Biogas Technology
Biogas typically refers to a mixture of gases produced by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. Biogas can be produced from regionally available raw materials such as recycled waste. It is a renewable energy source and in many cases exerts a very small carbon footprint.
Biogas is produced by anaerobic digestion with anaerobic bacteria or fermentation of biodegradable materials such as manure, sewage, municipal waste, green waste, plant material, and crops. It is primarily methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) and may have small amounts of hydrogen sulphide (H2S), moisture and siloxanes.
The gases methane, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide (CO) can be combusted or oxidized with oxygen. This energy release allows biogas to be used as a fuel; it can be used for any heating purpose, such as cooking. It can also be used in a gas engine to convert the energy in the gas into electricity and heat
Anaerobic digestion is a collection of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process is used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste and/or to produce fuels. Much of the fermentation used industrially to produce food and drink products, as well as home fermentation, uses anaerobic digestion.
Anaerobic digestion occurs naturally in some soils and in lake and oceanic basin sediments, where it is usually referred to as "anaerobic activity”. This is the source of marsh gas methane as discovered by Volta in 1776.
The digestion process begins with bacterial hydrolysis of the input materials. Insoluble organic polymers, such as carbohydrates, are broken down to soluble derivatives that become available for other bacteria. Acidogenic bacteria then convert the sugars and amino acids into carbon dioxide, hydrogen, ammonia, and organic acids. These bacteria convert these resulting organic acids into acetic acid, along with additional ammonia, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. Finally, methanogens convert these products to methane and carbon dioxide. The methanogenic archaea populations play an indispensable role in anaerobic wastewater treatments.
It is used as part of the process to treat biodegradable waste and sewage sludge. As part of an integrated waste management system, anaerobic digestion reduces the emission of landfill gas into the atmosphere. Anaerobic digesters can also be fed with purpose-grown energy crops, such as maize.
Anaerobic digestion is widely used as a source of renewable energy. The process produces a biogas, consisting of methane, carbon dioxide and traces of other ‘contaminant’ gases. This biogas can be used directly as fuel, in combined heat and power gas engines or upgraded to natural gas-quality biomethane. The nutrient-rich digestate also produced can be used as fertilizer.
 
Process stages
The key process stages of anaerobic digestion
There are four key biological and chemical stages of anaerobic digestion:
 
  1. Hydrolysis
  2. Acidogenesis
  3. Acetogenesis
  4. Methanogenesis
In most cases, biomass is made up of large organic polymers. For the bacteria in anaerobic digesters to access the energy potential of the material, these chains must first be broken down into their smaller constituent parts. These constituent parts, or monomers, such as sugars, are readily available to other bacteria. The process of breaking these chains and dissolving the smaller molecules into solution is called hydrolysis. Therefore, hydrolysis of these high-molecular-weight polymeric components is the necessary first step in anaerobic digestion.[21] Through hydrolysis the complex organic molecules are broken down into simple sugars, amino acids, and fatty acids.
Acetate and hydrogen produced in the first stages can be used directly by methanogens. Other molecules, such as volatile fatty acids (VFAs) with a chain length greater than that of acetate must first be catabolised into compounds that can be directly used by methanogens.
The biological process of acidogenesis results in further breakdown of the remaining components by acidogenic (fermentative) bacteria. Here, VFAs are created, along with ammonia, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide, as well as other byproducts.[23] The process of acidogenesis is similar to the way milk sours.
The third stage of anaerobic digestion is acetogenesis. Here, simple molecules created through the acidogenesis phase are further digested by acetogens to produce largely acetic acid, as well as carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
The terminal stage of anaerobic digestion is the biological process of methanogenesis. Here, methanogens use the intermediate products of the preceding stages and convert them into methane, carbon dioxide, and water. These components make up the majority of the biogas emitted from the system. Methanogenesis is sensitive to both high and low pHs and occurs between pH 6.5 and pH 8. The remaining, indigestible material the microbes cannot use and any dead bacterial remains constitute the digestate.
A simplified generic chemical equation for the overall processes outlined above is as follows:
  C6H12O6 → 3CO2 + 3CH4
Configuration
Anaerobic digesters can be designed and engineered to operate using a number of different process configurations:
 
  • Batch or continuous
  • Temperature: Mesophilic or thermophilic
  • Solids content: High solids or low solids
  • Complexity: Single stage or multistage
  • Applications
    Using anaerobic digestion technologies can help to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in a number of key ways:
     
  • Replacement of fossil fuels
  • Reducing or eliminating the energy footprint of waste treatment plants
  • Reducing methane emission from landfills
  • Displacing industrially produced chemical fertilizers
  • Reducing vehicle movements
  • Reducing electrical grid transportation losses
  • Reducing usage of LP Gas for cooking
  • Waste treatment
    Anaerobic digestion is particularly suited to organic material, and is commonly used for effluent and sewage treatment. Anaerobic digestion, a simple process, can greatly reduce the amount of organic matter which might otherwise be destined to be dumped at sea, dumped in landfills, or burnt in incinerators.
    Pressure from environmentally related legislation on solid waste disposal methods in developed countries has increased the application of anaerobic digestion as a process for reducing waste volumes and generating useful byproducts. It may either be used to process the source-separated fraction of municipal waste or alternatively combined with mechanical sorting systems, to process residual mixed municipal waste. These facilities are called mechanical biological treatment plants.
    If the putrescible waste processed in anaerobic digesters were disposed of in a landfill, it would break down naturally and often anaerobically. In this case, the gas will eventually escape into the atmosphere. As methane is about 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, this has significant negative environmental effects.
    In countries that collect household waste, the use of local anaerobic digestion facilities can help to reduce the amount of waste that requires transportation to centralized landfill sites or incineration facilities. This reduced burden on transportation reduces carbon emissions from the collection vehicles. If localized anaerobic digestion facilities are embedded within an electrical distribution network, they can help reduce the electrical losses associated with transporting electricity over a national grid.
    Power generation
    In developing countries, simple home and farm-based anaerobic digestion systems offer the potential for low-cost energy for cooking and lighting. From 1975, China and India have both had large, government-backed schemes for adaptation of small biogas plants for use in the household for cooking and lighting. At present, projects for anaerobic digestion in the developing world can gain financial support through the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism if they are able to show they provide reduced carbon emissions.
    Methane and power produced in anaerobic digestion facilities can be used to replace energy derived from fossil fuels, and hence reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, because the carbon in biodegradable material is part of a carbon cycle. The carbon released into the atmosphere from the combustion of biogas has been removed by plants for them to grow in the recent past, usually within the last decade, but more typically within the last growing season. If the plants are regrown, taking the carbon out of the atmosphere once more, the system will be carbon neutral. In contrast, carbon in fossil fuels has been sequestered in the earth for many millions of years, the combustion of which increases the overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
    Biogas from sewage works is sometimes used to run a gas engine to produce electrical power, some or all of which can be used to run the sewage works. Some waste heat from the engine is then used to heat the digester. The waste heat is, in general, enough to heat the digester to the required temperatures. The power potential from sewage works is limited – in the UK, there are about 80 MW total of such generation, with the potential to increase to 150 MW, which is insignificant compared to the average power demand in the UK of about 35,000 MW. The scope for biogas generation from nonsewage waste biological matter – energy crops, food waste, abattoir waste, etc. - is much higher, estimated to be capable of about 3,000 MW. Farm biogas plants using animal waste and energy crops are expected to contribute to reducing CO2 emissions and strengthen the grid, while providing UK farmers with additional revenues.
    Some countries offer incentives in the form of, for example, feed-in tariffs for feeding electricity onto the power grid to subsidize green energy production.
    In Oakland, California at the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s main wastewater treatment plant (EBMUD), food waste is currently codigested with primary and secondary municipal wastewater solids and other high-strength wastes. Compared to municipal wastewater solids digestion alone, food waste codigestion has many benefits. Anaerobic digestion of food waste pulp from the EBMUD food waste process provides a higher normalized energy benefit, compared to municipal wastewater solids: 730 to 1,300 kWh per dry ton of food waste applied compared to 560 to 940 kWh per dry ton of municipal wastewater solids applied.
    Grid injection
    Biogas grid-injection is the injection of biogas into the natural gas grid. As an alternative, the electricity and the heat can be used for on-site generation, resulting in a reduction of losses in the transportation of energy. Typical energy losses in natural gas transmission systems range from 1–2%, whereas the current energy losses on a large electrical system range from 5–8%.
    In October 2010, Didcot Sewage Works became the first in the UK to produce biomethane gas supplied to the national grid, for use in up to 200 homes in Oxfordshire.
    Fertilizer and soil conditioner
    The solid, fibrous component of the digested material can be used as a soil conditioner to increase the organic content of soils. Digester liquor can be used as a fertiliser to supply vital nutrients to soils instead of chemical fertilisers that require large amounts of energy to produce and transport. The use of manufactured fertilisers is, therefore, more carbon-intensive than the use of anaerobic digester liquor fertiliser. In countries such as Spain, where many soils are organically depleted, the markets for the digested solids can be equally as important as the biogas.
    Cooking gas
    By using a bio-digester, which produces the bacteria required for decomposing, cooking gas is generated. The organic garbage like fallen leaves, kitchen waste, food waste etc. are fed into a crusher unit, where the mixture is conflated with a small amount of water. The mixture is then fed into the bio-digester, where the bacteria decomposes it to produce cooking gas. This gas is piped to kitchen stove. A 2 cubic meter bio-digester can produce 2 cubic meter of cooking gas. This is equivalent to 1 kg of LPG. The notable advantage of using a bio-digester is the sludge which is a rich organic manure.
    Products
    The three principal products of anaerobic digestion are biogas, digestate, and water.
    Biogas
    Main article: Biogas
     
    Typical composition of biogas
    Matter  %
    Methane, CH4 50–75
    Carbon dioxide, CO2 25–50
    Nitrogen, N2 0–10
    Hydrogen, H2 0–1
    Hydrogen sulfide, H2S 0–3
    Oxygen, O2 0–2
    Biogas holder with lightning protection rods and backup gas flare
    Biogas carrying pipes
    Biogas is the ultimate waste product of the bacteria feeding off the input biodegradable feedstock (the methanogenesis stage of anaerobic digestion is performed by archaea - a micro-organism on a distinctly different branch of the phylogenetic tree of life to bacteria), and is mostly methane and carbon dioxide, with a small amount hydrogen and trace hydrogen sulfide. (As-produced, biogas also contains water vapor, with the fractional water vapor volume a function of biogas temperature). Most of the biogas is produced during the middle of the digestion, after the bacterial population has grown, and tapers off as the putrescible material is exhausted. The gas is normally stored on top of the digester in an inflatable gas bubble or extracted and stored next to the facility in a gas holder.
    The methane in biogas can be burned to produce both heat and electricity, usually with a reciprocating engine or microturbine often in a cogeneration arrangement where the electricity and waste heat generated are used to warm the digesters or to heat buildings. Excess electricity can be sold to suppliers or put into the local grid. Electricity produced by anaerobic digesters is considered to be renewable energy and may attract subsidies. Biogas does not contribute to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations because the gas is not released directly into the atmosphere and the carbon dioxide comes from an organic source with a short carbon cycle.
    Biogas may require treatment or 'scrubbing' to refine it for use as a fuel. Hydrogen sulfide, a toxic product formed from sulfates in the feedstock, is released as a trace component of the biogas. National environmental enforcement agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the English and Welsh Environment Agency, put strict limits on the levels of gases containing hydrogen sulfide, and, if the levels of hydrogen sulfide in the gas are high, gas scrubbing and cleaning equipment (such as amine gas treating) will be needed to process the biogas to within regionally accepted levels. Alternatively, the addition of ferrous chloride FeCl2 to the digestion tanks inhibits hydrogen sulfide production.
    Volatile siloxanes can also contaminate the biogas; such compounds are frequently found in household waste and wastewater. In digestion facilities accepting these materials as a component of the feedstock, low-molecular-weight siloxanes volatilise into biogas. When this gas is combusted in a gas engine, turbine, or boiler, siloxanes are converted into silicon dioxide (SiO2), which deposits internally in the machine, increasing wear and tear. Practical and cost-effective technologies to remove siloxanes and other biogas contaminants are available at the present time. In certain applications, in situ treatment can be used to increase the methane purity by reducing the offgas carbon dioxide content, purging the majority of it in a secondary reactor.
    In countries such as Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden, the methane in the biogas may be compressed for it to be used as a vehicle transportation fuel or input directly into the gas mains.In countries where the driver for the use of anaerobic digestion are renewable electricity subsidies, this route of treatment is less likely, as energy is required in this processing stage and reduces the overall levels available to sell.
    Digestate
    Main article: digestate
    Digestate is the solid remnants of the original input material to the digesters that the microbes cannot use. It also consists of the mineralised remains of the dead bacteria from within the digesters. Digestate can come in three forms: fibrous, liquor, or a sludge-based combination of the two fractions. In two-stage systems, different forms of digestate come from different digestion tanks. In single-stage digestion systems, the two fractions will be combined and, if desired, separated by further processing.
    Acidogenic anaerobic digestate
    The second byproduct (acidogenic digestate) is a stable, organic material consisting largely of lignin and cellulose, but also of a variety of mineral components in a matrix of dead bacterial cells; some plastic may be present. The material resembles domestic compost and can be used as such or to make low-grade building products, such as fibreboard. The solid digestate can also be used as feedstock for ethanol production.
    The third byproduct is a liquid (methanogenic digestate) rich in nutrients, which can be used as a fertiliser, depending on the quality of the material being digested. Levels of potentially toxic elements (PTEs) should be chemically assessed. This will depend upon the quality of the original feedstock. In the case of most clean and source-separated biodegradable waste streams, the levels of PTEs will be low. In the case of wastes originating from industry, the levels of PTEs may be higher and will need to be taken into consideration when determining a suitable end use for the material.
    Digestate typically contains elements, such as lignin, that cannot be broken down by the anaerobic microorganisms. Also, the digestate may contain ammonia that is phytotoxic, and may hamper the growth of plants if it is used as a soil-improving material. For these two reasons, a maturation or composting stage may be employed after digestion. Lignin and other materials are available for degradation by aerobic microorganisms, such as fungi, helping reduce the overall volume of the material for transport. During this maturation, the ammonia will be oxidized into nitrates, improving the fertility of the material and making it more suitable as a soil improver. Large composting stages are typically used by dry anaerobic digestion technologies.
    Wastewater
    The final output from anaerobic digestion systems is water, which originates both from the moisture content of the original waste that was treated and water produced during the microbial reactions in the digestion systems. This water may be released from the dewatering of the digestate or may be implicitly separate from the digestate.
    The wastewater exiting the anaerobic digestion facility will typically have elevated levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD). These measures of the reactivity of the effluent indicate an ability to pollute. Some of this material is termed 'hard COD', meaning it cannot be accessed by the anaerobic bacteria for conversion into biogas. If this effluent were put directly into watercourses, it would negatively affect them by causing eutrophication. As such, further treatment of the wastewater is often required. This treatment will typically be an oxidation stage wherein air is passed through the water in a sequencing batch reactors or reverse osmosis unit
    Anaerobic Digestion Process:
    Anaerobic digestion is a collection of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process is used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste and/or to produce fuels. Much of the fermentation used industrially to produce food and drink products, as well as home fermentation, uses anaerobic digestion.
    Anaerobic digestion occurs naturally in some soils and in lake and oceanic basin sediments, where it is usually referred to as "anaerobic activity". This is the source of marsh gas methane as discovered by Volta in 1776.
    The digestion process begins with bacterial hydrolysis of the input materials. Insoluble organic polymers, such as carbohydrates, are broken down to soluble derivatives that become available for other bacteria. Acidogenic bacteria then convert the sugars and amino acids into carbon dioxide, hydrogen, ammonia, and organic acids. These bacteria convert these resulting organic acids into acetic acid, along with additional ammonia, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. Finally, methanogens convert these products to methane and carbon dioxide. The methanogenic archaea populations play an indispensable role in anaerobic wastewater treatments.
    It is used as part of the process to treat biodegradable waste and sewage sludge. As part of an integrated waste management system, anaerobic digestion reduces the emission of landfill gas into the atmosphere. Anaerobic digesters can also be fed with purpose-grown energy crops, such as maize.
    Anaerobic digestion is widely used as a source of renewable energy. The process produces a biogas, consisting of methane, carbon dioxide and traces of other ‘contaminant’ gases. This biogas can be used directly as fuel, in combined heat and power gas engines or upgraded to natural gas-quality biomethane. The nutrient-rich digestate also produced can be used as fertilizer.
    There are four key biological and chemical stages of anaerobic digestion:
     
    1. Hydrolysis
    2. Acidogenesis
    3. Acetogenesis
    4. Methanogenesis
    Configuration
     
    Farm-based maize silage digester located near Neumünster in Germany, 2007 - the green, inflatable biogas holder is shown on top of the digester.
    Anaerobic digesters can be designed and engineered to operate using a number of different process configurations:
     
  • Batch or continuous
  • Temperature: Mesophilic or thermophilic
  • Solids content: High solids or low solids
  • Complexity: Single stage or multistage