Biogas production from mono-digestion of maize silage was studied for more than one year in six continuously stirred, daily fed 36 L fermenters. Chemical and microbiological parameters were analysed concomitantly. The reactors acidified already after 8 months of operation at a low organic loading rate (OLR) of 2 g VS*(L*d)−1. The TVA/TAC ratio was the most reliable parameter to indicate early process instabilities leading to acidification. A TVA/TAC threshold of 0.5 should not be exceeded. After acidification and recovery of the fermenters, propionic acid was no reliable parameter anymore to indicate process failure, since values far below the threshold of 1 g*L−1 were obtained although the process had collapsed.
The acidified reactors recovered better, showed greatly improved stability and allowed a higher OLR when a trace element (TE) cocktail was supplemented. Hydrolysis was obviously not process-limiting, results indicated that methanogens were affected. The most limiting element in long-term mono-digestion of maize silage turned out to be cobalt, but data obtained suggest that molybdenum and selenium should also be provided. TE supplementation should be designed specifically in order to meet the actual needs. TE availability for the biocenosis appears to be a key issue in biogas production, not only in mono-but also in co-digestion processes.