Carbohydrates as chemical constituents of biowaste composts and their humic and fulvic acids

Kari Hänninen, Jari Kovalainen, Jorma Korvola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The decomposition of organic matter of source-separated biowaste during composting was followed during 18 months. Compost samples were fractionated into three parts: (i) hot water soluble extract (HWE) (ii) bitumen fraction and (iii) humic substances (humic acids (HA) and fulvic acids (FA)). Original compost samples and the HA and FA fractions were hydrolyzed with sulfuric acid for hexoses and pentoses. Quantitative spectrophotometric and qualitative GC/MS analyses of monosaccharides as trimethylsilyl ethers of the corresponding alditols were carried out.

During composting, the amount of HA in the organic matter of the compost increased, the amounts of HWE and bitumen decreased and the amount of the FA fraction changed only a little. Carbohydrates were found to be important constituents of biowaste composts and their HA and FA fractions. Elemental analysis (C, N and H) of compost and HA samples showed an increase in the C:H ratio and in unsaturation of compounds during composting. The decrease in the C:N ratio was marginal.

The amounts of hexoses and pentoses in original compost samples and the HA and FA fractions decreased during composting. The sugar alcohols erythritol, xylitol, L-arabitol, ribitol, L-rhamnitol, L-fucitol, D-mannitol, D-glucitol and galactitol were identified in both the HA and FA fractions. 2-Deoxy-D-erythro-pentitol was identified in one HA fraction and inositol in two FA fractions. An analysis of gas chromatographic data for relative abundances showed that, in every sample except one and in every stage of composting D-glucitol was the main sugar alcohol. In general, the relative amount of D-glucitol decreased during composting, while the relative amounts of all other sugar alcohols increased.

As chemical indicators of compost maturity, carbohydrates would appear to be a important group of compounds. Most informative as a general indicator would be the ratio of the amount of HA to the amount of organic matter in the total compost samples.

According to our studies, the carbohydrates in composts are covalently bound to the structures of FA and HA. Carbohydrate determination clearly deserves more attention in the structural elucidation of FA and HA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-68
JournalCompost Science and Utilization
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1995
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • carbohydrates
  • wastes
  • composting
  • humic acids
  • fulvic acids
  • determination
  • fractionation


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