Biogas typically refers to a (biofuel) gas produced by the anaerobic digestion or fermentation of organic matter including manure, sewage sludge, municipal solid waste, biodegradable waste or any other biodegradable feedstock, under anaerobic conditions. Biogas is comprised primarily of methane and carbon dioxide.
Depending on where it is produced, biogas is also called:
Biogas can be used as a vehicle fuel or for generating electricity. It can also be burned directly for cooking, heating, lighting, process heat and absorption refrigeration.
Siloxanes and gas engines
Biogas and anaerobic digestion
Biogas production by anaerobic digestion is popular for treating biodegradable waste because valuable fuel can be produced while destroying disease-causing pathogens and reducing the volume of disposed waste products. The methane in biogas combusts more cleanly than coal, and produces more energy with less emissions of carbon dioxide. The harvesting of biogas is an important role of waste management because methane is a greenhouse gas with a greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. The carbon in biogas was generally recently extracted from the atmosphere by photosynthetic plants, so releasing it back into the atmosphere adds less total atmospheric carbon than the burning of fossil fuels.
Recently, developed countries have been making increasing use of biogas generated from both wastewater and landfill sites or produced by mechanical biological treatment systems for municipal waste. High energy prices and increases in subsidies for electricity generated from renewable energy (such as renewables obligation certificates) and drivers such as the EU Landfill Directive have led to much higher utilisation of biogas sources.
Landfill gas is produced from organic waste disposed of in landfill. The waste is covered and compressed mechanically and by the pressure of higher levels. As conditions become anaerobic the organic waste is broken down and landfill gas is produced. This gas builds up and is slowly released into the atmosphere. This is hazardous for three key reasons:
Risk of explosion
Global warming through methane as a greenhouse gas
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as precursor to photochemical smog
[b]Siloxanes and gas engines[b] In some cases, landfill gas contains siloxanes. During combustion of biogas containing siloxanes, silicon is released and can combine with free oxygen or various other elements in the combustion gas. Deposits are formed containing mostly silica (SiO2) or silicates (SixOy) in general, but can also contain calcium, sulphur, zinc, phosphor… as indicated by the analysis piston scrapings from biogas-fired engines. These (mostly white) deposits can ultimately build to a surface thickness of several millimetres and are difficult to remove by chemical or mechanical means.
In internal combustion engines deposits on pistons and cylinder heads are extremely abrasive and even a small amount is sufficient to cause enough damage to the engine to require a complete overhaul at 5,000 h or less of operation. The damage is similar to that caused by carbon build up during light load running of diesel engines. Deposits on the turbine of the turbocharger will eventually reduce the charger’s efficiency.
Stirling engines are more resistant against siloxanes, though deposits on the tubes of the heat exchanger will reduce the efficiency.
Biogas to natural gas
If biogas is cleaned up sufficiently, biogas has the same characteristics as natural gas. In this instance the producer of the biogas can utilize the local gas distribution networks. The gas must be very clean to reach pipeline quality. Water (H2O), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and particulates are removed if present at high levels or if the gas is to be completely cleaned. Carbon dioxide is less frequently removed, but it must also be separated to achieve pipeline quality gas. If the gas is to be used without extensively cleaning, it is sometimes cofired with natural gas to improve combustion. Biogas cleaned up to pipeline quality is called renewable natural gas or biomethane.
Applications of renewable natural gas
In this form the gas can be now used in any application that natural gas is used for. Such applications include distribution via the natural gas grid, electricity production, space heating, water heating and process heating. If compressed, it can replace compressed natural gas for use in vehicles, where it can fuel an internal combustion engine or fuel cells.
Gober gas is a biogas generated out of cow dung. In India, gober gas is generated at the countless number of micro plants (an estimated more than 2 million) attached to households. The gober gas plant is basically an airtight circular pit made of concrete with a pipe connection. The manure is directed to the pit (usually directed from the cattle shed). The pit is then filled with a required quantity of water (usually waste water). The gas pipe is connected to the kitchen fire place through control valves. The flammable methane gas generated out of this is practically odorless and smokeless. The residue left after the extraction of the gas is used as biofertiliser. Owing to its simplicity in implementation and use of cheap raw materials in the villages, it is often quoted as one of the most environmentally sound energy source for the rural needs.
- AGORES – Biogas Biofuel Lille (PDF)
- AGORES – Biogas Biofuel Stockholm (PDF)
- University of Adelaide – An Introduction to Biogas
- Prometheus Energy Company
- Biogas in Rural Costa Rica
- Landfill Gas Generation
- Solid Waste Association of North America
- Landfill Gas Symposium
- Biogas in Spain
- Biogas in UK & Europe