Biomethane Utilization Pathways

biomethane-transportBiogas can be used in raw (without removal of CO2) or in upgraded form. The main function of upgrading biogas is the removal of CO2 (to increase the energy content) and H2S (to reduce risk of corrosion). After upgrading, biogas possesses identical gas quality properties as  natural gas, and can thus be used as natural gas replacement. The main pathways for biomethane utilization are as follows:

  • Production of heat and/or steam
  • Electricity production / combined heat and power production (CHP)
  • Natural gas replacement (gas grid injection)
  • Compressed natural gas (CNG) & diesel replacement – (bio-CNG for transport fuel usage)
  • Liquid natural gas (LNG) replacement – (bio-LNG for transport fuel usage)

Prior to practically all utilization options, the biogas has to be dried (usually through application of a cooling/condensation step). Furthermore, elements such as hydrogen sulphide and other harmful trace elements must be removed (usually trough application of an activated carbon filter) to prevent adverse effects on downstream processing equipment (such as compressors, piping, boilers and CHP systems).

Although biogas is perfectly suitable to be utilized in boilers (as an environmental friendlier source for heat and steam production), this option is rather obsolete due to the abundance of alternative sources from solid waste origin.

Most Palm Oil Mills are already self-reliant with respect to heat and steam production due to the combustion of their solid waste streams (such as EFB and PKS). Consequently, conversion to electricity (by means of a CHP unit) or utilization as natural gas, CNG or LNG replacement, would be a more sensible solution.

The biogas masterplan as drafted by the Asia Pacific Biogas Alliance foresees a distribution in which 30% of the biomethane is used for power generation, 40% for grid injection and 30% as compressed/liquefied fuel for transportation purpose (Asian Pacific Biogas Alliance, 2015).

For each project, the most optimal option has to be evaluated on a case to case basis. Main decision-making factors will be local energy prices and requirements, available infrastructure (for gas and electricity), incentives and funding.

For the locations where local demand is exceeded, and no electricity or gas infrastructure is available within a reasonable distance (<5-10 km, due to investment cost and power loss), production of CNG could offer a good solution.

Moreover, during the utilization of biogas within a CHP unit only 40-50% of the energetic content of the gas is converted into electricity. The rest of the energy is transformed into heat. For those locations where an abundance of heat is available, such as Palm Oil Mills, this effectively means that 50-60% of the energetic content of the biogas is not utilized. Converting the biogas into biomethane (of gas grid or CNG quality) through upgrading, would facilitate the transportation and commercialisation of over 95%  of the energetic content of the biogas.

Within the CNG utilization route, the raw biogas will be upgraded to a methane content of >96%, compressed to 250 bar and stored in racks with gas bottles. The buffered gas (bottles) will be suitable for transportation by truck or ship. For transportation over large distances (>200km), it will be advised to further reduce the gas volume by converting the gas to LNG (trough liquefaction).

Overall the effects and benefits from anaerobic digestion of POME and utilization of biomethane can be summarized as follows:

  • Reduction of emissions i.e. GHG methane and CO2
  • Reduced land use for POME treatment
  • Enhanced self-sufficiency trough availability of on-site diesel replacement (CNG)
  • Expansion of economic activities/generation of additional revenues
    • Sales of surplus electricity (local or to the grid)
    • Sales of biomethane (injection into the natural gas grid)
    • Replacement of on-site diesel usage by CNG
    • Sales of bottled CNG
  • Reducing global and local environmental impact (through fuel replacement)
  • Reducing dependence on fossil fuel, and enhances fuel diversity and security of energy supply
  • Enhancement of local infrastructure and employment
    • Through electrical and gas supply
    • Through Fuel (CNG) supply

Co-Authors: H. Dekker and E.H.M. Dirkse (DMT Environmental Technology)

Note: This is the second article in the special series on ‘Sustainable Utilization of POME-based Biomethane’ by Langerak et al of DMT Environmental Technology (Holland). The first article can be viewed at this link

An Introduction to Biomethane

Biogas that has been upgraded by removing hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and moisture is known as biomethane. Biomethane is less corrosive than biogas, apart from being more valuable as a vehicle fuel. The typical composition of raw biogas does not meet the minimum CNG fuel specifications. In particular, the COand sulfur content in raw biogas is too high for it to be used as vehicle fuel without additional processing.

Liquified Biomethane

Biomethane can be liquefied, creating a product known as liquefied biomethane (LBM). Biomethane is stored for future use, usually either as liquefied biomethane or compressed biomethane (CBM) or  since its production typically exceeds immediate on-site demand.

Two of the main advantages of LBM are that it can be transported relatively easily and it can be dispensed to either LNG vehicles or CNG vehicles. Liquid biomethane is transported in the same manner as LNG, that is, via insulated tanker trucks designed for transportation of cryogenic liquids.

Compressed Biomethane

Biomethane can be stored as CBM to save space. The gas is stored in steel cylinders such as those typically used for storage of other commercial gases. Storage facilities must be adequately fitted with safety devices such as rupture disks and pressure relief valves.

The cost of compressing gas to high pressures between 2,000 and 5,000 psi is much greater than the cost of compressing gas for medium-pressure storage. Because of these high costs, the biogas is typically upgraded to biomethane prior to compression.

Applications of Biomethane

The utilization of biomethane as a source of energy is a crucial step toward a sustainable energy supply. Biomethane is more flexible in its application than other renewable sources of energy. Its ability to be injected directly into the existing natural gas grid allows for energy-efficient and cost-effective transport. This allows gas grid operators to enable consumers to make an easy transition to a renewable source of gas. The diverse, flexible spectrum of applications in the areas of electricity generation, heat provision, and mobility creates a broad base of potential customers.

Biomethane can be used to generate electricity and heating from within smaller decentralized, or large centrally-located combined heat and power plants. It can be used by heating systems with a highly efficient fuel value, and employed as a regenerative power source in gas-powered vehicles.

Biomethane to Grid

Biogas can be upgraded to biomethane and injected into the natural gas grid to substitute natural gas or can be compressed and fuelled via a pumping station at the place of production. Biomethane can be injected and distributed through the natural gas grid, after it has been compressed to the pipeline pressure. In many EU countries, the access to the gas grid is guaranteed for all biogas suppliers.

One important advantage of using gas grid for biomethane distribution is that the grid connects the production site of biomethane, which is usually in rural areas, with more densely populated areas. This enables the gas to reach new customers. Injected biomethane can be used at any ratio with natural gas as vehicle fuel.

Biomethane is more flexible in its application than other renewable sources of energy.

The main barriers for biomethane injection are the high costs of upgrading and grid connection. Grid injection is also limited by location of suitable biomethane production and upgrading sites, which have to be close to the natural gas grid.

Several European nations have introduced standards (certification systems) for injecting biogas into the natural gas grid. The standards, prescribing the limits for components like sulphur, oxygen, particles and water dew point, have the aim of avoiding contamination of the gas grid or the end users. In Europe, biogas feed plants are in operation in Sweden, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland and France.