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This guidance note provides greater detail pertaining to the key subject area of biogas (a.k.a digester gas) and what can be done with it to realise its value. The most common use of the biogas is to burn it in an internal combustion engine (a.k.a gas engine) directly coupled to a generator. This combination is used to provide both heat and power hence it is normally called a Combined Heat and Power plant or, simply, a CHP. Given the dominance of this use of the biogas, most of this guidance refers directly to CHP units.
1. 2. 2.1 2.1.1 2.1.2 2.1.3 2.1.4 2.1.5 2.1.6 2.1.7 2.1.8 2.2 2.3 2.3.1 2.3.2 2.3.3 2.4 2.4.1 2.4.2 2.4.3 2.4.4 3. CONTENTS BIOGAS Composition and contaminants General Bulk Components Micro component / contaminants O2 and N2 H2S Cl and F Siloxanes H20/Humidity Generation equipment gas specification Biogas improvement techniques H2S Siloxanes Relative humidity Biogas fuel quality Characteristics Calorific Value and Thermal input Gas thermal input and generation output Conversion Efficiency and Load Conversion Efficiency and methane and carbon dioxide concentration BIOGAS FROM DIGESTER TO GENERATION 1 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 5 6 6 7 8 8 8 9 9 9 10

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3.1 3.2 3.2.1 3.2.2 3.2.3 3.2.4 4. 4.1 4.1.1 4.1.2 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6

Gas pipework Possible Equipment prior to generation Gas Desulphurisation and drying Flare Booster Analysis and flow meter GENERATION Installation Building installation Containerised unit Generation characteristics/ considerations Heat Recovery Operation and Maintenance CDM and DSEAR risk Post Generation

10 10 10 10 11 11 12 12 12 12 13 13 14 14 15

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BIOGAS Composition and contaminants



Biogas is a mixture of gasses. The two main components of methane and carbon dioxide determine the fuel characteristics of the biogas which are particularly relevant to engine operation, i.e. they determine the calorific value and methane number. However there are a number of potential contaminants in the biogas which can have deleterious effects on downstream equipment with resulting extra cost. These, despite being minor components, are usually in the ppm range. Unlike the bulk components the effect of these contaminants does not become apparent until after the engine has been operating for some time as they have a cumulative effect.


Bulk Components

By volume, the main components of digester gas are; CH4 CO2 50% -80% 20% - 50%

These ratios vary depending on the feedstock being digested


Micro component / contaminants

Typical range 0 4% 0 1% 100ppm 5000ppm+

Component N2 O2 H2S

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Cl F H2O Siloxanes

5ppm 200+ mg/Nm3 as total Cl 5ppm 100+ mg/Nm3 as total F 90 -100% relative humidity 0 30 mg/Nm3 as organic silicon compounds


O2 and N2

By the anaerobic nature of the digestion process there should be no oxygen in the gas. However some anaerobic digestion processes introduce a small amount of air to the digester headspace for H2S oxidation and control. Hence oxygen and nitrogen can be in the digester gas. Care should be taken not to have an oxygen concentration close to the Lower Explosive Limit of methane.



Hydrogen sulphide is the principal problem contaminant in biogas. It is a main component of the bad egg smell which can be associated with organic degradation. It is formed by sulphate reducing bacteria within the anaerobic process. H2S readily dissolves in water forming sulphurous acid which will be corrosive. All digesters will form H2S to a greater or lesser extent. The corrosive nature of the gas can cause premature engine wear and failure of bearings. Any affect from high levels of H2S (and Cl and F) in the gas will be rapidly seen in the engine oil monitoring analysis and will require an increased oil change frequency.


Cl and F

These are in the form of halogenated organic compounds. The Cl or F will be attached to a small carbon based molecule such as trichloromethane or vinyl chloride. Like H2S they can form acidic solutions in water and have a corrosive effect on the engine.

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These are silicon based compounds and as contaminants are found increasingly in sewage gas, landfill gas and certain biogases. Siloxanes originate from their use in hygiene, health care and industrial products. The use of these silicon containing compounds has increased significantly over the past twenty years. For biogas plants the type of waste treated will give an indication as to whether Siloxanes will be a problem, i.e. they could be likely in the organic fraction of MBT waste but unlikely in farm waste or agricrops. The effect of Siloxanes on an engine can be drastic with large deposits in cylinder heads and cylinders leading to very premature replacement.



Having 100% relative humidity in the biogas means that the biogas has the maximum percentage mass of water vapour possible at that temperature. Increasing the temperature enables a higher amount of water (vapour) in the gas so the relative humidity will decrease. If the temperature decreases the maximum percentage of water (vapour) the gas can hold decreases and so some water will condense out. Water condensing out produces condensate which can form in the gas pipework and engine gas train leading to potential blockages and starting problems. Also as indicated when other contaminants dissolve in the condensate it can be corrosive, again leading to problems. Within the engine excessive humidity can cause deposit problems and again increased corrosion particularly if there are higher levels of acidic contaminants. Free water is not permitted in the engine fuel gas. The lower the relative humidity in the biogas the more resistance the engine has to the corrosive compounds in the biogas, principally H2S Cl and F. The gas leaving the digester will be at digester temperature and at 100% humidity. At 35oC the water vapour will comprise about 6% of the gas volume and be approximately 40g water per m3. Deliberately cooling the gas is an effective way of removing the water and then reheating it will prevent condensation occurring. Siloxane removal plant generally requires a dry gas.


Generation equipment gas specification

Generation equipment (CHP) manufacturers will issue a gas specification sheet for operation on biogas. Typically it will have values and limits as detailed below.

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Points to note are: Contaminants are expressed as mg/Nm3 or a value per 10kWh/h, where, 10kWh/h is equivalent to 100% methane. As stated these contaminants can have a cumulative effect on the engine. When using a biogas with a high methane concentration (e.g. 75% CH4) then the gas volume fed to the engine will be significantly less than with a low methane concentration (e.g. at 50% CH4 requiring 50% more biogas). Hence to give a contaminant load onto the generation and to compare different biogases the trace contaminants are converted to a standard thermal energy input. E.g. If the gas is at 50% CH4 content and has a contaminant concentration of equivalent to 400mg/Nm3 at 10kwH/hCH4. 200mg/Nm3, this is

Having a containments level above the gas specification limit will not stop the engine operating, but it could invalidate a warranty. Operation with high contaminants will be a maintenance issue. Remedial action for high contaminants will be either the installation of a gas cleanup system (usually for H2S), or an agreed more intensive maintenance schedule on the generation.


Biogas improvement techniques



There are several methods of removing H2S from biogas and a significant number of equipment suppliers. Below is an outline of some processes available. In digester techniques Oxygen addition to biogas. As mentioned above a small amount of air addition to a digester headspace (if possible) can lead to the biological oxidation of H2S. This is a technique designed into the digester, not retrofitted. The amount of air added is controlled by monitoring the oxygen content of the biogas. Iron salt addition to a digester. The addition of Iron usually through chemicals such as iron chloride (FeCl3) leads to the formation of iron sulphide which locks the H2S into the digestate. Iron salts tend to be very acidic and so will use some of the digester buffering capacity, and may require the addition of alkali to maintain optimum pH. Gas treatment

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Wet scrubbing. With a scrubber system, the biogas would be contacted with water to dissolve the H2S. The amount of H2S which can be held in the water is pH dependant; hence the water used in a scrubber is usually alkaline. There will be the need for continual addition of alkali - usually sodium hydroxide (Caustic soda) - and the removal of water as an effluent from the system. Some processes will add iron salts to the scrubbing process. The biogas from a scrubber will be totally saturated and likely to require pressure boosting or some other means of lowering the relative humidity before use in the engine. Biological treatment This process is usually in the form of a biological tower through which the biogas is passed and bacteria oxidize the H2S to elemental sulphur. There is sometimes a requirement for the addition of some biological nutrient but this is usually very small quantities. Some method of removing the elemental sulphur is usually designed in. This process can handle large concentrations of H2S but is less suited to low concentrations. The process is best operated continuously and at a stable load in order to optimise the bacterial count. Biological systems often have high capital costs but low running costs. Iron sponge This process uses a sacrificial iron (or other metallic elements) sponge to absorb the H2S. The sponge is in the form of something like wire wool or iron salt impregnated carrier particles. When the sponge has reached its maximum content it has to be replaced. Activated carbon An activated carbon filter or scrubber will remove all contaminants form the biogas. It is best used if the biogas is dry so as not to fill the carbon with water. In some processes the carbon can be regenerated but it is usually replaced when functional efficiency declines. Generally the use of activated carbon has a high operating cost. More usually activated carbon is used as a polishing filter.



The removal of Siloxanes from biogas can be achieved with techniques such as activated carbon. Other techniques such as wet scrubbing/washing are also possible.

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Relative humidity

As indicated biogas leaving a digester is at 100% relative humidity (saturated). If the gas is cooled along the pipework to the generation unit then it will always be around 100% humidity. Relative humidity will be decreased if the biogas is warmed such as when passing through a blower but generally this is insufficient to have a major effect. A gas dryer installation will alleviate a large proportion of the condensate problems. A gas dryer is a refrigerator connected to a heat exchange to cool the gas down to around 5oC. This will condense a significant volume of water. The gas then is heated slightly to reduce the relative humidity to below 50%. Gas drying has additional benefits in absorbing (to some extent) the corrosive substances in the gas as the condensate forms.


Biogas fuel quality Characteristics

Calorific Value and Thermal input


The potential combustion energy in the gas is known as its calorific value. The calorific value of a substance, is the amount of heat released during the combustion of a specified amount of it. It is measured in units of energy per unit of the substance, usually mass, but also volume is used. The units are kJ/kg, or MJ/Nm3. The heat of combustion for fuels is expressed as the HHV, LHV, or GHV: The quantity known as higher heating value (HHV) (or gross calorific value or gross energy or upper heating value) is determined by bringing all the products of combustion back to the original pre-combustion temperature, and in particular condensing any vapour produced. This is the same as the thermodynamic heat of combustion since the enthalpy change for the reaction assumes a common temperature of the compounds before and after combustion, in which case the water produced by combustion is liquid. The quantity known as lower heating value (LHV) (or net calorific value) is determined by subtracting the heat of vapourisation of the water vapor from the higher heating value. This treats any H2O formed as a vapour. The energy required to vaporise the water therefore is not realised as heat. Hence the LHV is used in calculating outputs from generation equipment and conversion efficiencies in accordance with ISO standards as such equipment does not condense the water vapour produced as a combustion product. For 100% CH4 the Calorific Value can be expressed as:

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A general rule of thumb is to take the LHV of 100% methane as 10kWh/h/Nm3, which makes the assumption of LHV at different methane concentrations easy, i.e 60% methane, has a LHV close to 6kWh/Nm3. Using this, the thermal input per hour from a gas stream (at STP) can be easily estimated. E.g. A gas flow of 150Nm3/h at a methane concentration of 70% methane will have a thermal energy value of (7 x 150) = 1050kWh thermal.


Gas thermal input and generation output

For a given machine a generation equipment data sheet for biogas will give information on the electrical and thermal outputs for a given thermal input. This will be at the maximum output of the generator at full power. The thermal or fuel input may be given subject to a 5% tolerance under ISO 3046/1. The data sheet may give this information at reduced power usually at 75% and 50% load. 50% load is the minimum output a generator is usually controlled to operate at. The data sheet should say what biogas methane (and CO2) content the data is produced at. Do not get confused between a natural gas data sheet and a biogas data sheet for the same machine.


Conversion Efficiency and Load

If the data sheet has information at part load operation it can be seen that the electrical conversion efficiency decreases, and corresponding heat recovery increases as the operational load reduces.


Conversion Efficiency and methane and carbon dioxide concentration

Biogas is essentially methane and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a flame extinguishant and so will affect the combustion process to an extent. A generation set data sheet for biogas may give a set of performance data but should be at a certain gas composition e.g. 65% CH4/35% CO2. If the methane concentration is less than this with correspondingly greater carbon dioxide then for the same electrical output the fuel input volume will be greater. The gas specification sheet may qualify the LHV input to the generator (usually.4kwh/Nm3 =~ 40% CH4 concentration) with a CO2 value which is less than 10 vol%/kWh/Nm3. This is limiting the stated engine output on biogas to no more than equal methane and carbon dioxide concentrations.

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Gas pipework

The gas pipework is used to distribute the gas to the point of use and/or combustion. The pipework will start at the exit point (top) of the digester. The physical nature of this exit and the equipment involved will depend on the type of digestion tank used but is likely to include a pressure relief valve and a flame arrestor. A risk assessment on the gas train pipework should be made to see if further flame arrestors are required. Condensate will form and collect at any low point in the pipework. Therefore it is recommended that depending on the length of pipework at least one condensate knock out pot be included to remove this condensate from the pipework. Condensate will also be corrosive due to acidic contaminants dissolved in it. Consequently the material of construction of the pipework should be considered, as well as the disposal of the condensate.


Possible Equipment prior to generation

Gas Desulphurisation and drying


Unit to remove H2S and reduce the relative humidity using one of the techniques described in section 2.



Venting of biogas direct to the atmosphere is not an acceptable practice. Methane is counted as 21 times more problematic than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Therefore if the gas cannot be utilised it is better/required by the site license to flare the gas. A flare can operate at the gas pressure provided by the anaerobic digester (typically 20mbar) but more often when there is a utilisation scheme the pressure has to be increased by a blower, the flare is integrated into this system.

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For a CHP system it is generally required for the gas pressure to be boosted from the digester pressure of around 20mbar to around 100mbar. This not only enables smaller diameter gas pipework to be used but reduces gas pressure fluctuations which can be a problem for generation sets. The gas booster can be coupled to the flare unit for excess gas production control.


Analysis and flow meter

It is usual to have a gas analyser in the system. This could be at the digester but is more common at a booster station or generator. Online parameters measured may be CH4 concentration (V/V) as a minimum, but also CO2, O2 and H2S. Some generation units can make use of a methane concentration signal to improve starting performance. A flow meter in the biogas pipeline is essential as it provides much useful data. The accuracy of the meter will depend on the type specified and cost. Simple flow measurement can be across an orifice plate, but for accurate measurement a temperature and pressure compensated flow meter should be used.

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The generator can be housed in a building or as a stand alone containerised unit.


Building installation

Installing the generator in an existing building can have unforeseen problems such as access, ventilation and ground support. If a new digester building is being erected these problems can be easily designed out but consideration and risk assessment should be made for noise if people are working in the area when the generator is running (usually requiring and acoustic surround to be built). Another consideration is corrosion of control equipment if air from waste reception areas or digestate is allowed to permeate the building.


Containerised unit

A containerised unit is the generation set housed in a transport ISO Container. This is usually a 40ft container with a 8ft width. The container would be separated into a generation area and a control room. The generation unit would be usually preassembled with all ancillary equipment such as heat exchangers, radiators, silencers, fire detection and control systems before delivery to site. Hence installation is rapid with craneage onto a prepared plinth followed by pipework and electrical connection to main points on the container. This can be usually completed within a week. Multiple units would require multiple containers. All installations should be risk assessed for the installation and operation under CDM. Typically this would cover pipe layouts, emergency egress, DSEAR (ATEX) regulations, etc. The capital cost difference between a containerized unit and a building installation can be negligible. The additional cost of the actual container is offset by the increased design, site installation time and usually extra pipework involved with a building installation. Sometimes a container is actually installed within the building.

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Generation characteristics/ considerations

Using biogas to generate electricity and heat (CHP) is at the moment the most common way to maximise revenue from the energy in the gas. This is due to the increased revenue available for electricity from the (double) ROCs in the UK. Approximately 80 - 85% of the thermal energy can be recovered from an internal combustion engine split between usable heat and electricity. Development of the engines has been rapid over the past few years with the aim of extracting more mechanical and hence electrical power from the thermal input. Electrical conversion efficiencies on biogas are now in the range 35% - 42%, which is a large range. The smaller size (typically sub 500kWe) technology units tend to have the reduced electrical conversion efficiency. With the revenue in the UK favouring electricity production rather than heat generation then the benefits of ownership give higher value to greater electricity generation Accordingly, higher engine efficiency gives more revenue per unit of fuel gas energy. The size range of CHP generation units available to biogas plants is extensive for below 50kWe through to 4MWe as a single unit. Typically biogas plants have individual units in the 200kWe to 2000kWe range. This range can be supplied as standalone generators for installation in a building or as containerised units. The choice of one or more CHP units will be site specific. A single unit will have a lower capital cost and operating cost than multiple units. However a single unit has the perceived risk of a single point failure. Generally for sites below 1MWe a single unit can be taken rather than two sub 500kWe. These two smaller units would generally be also of lower efficiency than a single larger unit.


Heat Recovery

Heat recovery from a generator is in two parts. From the jacket water heat (often including oil cooler), and from the engines exhaust. Note that on biogas, the design operating temperature on an exhaust heat recovery heat exchanger is typically180oC rather than down to 150oC or even 120oC on natural gas. This is due to potential condensate formation and subsequent corrosion problems. This limits slightly the potential heat recovery from the engine exhaust. Generally the proportion of heat recovery from each point is about the same. Jacket water heat and from an exhaust gas heat exchanger would recovered to Low Temperature Hot Water. This LTHW would be at around 90oC with an expected return temperature of about 75oC. Exact temperatures and pump sizing would be made at a detail design stage.

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The exhaust gas from the generator can also be used for steam generation via a Waste Heat Boiler. This is generally applicable to larger installations.


Operation and Maintenance

The continued operation of the generation equipment is paramount to the success of an anaerobic digestion scheme. It is usual for the maintenance to be subcontracted to an experienced organisation which would give an availability guarantee. This guarantee is typically 8000 hours operation per year (91.3%). Note this is equivalent to a car covering around a quarter of a million miles per year at 30mph. All generation sets will have a scheduled maintenance programme leading to the need for a major rebuild. The operational time until this major rebuild will be a scheduled number of hours. Depending on the manufacturer this period will be 40000 to 64000 hours (5 8 years). Particularly with the larger and more sophisticated higher efficiency engines the engine management systems are complex. Monitoring and data recording is extensive and only qualified engineers will be able to interrogate and alter engine parameters. This is controlled through engineers having code numbers and USB dongles which are used to identify which engineer and when the engine management system was accessed. Usually the most experienced engineers on a particular generation set are those employed by the engine manufacturer/appointed distributor. They will have had the most comprehensive training, will have all special tools required for the major services. In addition, a main distributor would have direct access to the engine management system, factory support and manufacturers spare parts for rapid delivery plus a much reduced supplier chain. In addition to the generation unit, a CHP installation will have ancillary equipment such as pumps, radiators, gas boosters, instrumentation, and telemetry which will require inspection and maintenance. Again this equipment would be best maintained by the company which installed it.


CDM and DSEAR risk

To comply with the Construction Design & Management Regulations 2007 (CDM) the Client is responsible in law for the heath & safety of those working on or affected by a project. If it is a notifyable project (i.e. greater than 30 working days on site) then the Health and Safety Executive must be notified formally. A Principal Contractor, designated Designer and CDM co-ordinator should then be appointed, plus a Health and Safety file implemented. The duty holders must formally assess the risks of construction and operation.

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The overall installation or container should be designed with safety in mind as required by the CDM regulations. With the handling of flammable gas, whether natural gas, biogas or syngas, within a gas power generation container or installation, consideration must also be given to the Dangerous Substances Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR). Under the European ATEX directive implemented into UK law by DSEAR all equipment suppliers and employers of operators are required to carry out a risk assessment of hazardous areas, and to take adequate measures to mark zoned areas and ensure all equipment therein are rated accordingly. Where plant is manufactured outside the UK, the importer / installer is responsible together with the Client for the equipment meeting UK regulations. CE marking alone does not perform this function. Various bodies have produced Industry Codes of Practice to provide guidance and interpretation for Clients, Designers etc of the above laws and regulations.


Post Generation

Nearly all biogas generation units in the size range indicated generate at Low Voltage (LV) of 400V. Most distribution and grid connection networks will be at High Voltage (HV) of 11kV (or greater for large installations). Hence there will be the requirement for a step up transformer. The transformer should be located close to the generation to reduce transmission losses and the cost of 400V cable. There should be a 400V isolator close to the generation installation. Following the transformer there should be an 11kV isolator and connection to the 11kV ring main. The grid connection would have a separate isolation unit. Synchronisation of the generator with the mains will require the setting up of certain Grid specified protection parameters. The testing of this Grid protection would be what is termed G59 tests. An alternative which is used sometimes is to generate direct at 11kV. This can be done with generators of around 1MWe or greater. Generating at HV would eliminate any small electrical losses in a transformer. However it can add operational difficulties in that trained personnel would be required to isolate the generation set for maintenance. Generally transformers are sited outside within a security fence. They are generally wet type filled with transformer oil or non flammable Midel fluid. If the transformer has to be positioned inside then it should be a dry or Midel type. Dry transformers are generally more expensive and have longer delivery times. Also it is harder to repair a dry type transformer. With thanks to Ian Farr of Landia

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