Join Our 2018 Digester Microbiome Study



Purpose of the 2018 Biogas Anaerobic Digester Study


  • Build on the the success of the 2017 study, furthering actionable insights on how to optimize microbiome performance of anaerobic digesters
  • Expand participation levels across as many different types of systems and applications as possible.
  • Deliver new Water Microbiome Performance Reports that to drive optimization of anaerobic digesters.
  • Present the 2018 Performance Comparison of Biogas Anaerobic Digesters at the 2018 Water Microbiome Summit during WEFTEC in New Orleans.


Anaerobic digesters are employed in wastewater and landfill systems worldwide to create renewable energy. This study digitizes the microbiome of anaerobic digester samples, analyzes the microbiome and operating performance data of participating systems, and compares the performance of participating systems across various system types, designs and industries. The purpose is to identify performance improvement opportunities resulting in greater energy production at a lower overall operational cost. Target industry sectors include municipal, industrial, food processing, agricultural and landfills. Next generation DNA sequencing will be applied to identify nearly 100% of bacteria and archaea in each digester sample. This will enable a community analysis to identify and quantify fermenters (including acetogens), syntrophs, acetoclastic methogens and hydrogenoclastic methanogens as well as sulfate reducing bacteria and how they change over time. Archaeal and bacterial community data will be analyzed to inform makeup of the mixed community. This type of diagnostic insight is not possible with conventional testing methods such as microscopy, culture or qPCR. Operational data will be collected that informs on digester performance as it relates to the digester microbiome characteristics.

Tracking Biogas Anaerobic Digester Performance using Next Generation DNA Sequencing

Autumn Fisher, City of Fond du Lac

[We use Microbe Detectives’ DNA analysis for] looking at our digester operations and looking at our methanogen populations and starting to get a better idea [of performance], because we do have a co-digestion program, we accept high-strength waste. How are those different substrates affecting our populations of methanogens within our digesters? Is it good? it is bad? What kind of changes have been made to our digestion that could affect our methane production? We have a biogas generator on site as well, so we’re utilizing that biogas. The biogas very important to us. If we can do anything to promote better biogas production that’s going to be helpful to us for energy [production]. So is [DNA Analysis] giving you more insight that you didn’t have prior? Absolutely, there’s a lot that we’ve been able to look at and quantify that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

How to Participate in Study:

1. Order DNA Analysis for Study

After receipt of order, we will ship our kits to you which contains collection supplies.

2. Collect Representative Sample

Wear gloves to prevent contamination. For liquid samples, use instructions below. For solids, add sample and yellow dessicant card to the Whirl-Pak bag and seal.


draw water

A. Draw 1ml of wastewater or  or until you feel back pressure, indicating filter clogging.

screw housing

B. Screw the filter housing onto the syringe. The housing contains a filter to collect microbes.

push water

C. Push the syringe plunger to force sample through the filter housing. Stop forcing through the filter if you feel back pressure indicating filter clogging. Record the actual volume.

unscrew housing

D. Unscrew the filter housing from the syringe. Discard syringe after total amount is collected. DO NOT DISASSEMBLE FILTER HOUSING. This would expose and contaminate sample.

3. Fill out Chain of Custody Card

Add Whirl-Pak bag or filter housing (dry off housing with a clean paper towel first) to zip loc bag with completed COC form and yellow desiccant card. EACH SAMPLE AND COC CARD MUST BE KEPT IN SEPARATE BAGS.

4. Register and Enter Sample Data

Sample ID number is on the red label, located on the COC card. Enter data for each sample in Study Registration, please note we cannot process  until study registration is completed.

5. Ship to Microbe Detectives

Freeze samples taken to ship all at once, or ship samples overnight individually (Monday-Thursday) to: Microbe Detectives c/o STUDY, 935 Curtiss Street, Suite 5, Downers Grove, IL 60515

Key findings will be presented at the Microbiome Water Summit

The Microbiome Water Summit will be held in New Orleans 2018 (before WEFTEC). The summit features leaders in this ground-breaking field of work, plus an opportunity to network with a new community of innovators. “I am really looking forward to learning the results of the Anaerobic Digester studies,” said Jeremy Cramer, Senior Process Engineer, Donohue & Associates. “With specialized DNA sequencing such as what is being applied in these studies, the resource recovery industry finally has the opportunity to measure the microbiology much more comprehensively than what has been previously possible. The studies will help the industry interpret results and use this new insight to optimize systems. I believe this will be a game-changer for the industry.”

microbiome water summit

Reports are provided to participants at no charge.

2017 Performance Comparison of Biogas Anaerobic Digesters Report


Comparative study of biogas anaerobic digesters based on DNA sequencing of samples collected. Includes the DNA sequencing results of each sample, grouped and analyzed for each digester included in the study, and each digester type. Survey data is included to augment DNA testing. Includes pdf version available for immediate download after purchase plus mailed in printed form (64 pages).


2018 Performance Comparison of Biogas Anaerobic Digesters Report


Comparative study of biogas anaerobic digesters based on DNA sequencing of samples collected. Includes the DNA sequencing results of each sample, grouped and analyzed for each digester included in the study, and each digester type. Survey data is included to augment DNA testing. Includes pdf version and in printed form. Available late 2018.


Technical and Operational Advisory Group

ali ling
Dr. Ling is serving as the principal author of this report. She is an environmental engineer with Barr Engineering Company in Minneapolis, MN. At Barr, she is engaged in front-end design and troubleshooting for water and wastewater treatment projects. Read more...

Her work includes process modeling, bench testing, and technical advising for clients in the power, mining, food and beverage, and municipal sectors. Ali completed her PhD at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she split her time between the Environmental Engineering and Molecular Biology departments, and was co-advised by Norm Pace, an early pioneer in the field of 16S community analysis. For her PhD work, she analyzed microbial communities associated with concrete corrosion in wastewater collection systems and characterized correlations between microbial community trends and environmental metadata.

trevor ghylin
Dr. Trevor Ghylin is a professional water process engineer and has more than a decade of experience working for CH2M, the leading consulting firm in the water industry and also a senior process engineer for Xylem, a multi-billion dollar pure play water technology company. Read more...

Dr. Ghylin is passionate about harnessing innovation to utilize and protect water and energy resources and the environment. Dr. Ghylin is a licensed Professional Engineer and holds a Class IV wastewater treatment operators license in the state of Wisconsin. He has a B.S. degree from the University of North Dakota – Grand Forks in Civil Engineering and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Dr. Ghylin is very active in professional societies including the Water Environment Federation (Technical Committee for CSWEA Annual Conference) and Engineers without Borders (Marquette University Mentor). He has also spoken at Regional and National Conferences (CSWEA Annual Seminar, Madison, WI; WEFTEC, Chicago). He has a breadth of experience in environmental projects including greenhouse gas analyses, sustainability assessments, PCB cleanup in rivers as well as drinking water treatment and contaminated site remediation. Additionally, he has gained a deep understanding of environmental protection and water issues by working on numerous wastewater planning and design projects.

v.p. tale
Dr. V. P. Tale has been working in the field of anaerobic digestion technology since year 2004 and his work in this field has been published through several peer reviewed journal articles, conference proceedings and provisional patent applications. Read more...

He started his professional career by designing full-scale Ananerobic Wastewater treatment plants in India for Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. A continued interest in the Anaerobic Digestion technology brought him to United States of America in pursuit of doctoral studies. He obtained his PHD from Marquette University located in Milwaukee, WI where he had a chance to work with world renowned experts in the field of Anaerobic Digestion technology. During his PHD, Dr. Tale studied microbial populations in various anaerobic digesters using advance molecular techniques and established the first anaerobic community structure-function model which earned him the best student poster award at the American Society of Microbiology’s annual general meeting. After working with Novozymes North America Inc. as a Senior Scientist for nearly five years, today Dr. Tale works with River Bend Labs (RBL) headquartered in St. Charles, MO. Dr. Tale continues to provide his expertise to RBL’s Anaerobic waste and wastewater treatment clients. He and RBL are very passionate about implementing the advance molecular biology toolbox for solving operational problems of their clients and optimizing their anaerobic reactors.

leon downing
Dr. Leon Downing is a senior technologist with CH2M and serves as the East Region Technology Lead. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Leon then received his M.S. and PhD from the University of Notre Dame, focusing on process modeling and energy efficient biological nutrient removal. Read more...

Over the past decade, Dr. Downing has focused on the application of process modeling, innovative technologies, and operational strategies within the wastewater treatment field.  Leon has most recently been contributing the shift in our industry from wastewater treatment to resource recovery.  Leon was the vice chair and contributing author for the recent WEF publication Moving Towards Resource Recovery Facilities, he has served on the Issue Area Team for the WERF Resource Recovery Challenge research program, and he has been involved with the evaluation, design, and/or operation of multiple energy efficiency, biogas utilization, and struvite harvesting projects.

kellen lauer
Kellen Lauer is an Environmental Specialist with Environmental Business Specialists (EBS), focusing in molecular microbiology. She came to EBS in August 2015 to develop a molecular biology lab with capabilities for quantitative PCR analysis of wastewater systems. Read more...

Environmental Business Specialists (EBS) is an independent wastewater consulting and training company providing a unique blend of technical expertise and customer focused services to an ever-growing list of industrial clients. Kellen graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences. She received her Master of Science in Marine Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where her research received a 2015 Impact Award from the UNC Graduate Education Advancement Board for efforts to increase awareness and improve notification to beach-goers during periods of poor water quality.

jeremy cramer
Jeremy Cramer has 18 years of wastewater and water treatment experience. He is a licensed water and wastewater operator in the state of Wisconsin. Throughout his career, he has been involved in the management, operation, and maintenance of both wastewater and water treatment systems and facilities. Read more...

Under his guidance, two different wastewater facilities have been recognized for operation and performance and have won Utility of the Future Today Awards from WEF. He has also overseen the operation and maintenance of sanitary liftstations, stormwater liftstations, and drinking water wells. Mr. Cramer has had a tremendous amount of experience in the area of wastewater treatment with focus areas in anaerobic digestion, biological nutrient removal, and energy efficient operations. Mr. Cramer holds a B.S. degree in biology and a M.S. degree in business management and is a Senior Process Specialist for Donohue & Associates, Inc.

bryan johnson
Bryan Johnson, P.E., is a seasoned civil and environmental engineer with 30 years of experience in renewable bioenergy with a particular focus in biogas energy. Through the combination of his formal education and work experiences, Mr. Johnson has successfully developed well in excess of $100M in bioenergy opportunities. Read more...

His work has included identifying beneficial local synergies, considering environmental factors and siting constraints, facilitating the evolution of bioenergy project concepts, and implementing technology, all the way through to operating projects. He has detailed knowledge in design, construction and operation of bioenergy projects involving electric generation, co-generation heat recovery, alternate fuel replacements for industry, and gas processing applications to convert low quality raw biogas into a natural gas quality grade fuel as a replacement for a variety of fossil energy sources. A number of these biogas energy projects have received national recognition. Some of Mr. Johnson’s most recent work has involved a number of digester studies and working for a client to develop a $20M first-of-a-kind (in North America) anaerobic community digester system. This system collects high-strength liquid organic wastes from area food processors to produce 2 MW’s of cogeneration power while providing thermal energy to the client’s facilities. Mr. Johnson’s newly formed company, Energy Tech Innovations, LLC (ETI) is presently in the process of commercializing a new low-cost patent pending biogas upgrading system that produces Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) using water as a natural solvent to purify the gas. Mr. Johnson holds a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and BS in Geology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

david ellis
David Ellis P.E., started working with municipal sewage anaerobic digestion systems 25 years ago. Building on that experience, he has worked on large scale digesters for multi-national food-industry clients for 20 years, since before many folks had heard of green-house gases. In those days, biogas was simply a matter of good business. Read more...

He has been involved in over 300 wastewater and digester projects on 4 continents. Having previously worked for large, multi-national consulting companies, Dave’s career has come full circle as his first boss and mentor was working with early on-farm AD systems in the 80s. He is excited to be working directly with owners again and helping find solutions for unique digester issues. Mr. Ellis holds a B.Sc. in Systems Design Engineering and an M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo. He is the Founder, Managing Director and Principal Consultant of Azura Associates, a wastewater and cleantech consultancy based in Waterloo, Ontario Canada.

david garman
Dr. David Garman will be serving as a technical advisor for this study. David is presently Associate Vice Chancellor Water Technology Research and Development, and Founding Dean of the School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. He is leading the establishment of new water research programs for industry and the environment. Read more...

His career has covered the full range of environmental management from water resources and pollution control through to new environmental technologies, covering all aspects of measurement, management policy and strategic analysis. His research and interests cover all aspects of new technology, and water resource management from research and planning to large-scale operations. Dr. Garman has served as both an executive and non-executive director for private and listed companies. He has been on boards and as an advisor for small private companies and water utilities. His experience as Managing Director of the Environmental Biotechnology Cooperative Research Center cemented his commitment to the use of applied molecular methods for environmental protection and applications in industry and the community.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an anaerobic digester?

Anaerobic digestion involves naturally occurring methanogen bacteria that break down organic biodegradable material and convert it into methane gas, carbon dioxide and lesser amounts of other gases. These gases are referred to collectively as biogas. This “renewable biogas” serves as a substitute for fossil fuel natural gas to make clean electricity and other beneficial energy use applications.

What is the role of microbes?

For an anaerobic digester to perform properly, microscopic bacteria must survive and constantly regenerate inside the digester. The bacteria require proper organic feedstock, environmental conditions, nutrients and water to perform their functions properly and create a thriving environment. If the conditions are not optimal, the biogas production system can be significantly negatively affected or completely halted.

How will this study identify new insights?

The next generation DNA sequencing and specialized database applied in this study will be able to identify nearly 100% of bacteria and archaea in each digester sample. This will enable an archaeal community analysis to see what methanogens are present and how they change over the time of the study. We will also weight archaeal community and bacterial community data to inform makeup of the mixed community. Operational data will be compared to microbiological data to establish key performance indicators. Participants of this study will have an opportunity to learn how their digester performance compares to other digesters included in the study.

If I participate, will my company name be disclosed in the report?

No. Since this report will be shared with all participants, and will eventully enter the public domain, we will not disclose the identify of participants. Exceptions will be made for participants that wish to disclose their identify. We will evaluate this on a case by case basis. Participants will be able to identify the sample data from their digester(s) based on the unique ID of each sample.

Other Questions or Comments?


Registration Forms for Study

Submit DIGESTER form once:

Fill out my online form.

Submit SAMPLE form for each sample:

Fill out my online form.