Wheat straw is a major potential source of waste biomass for renewable energy production, but its high salt content causes problems in combustion. The salts can be removed by washing, but this process also removes a proportion of the organic material which could potentially be recovered by anaerobic digestion of the washwater leachate. This approach would maximise the overall energy yield in an integrated process in which washwater could be recycled after further desalting. Leachate from cold water washing with a chemical oxygen demand (COD) of 1.2 g l−1 was fed to mesophilic upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) digesters at a loading rate of 1 g COD l−1 day−1 to determine the energy yield and any detrimental effects of the leached salts on the process. The specific methane production was 0.29 l CH4 g−1 CODadded, corresponding to a COD removal rate of 84%. Light metal cations in the leachate, especially potassium, were found to accumulate in the digesters and appeared to have a synergistic effect up to a concentration of ∼6.5 mg K g−1 wet weight of the granular sludge, but further accumulation caused inhibition of methanogenesis. It was shown that gas production in the inhibited digesters could be restored within 12 days by switching the feed to a synthetic sewage, which washed the accumulated K out of the digesters.

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