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Revista Chapingo serie ciencias forestales y del ambiente

On-line version ISSN 2007-4018Print version ISSN 2007-3828

Rev. Chapingo ser. cienc. for. ambient vol.23 n.3 Chapingo Sep./Dec. 2017 

Scientific article

Quality and time of biosolid compost when varying ratios and weight of substrates

Beatriz Juárez-Robles1 

Isaías de la Rosa-Gómez1  * 

Ma. del Consuelo Mañon-Salas1 

Ma. del Consuelo Hernández-Berriel1 

Rocío Vaca-Paulín2 

Jorge Lugo-de la Fuente2 

1Instituto Tecnológico de Toluca, División de Estudios de Posgrado e Investigación, Laboratorio de Investigación en Ingeniería Ambiental. Av. Tecnológico s/n, col. Agrícola Bellavista. C. P. 52149. Metepec, Estado de México, México.

2Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, Facultad de Ciencias, Laboratorio de Edafología y Ambiente. Carretera Toluca-Ixtlahuaca km 15.5, El Cerrillo Piedras Blancas. C. P. 50200. Toluca, Estado de México, México.



Biosolids generated in the treatment of wastewater are an environmental problem due to their inadequate handling and disposal.


To know the effects when varying substrate ratios and pile weight on quality and time of biosolid compost.

Materials and Methods:

The mixture of biosolids (BS) with clay soil (CS) and equine degraded manure (DM) was evaluated in the following ratios: 70:30:00, 65:30:05, 60:30:10 and 50:30:20 to determine the optimum ratio in piles of 250 kg and evaluate it in 500 and 2 000 kg. The parameters of quality were temperature, Ph, humidity, organic matter (OM), total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), C/N ratio, K/Na ratio and phosphorus (P).

Results and Discussion:

the ratio 65:30:05 had higher temperature (63.8 °C) and lower composting time (21 days). Significant differences (P < 0.05) were found in the parameters of quality with respect to the substrates and pile weight. The treatments of 250 kg had the shortest processing time (28 days) with higher OM, TKN, C/N and P.


The DM and CS favor BS composting by reducing the process to a maximum of 32 days. The ratio 65:30:05 in 250 kg increases the agronomic quality of the compost.

Keywords: Biodegradation; composite; clay; aerated piles



Los biosólidos generados en el tratamiento de aguas residuales son un problema ambiental debido a su manejo inadecuado y disposición.


Conocer los efectos de la variación de proporciones de los sustratos y pesos de los montículos sobre la calidad y tiempo de compostaje de biosólidos.

Materiales y métodos:

La mezcla de biosólidos (BS) con suelo arcilloso (SA) y estiércol degradado (ED) de equino se evaluó en las proporciones: 70:30:00, 65:30:05, 60:30:10 y 50:30:20, para determinar la proporción óptima en pilas de 250 kg y evaluarla en 500 y 2 000 kg. Los parámetros de calidad medidos fueron temperatura, pH y humedad, materia orgánica (MO), nitrógeno total Kjeldahl (NTK), relación C/N, relación K/Na y fósforo (P).

Resultados y discusión:

La proporción 65:30:05 destacó con mayor temperatura (63.8 °C) y menor tiempo de compostaje (21 días). Se encontraron diferencias significativas (P < 0.05) en los parámetros de calidad con respecto a los sustratos y pesos del montículo. Los tratamientos de 250 kg tuvieron el menor tiempo de proceso (28 días) con mayor contenido de MO, NTK, relación C/N y P.


El ED y SA favorecen el compostaje de BS al reducir el proceso a 32 días como máximo. La proporción 65:30:05 en pilas de 250 kg incrementa la calidad agronómica de la composta.

Palabras clave: Biodegradación; composta; arcilla; pilas aireadas


Biosolids derived from the treatment of wastewater have pathogens, parasites and, in some cases, heavy metals that, when handled improperly, can migrate to soil and groundwater, causing environmental and public health problems (Semblante et al., 2015). In Mexico, most biosolids are located on land adjacent to water treatment plants (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales [SEMARNAT] & National Water Commission [CONAGUA], 2014), although one of the techniques that allows to value such residues is through composting.

Composting stabilizes and obtains from the biosolids a high content of nutrients that stimulate plant growth. The process time varies from three to six months on average by the method of aerated compost piles, so that shorter periods of composting represent an opportunity in the technological, public health and environmental aspects. In order to improve the quality of the compost and influence the processing time, biosolids are mixed with passive or active bulking agents such as sawdust, rice husks, microbial consortia, enzymes and manure of various animal species (Jiang, Liu, Huang, & Huang, 2015). These agents modify the physical and chemical properties in the compost matrix, contribute to create air spaces between the particles that optimize the oxygen distribution, regulate humidity, improve the C/N ratio, allow microbial proliferation, change the kinetics of biodegradation and determine composting time (Yuan et al., 2015).

Manure used as a substrate increases water retention capacity in the manure compost pile and minimizes the loss of nitrogen by volatilization and phosphorus by leaching (Ksheem, Bennett, Antille, & Raine, 2015). Other substrates such as mature composite, clay and zeolite minimize nitrogen losses by NH3 emissions during the process (Zhang & Sun, 2015) and increase CO2 temperature and generation (Jolanun & Towprayoon, 2010).

In this context, the purpose of this study was to study the influence of different mixtures of biosolids with clay soil and degraded equine manure on the quality of compost and the composting time, as well as to evaluate the effect of changing weight of piles from 250 to 500 and 2 000 kg, using the method of piles with periodic aeration.

Materials and Methods

Conditioning of materials and composting

The experiments were carried out using local biosolids, derived from an activated sludge process. A thin layer of biosolids (BS) was placed on a polyethylene film to dehydrate them by solar radiation to obtain 35 ± 5 % moisture (Hbh) and then grind with a hammer mill. Clay soil (SA) came from clay mines located in the southern area of Valle de Toluca, Estado de México. BS and CS were sifted using a 5.0 mm mesh to have a uniform particle size. Equine degraded manure (DM) was stored for more than three months on mounds. Each substrate was obtained from a single lot to form the initial mixture of treatments.

The piles were placed in open field. Four treatments (ratios of substrates) and one control treatment (100 % biosolids) were established; experiments were performed in quintuplicate. The ratios of BS:CS:DM in piles of 250 kg were 70:30:00, 65:30:05, 60:30:10, 50:30:20 (w/w, dry base) and were identified as PA, PB, PC and PD, respectively. Subsequently, the proper ratio of the three substrates in the piles of 250 kg was used in the piles of 500 and 2 000 kg, identified as PE and PF, respectively.

The process variables were measured in morning hours. The temperature (T), humidity and pH were determined every 24 h; turns and irrigation were conducted every 48 h. These variables were monitored throughout the composting process, which included the following phases: mesophilic (T < 45 °C), thermophilic (T ≥ 45 °C) and second mesophilic or cooling phase. When temperature matched the room temperature, the composting process was concluded. The temperature was measured using a digital thermometer (HANNA® Model HI740024, Italy) on the inner and outer layers of the piles at nine random points. Moisture was determined with an OHAUS® moisture analyzer (model MB45, USA) and pH was measured with a CONDUCTRONIC® potentiometer (model PC18, Mexico) in a solution of compost:water (w/v) with a ratio of 1:5 at 25 °C.

Compost characteristics

Sampling and analysis of compost were carried out under the guidelines of the Mexican regulation NOM-004-SEMARNAT-2002 (SEMARNAT, 2003). Analyzes were carried out in triplicate, determining the following quality parameters: OM by the method of Walkley and Black (1934), TKN by Kjeldahl digestion-distillation (1982), K and Na available by the Mehlich-3 reagent extraction method and atomic absorption spectrophotometry (Perkin-Elmer, model A100, Mexico), and P available by Mehlich-3 extraction and colorimetry (spectrophotometer Vis Thermo Scientific ™ GENESYS 10S, Germany).

The heavy metals Cd, Cr and Pb were determined by atomic absorption spectrophotometry, prior digestion with concentrated HNO3 and HCl in a ratio of 1:3 v/v. The contents of fecal coliforms and Salmonella spp. were determined by the multi-tube fermentation method or most probable number method and the viable helminth egg content by the modified Balinger method (SEMARNAT, 2003).

The experiment was completely randomized and the data generated were subjected to an analysis of variance (ANOVA). All values were expressed as statistical means. The Tukey test (P < 0.05) was applied to determine statistically significant differences, using the statistical package SPSS 16.0 (SPSS, 2007).

Results and discussion

Selection of the optimum ratio of BS:CS:DM in compost piles of 250 kg

After 24 h of initiating the process, the temperatures were higher than 45 °C, where the thermophilic phase lasted from 9 to 14 days. At this stage, the PB treatment (65:30:05) had the highest temperature (63.8 °C) in contrast to the control pile (48.7 °C) (Figure 1). According to the results of the microbiological analysis, reported in Table 1, the temperatures reached ensure the elimination of pathogenic microorganisms. These were similar to those obtained by Ho, Yuan, Jien, and Hseu (2010), who incorporated residues of activated clay and rice husk as bulking agents to biosolids.

On the other hand, the addition of substrates influenced the availability of metals since a higher concentration was observed in P0 with respect to the rest of the treatments (Table 1). However, the concentration was lower than that established by Mexican legislation (SEMARNAT, 2003) and the United State Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA, 1999), which is important when considering its incorporation to the soil due to phytotoxicity and low tolerance of certain plant species.

Figure 1 Temperature and pH profile in the composting process of biosolids: clay soil: degraded equine manure in different ratios (P0 = control, PA = 70:30:00, PB = 65:30:05, PC = 60:30:10, PD = 50:30:20). 

Table 1 Concentration of heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms and parasites in biosolid compost: clay soil: equine degraded manure in different ratios. 

Treatments Heavy metals Microbiological Indicators
Pile (kg) Proportion Pb (mg·k1) Cr (mg·k1) Cd (mg·k1) CF (NMP·g-1) HH (HH·g-1) Salmonella spp. (NMP·g -1 )
250 P0 4.1 2.7 0.5 390 000 2.0 9.0
250 PA 2.5 1.5 <0.1 ND <1.0 ND
250 PB 3.0 1.6 <0.1 ND <1.0 ND
250 PC 2.3 1.2 <0.1 ND <1.0 ND
250 PD 3.0 1.6 <0.1 ND <1.0 ND
500 PE <0.05 2.4 <0.1 ND <1.0 ND
2 000 PF 4.2 ND 0.4 ND <1.0 ND
aType A 300 1 200 39 <1.0 x 103 <1.0 < 3.0
bType A 300 1 500 39 1.0 x 103 1.0 3.0

Biosolid compost: clay soil: equine degraded manure in different ratios (P0 = control; PA = 70:30:00; PB, PE and PF = 65:30:05; PC = 60:30:10; PD = 50:30:20). CF: fecal coliforms, HE: viable helminth eggs, MPN: most probable number, ND: not detected. The results are given on a dry basis. *Limits for heavy metals and pathogens in biosolids Type A (excellent quality) according to NOM-004-SEMARNAT-2002 (SEMARNAT, 2003)a and USEPA (1999)b.

Figure 1 shows that from day 2, the pH reached a value of 9.0, due to the CO2 and NH3 released into the atmosphere during aeration of the piles. Emissions were higher in the control (P0), which had the highest pH levels. These differences show that the absence of CS and DM favored greater dissociation of the ammonium and rapid decomposition of nitrogenous compounds, causing losses of nitrogen by volatilization. The final pH (8.0 to 8.5 units) indicated the stability of the organic matter (Hachicha et al., 2009). These results are similar to those reported by other researchers such as Malinska, Zabochnicka-Swiatek, and Dach (2014), who used biosolids, wood shavings and charcoal, and Scoton, Battistelle, Bezerra, and Akutsu (2016) who used sugar cane and coffee.

Table 2 shows the initial and final measurements of the composting process. In this study, initial moisture varied from 34 to 45 %, because the addition of CS and DM increased water retention and made it difficult to mix the substrates during the aeration process. It was observed that this did not limit the microbial activity, as high temperatures were reached in response to the heat released by the degradation of OM. Variation and loss of moisture were attributed to the generation of water by biodegradation, evaporation, aeration rate and substrate capacity to maintain moisture in the piles (Jolanun & Towprayoon, 2010). Other researchers such as Barrena, Font, Gabarrell, and Sánchez (2014) worked with values lower than 40 %, while Ho et al. (2010) reported humidity from 45 to 65 %.

With respect to OM, we found significant differences between treatments (P < 0.05). The control treatment (P0) had the highest percentage (Table 2), which is attributed to the chemical and microbiological oxidation of OM caused by the substrates in the rest of the treatments. The reduction of OM in treatments was 51.14 ± 5.13 %, as recommended by Antil, Raj, Narwal, and Singh (2011), who mention that the loss of OM should be greater than 42 %. As shown in Table 2, the substrates and the proportion used influenced the degradation of OM. Other researchers such as Bustamante et al. (2008) made mixtures between wine residues and cattle and poultry manure, observing a faster mineralization of OM. In the study of Jolanun and Towprayoon (2010), when 15 % of granulated clay was added, an improvement in the thermophilic phase of the composting was tested, as well as an increase in the degradation of OM.

Table 2 Characterization of the initial mixture of biosolids, clay soil and degraded manure, and finished compost. 

Treatment OM (%) NTK (%) C/N P (%) K/Na pH* Hbh (%)
Initial Treatments with different substrate ratios
P0 28.79 ± 0.42 4.6 ± 0.37 3.63 ±1.00 0.24 ± 0.07 10.40 ± 0.51 7.8 ± 0.28 36.9 ± 0.62
PA 21.39 ± 0.57 3.24 ± 0.22 3.83 ± 0.43 0.23 ± 0.05 9.09 ± 0.88 7.2 ± 0.12 40.5 ± 0.53
PB 25.12 ± 0.19 3.00 ± 0.10 4.86 ± 0.16 0.22 ± 0.09 15.75 ± 0.51 7.8 ± 0.17 36.1 ± 0.88
PC 24.00 ± 0.42 2.88 ± 0.20 4.83 ± 0.48 0.28 ± 0.06 7.84 ± 0.14 7.7 ± 0.10 35.6 ± 0.51
PD 26.61 ± 0.52 2.52 ± 0.19 6.12 ± 0.79 0.24 ± 0.08 7.50 ± 0.27 7.9 ± 0.12 35.5 ± 0.99
Initial Treatments with different pile weight
PE-500 22.69 ± 0.68 3.06 ± 0.19 4.30 ± 0.95 0.27 ± 0.05 16.50 ± 1.94 6.8 ± 0.13 45.0 ± 1.72
PF-2000 22.72 ± 0.35 3.10 ± 0.25 4.25 ± 0.17 0.28 ± 0.07 6.71 ± 0.74 7.0 ± 0.22 39.6 ± 1.09
Final Treatments with different substrate ratios
P0 15.35c ± 0.48 1.42a ± 0.42 6.67b ± 1.87 0.20a ± 0.01 9.00a ± 0.32 8.46a ± 0.34 19.18b ± 0.54
PA 11.40a ± 0.61 1.50a ± 0.25 4.10a ± 0.25 0.20a ± 0.02 13.00b ± 0.74 8.24a ± 0.15 15.00a ± 0.65
PB 12.70b ± 0.16 1.43a ± 0.04 5.17ab ± 0.16 0.30b ± 0.10 10.90c ± 0.63 8.08a ± 0.26 24.76c ± 0.93
PC 10.90a ± 0.30 1.49a ± 0.25 4.34a ± 0.73 0.20a ± 0.01 6.30d ± 0.19 8.20a ± 0.07 19.80b ± 0.39
PD 11.10a ± 0.57 1.50a ± 0.28 4.12a ± 0.85 0.30b ± 0.04 5.40e ± 0.20 8.40a ± 0.16 18.70b ± 0.83
Final Treatments with different pile weight
PB-250 12.70a ± 0.16 1.43a ± 0.04 5.17a ± 0.16 0.30a ± 0.10 10.90a ± 0.63 8.08a ± 0.26 24.76a ± 0.93
PE-500 10.82b ± 0.75 1.20a ± 0.14 5.01a ± 0.51 0.29a ± 0.03 20.20b ± 1.79 8.06a ± 0.09 36.96b ± 1.88
PF-2000 9.96c ± 0.23 1.32a ± 0.19 4.44a ± 0.56 0.08b ± 0.01 8.84c ± 0.55 8.50b ± 0.16 34.40b ± 2.30

Biosolid compost: clay soil: equine degraded manure in different ratios (P0 = control; PA = 70:30:00; PB, PE and PF = 65:30:05; PC = 60:30:10; PD = 50:30:20). OM: organic matter. TKN: total Kjeldahl nitrogen, Hwb: Humidity on wet basis. Data are given in dry weight except pH and humidity. * The pH was determined in a solution of composite:water (w/v) with a ratio of 1:5 at 25 °C. In the final treatments, different letters in each column indicate significant difference (Tukey, P < 0.05). n = 5. ± Standard deviation of the mean.

Table 2 also shows that the C/N ratio is strongly influenced by the initial substrates. The C/N ratio of the compost obtained does not represent an environmental risk when applied to soil nor does it alter the microbiological balance when it is lower than 15 (typical C/N ratio in soils), therefore, it can be assumed that the compost has maturity for use (Antil et al., 2011; Bernal, Navarro, Roig, Cegarra, & García, 1996). The C/N values were similar to those reported by Yañez, Alonso, and Díaz (2009) in the composting of biosolids with mimosa (Acacia dealbata Link).

The duration of the composting process in the treatments was 21 to 29 days (Figure 1), in contrast to the control that failed to stabilize in this period. The use of the substrates in the piles influenced the processing time due to the characteristics of the components, since the DM is rich in degrading microorganisms and CS favors the conditions for their growth.

The P content was higher and statistically different (P < 0.05) in PB and PD compared to the rest of the treatments, and the K/Na ratio was higher in PA and PB, those characteristics denote a product of agronomic quality.

The treatment PB (65:30:5) was chosen for the piles of 500 (PE) and 2 000 kg (PF) taking into account the results of temperature, pH, Hwb, physicochemical and microbiological variables and composting time.

Composting process in piles of 250, 500 and 2 000 kg

The thermophilic stage had a duration of 10, 14 and 16 days for PB (250 kg), PE (500 kg) and PF (2 000 kg) with maximum temperatures of 63.8, 57.9 and 56.0 °C, respectively. The composting time was prolonged in PF at 32 days (Figure 2). The pH was lower in PE and PF with maxima of 9.1 and 9.2, and minimum of 8.2 and 8.8, respectively. The moisture content of 34.3 to 43.5 % ensured the proper activity of the microbial consortia.

The parameters of quality showed significant differences with respect to the pile weight (Table 2). The most affected variables were OM and K/Na ratio. The PF treatment had the lowest concentrations of OM, P and K/Na ratio, with temperature and pH lower than the rest of the treatments; in addition, the composting time increased to 32 days (Figure 2). In contrast, composting time with PB was only 21 days; although the duration of the thermophilic phase was lower, the temperatures reached were higher than in the treatments performed at greater weight. On the other hand, according to the microbiological analysis, the population of fecal coliforms, Salmonella spp. and viable helminth eggs were removed during composting.

The initial and final weight of each pile was compared and we observed a reduction of 74.82 ± 5.63 %, indicating the efficiency of composting and showing that the use of substrates is an alternative in the treatment and reduction of biosolids.

Figure 2 Temperature and pH profile in the composting process of biosolids: clay soil: equine degraded manure in a ratio of 65:30:5 with different pile weight. 


The results show that the incorporation of degraded manure (DM) and clay soil (CS) favor the composting of local biosolids (BS) by reducing the processing time to a maximum of 32 days, in contrast to traditional processes that take more than three months to stabilize. The ratio 65:30:05 of BS:CS:DM in piles of 250 kg, under the piles method with regular turns, significantly increases the agronomic quality of the compost. The physicochemical and microbiological parameters are within regulated limits, which determines its agronomic use as a soil improver because of its low content of heavy metals, pathogens and parasites.


The authos thank the Tecnológico Nacional de México (TecNM, Project no.: 5443.14-P), the Instituto Tecnológico de Toluca (ITT) for the facilities provided, the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) for the funding and the Compañía Operadora de Ecosistemas (ECOSYS) for the materials provided.


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Received: December 18, 2016; Accepted: July 24, 2017

*Corresponding author:, tel.: +52 (722) 208 7236 ext. 3630.

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