Practical simulation of composting in the laboratory

A. M.T. Magalhães, P. J. Shea, M. D. Jawson, E. A. Wicklund, D. W. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


A closed incubation system was developed for laboratory simulation of composting conditions at the interior of a large compost pile. A conductive heat flux control system (CHFC) was used to adjust the temperature of the internal wall to that of the compost center and compensate for heat loss. Insulated small vessels (400 cm3) controlled by the CHFC system were compared with similar vessels maintained at 30°C (mesophilic) and 55°C (thermophilic), and with large vessels (10 000 cm3) with and without the CHFC. Compost temperature rose rapidly to a maximum within 2-4 days, then gradually decreased. In mesophilic treatments (no CHFC), temperature at the matrix center increased to a maximum of 36°C in the small vessel and 50°C in the large vessel, while temperature in both vessels reached 50°C with the CHFC. Microbial activity was maintained by allowing compost to self-heat and controlling temperature externally with the CHFC. Higher temperatures were sustained for longer periods in CHFC vessels than in vessels without the CHFC. Periodic mixing of the compost matrix increased temperature and CO2 evolution. Small vessels were successfully used in laboratory simulation of field-scale composting of a soil/organic matrix containing TNT and RDX munitions. The small vessel system reduced subsample error in compost monitoring from that of the large vessels. The CHFC has particular utility in research requiring expensive chemicals or hazardous substances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-154
Number of pages12
JournalWaste Management & Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1993


  • Compost
  • compost simulation
  • composting temperature control
  • laboratory incubation
  • microbial respiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Pollution


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