3.45 MJ/m3 °C). Thermal conductivity and volumetric heat capacity showed a linear relationship with moisture content and bulk density, while thermal diffusivity showed a nonlinear relationship. Since the water, air, and solid materials have their own specific thermal property values, thermal properties of compost bulking materials vary with the rate of those three components by changing water content, bulk density, and particle size. The degree of saturation was used to represent the interaction between volumes of water, air, and solids under the various combinations of moisture content, bulk density, and particle size. The first order regression models developed in this paper represent the relationship between degree of saturation and volumetric heat capacity (r = 0.95-0.99) and thermal conductivity (r = 0.84-0.99) well. Improved knowledge of the thermal properties of compost bulking materials can contribute to improved thermodynamic modeling and heat management of composting processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3974-3981
Number of pages8
JournalBioresource technology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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