Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Darren L. Hitt

Second Advisor

Donna M. Rizzo


Composting has been practiced for thousands of years as a way of stabilizing and recycling organic matter into useful soil amendments. Thermophilic compost releases significant amounts of heat at temperatures (~140 °F) that are useful for environmental heating or process water. This heat has been taken advantage of in various ways throughout history, but development of a widely adopted technology remains elusive.

The biggest barrier to adoption of compost heat recovery (CHR) systems is projecting accurate, attractive economic returns. The cost of transfer equipment is significant, and with variability in composting substrates and methods, it is difficult to predict the power and quality of heat a proposed system would produce. While the ultimate heat release may be calculated with standard techniques, the dynamics of compost temperature and thermal power are less understood. As heat yield is one of many goals, better understanding of compost’s thermal dynamics is important for CHR optimization. This research addresses the issue by developing a field test that measures heat release and temperature across a representative-scale compost volume.

The compost test vessel was built from common construction materials and insulated enough to be self-heating in cold weather. A 4’ x 4’ x 4’ cube of 2” foam insulation panels held 1.812 cubic yards of active compost, intermittently aerated at ~35 CFM. Data from 84 temperature sensors, and one pressure sensor at the blower, was logged at 1-minute intervals for a period of 35 days. Spatial temperature fields were estimated by Kriging, and used to calculate conductive heat loss and compost volume temperature over time. Enthalpy loss was calculated using the blower pressure curve, temperature data and humidity assumptions.

The compost exhibited wide variation in temperature and heat flow over time, and less horizontal symmetry than expected. The results are dynamic and best viewed graphically. Enthalpy loss varied with adjustments to the aeration cycle, ranging from 100 to 550 W (60-minute average rates), while conductive losses were in the range of 75 W. Peak sustained thermal output was around 600 W (500 W by aeration) from days 11-13 with about 0.6 yd3 of compost in the thermophilic zone; however, this cooled the compost significantly. Aeration was then reduced, and the compost temperature recovered, with 50% - 90% of the compost volume above 130 °F from days 14-23; during this period, total heat loss was around 150 - 200 W with aeration loss around 60-100 W.

The test was successful in producing hot compost and building temperature field and heat loss models. However representative aeration rates cooled a large amount of the compost volume as cool air was drawn into the vessel. Aeration rate reduction accomplished desired compost temperatures, but resulted in low enthalpy extraction rate and temperature. Future work will address this issue with the ability to recirculate air through the compost.



Number of Pages

76 p.