Hydrogen and NH3 from organics

December 13th, 2021

R&D Focus Areas:
Biomass and waste conversion, Ammonia

Lead Organisation:

Not applicable


Start date:
November 2019

Completion date:
June 2024

Key contacts:
Project Leader Andrew Beath – andrew.beath@csiro.au
Principal Researcher Anna Kaksonen – anna.kaksonen@csiro.au

CSIRO Hydrogen Future Science Platforms

Project total cost:

Project summary description:
Value recovery from biosolids can play a vital role in closing the loop for nutrients, water and energy used in our food and agriculture sector. CSIRO is currently investigating a biological pathway to produce hydrogen that could deliver a triple bottom line benefit to agriculture, food and wastewater treatment industries. Leveraging CSIRO expertise in dark fermentation and applied industrial heat research, the multidisciplinary team is beginning trials using a selection of microbial strains and organic wastes to investigate an integrated approach to improve dark fermentation for hydrogen and ammonia production. Key features include:

  • Dark fermentation is microbially catalysed fermentative conversion of organic substrates to hydrogen in the absence of light and electron acceptors. It can be facilitated by a large range of microorganisms that differ in their optimal growth conditions.
  • The laboratory experiments will evaluate whether thermal hydrolysis will improve biological hydrogen generation rates and yields from selected organic waste materials. It is expected that thermal hydrolysis will increase the bioavailability of the organic substrates for dark fermentation. Moreover, the hydrolysis is expected to eliminate hydrogen consuming microbes from the waste, and thereby potentially increase hydrogen yields.
  • Concentrated solar thermal heat is used for the thermal requirements of the process. This stage of the project is focused on investigating the potential benefits of thermal hydrolysis as a pre-treatment. Through dark fermentation experiments, CSIRO will establish if thermal hydrolysis improves hydrogen yield and if so a further integration with anaerobic digestion plus solar-reforming of biogas will be explored to ascertain the thermal efficiency of the entire system.

Waste to energy projects typically rely on cost effective access to waste residues (feedstocks) that are transported to a processing plant of sufficient scale to ensure economic feasibility. The integrated process also requires access to technically feasible and economically sourced heat with concentrated solar thermal energy a good option for regional areas. Given these conditions, Mackay in Queensland, with an average yearly direct normal irradiance (DNI) of approximately 20 MWh/m2, has been chosen as a case study site. Apart from having a moderate source of solar irradiance, the site also has a reasonable size of population (> 80,000 people) that generates large quantities of municipal sewage sludge. This municipal waste stream, together with other biosolid waste streams such as bagasse, sorghum and abattoir wastewater generated from the surrounding agriculture and food industry will be considered as the waste feedstocks in this project.

Related publications and key links:

  1. Cheng, KY; Kaksonen, A; Cord-Ruwisch, R. Bioelectrochemical system for ammonia recovery from wastewater and concomitant production of high purity hydrogen gas. Asia-Pacific Conference on Biotechnology for Waste Conversion (BioWC 2016), Hong Kong, 6-8 December 2016.
  2. Cheng, KY; Cord-Ruwisch, R; Kaksonen, A. Bioelectrochemical ammonia recovery and high-purity hydrogen production from synthetic municipal wastewater. 10th IWA Leading Edge Conference on Water and Waste Water Technologies, Bordeaux, France, 3–6 June 2013.
  3. Beath, AC; Sun Y; Meybodi MA. Integration of concentrated solar thermal energy with biogas production and use. Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference (APSRC 2021), Sydney, 15-16 December 2021.
  4. Song S, Ginige MP, Cheng KY, Qie T, Peacock CS, Kaksonen AH. 2023. Dynamics of gas distribution in batch-scale fermentation experiments: The unpredictive distribution of biogas between headspace and gas collection device. Journal of Cleaner Production 400: 136641.

  5. Anna H Kaksonen, Ka Yu Cheng, Maneesha Ginige, Shaokun Song, Andrew Beath. 2023. Prospects and pitfalls for biological hydrogen production. The third International Forum on Hydrogen Production Technologies (HyPT-3), to be held virtually from Tues Sept 12 to Fri Sept 15, 2023. Oral presentation by Anna H Kaksonen.

Higher degree studies supported:
This project supports a PhD studentship at CSIRO.


Reviewed: September 2023