Bioprocess Academy - Industrials Lesson 1 of 4: Biogas Industry: Key Challenges To Advance the Sector
With the vision to fully harness this potential, a real industry has grown around industrial biogas plants that use anaerobic digestion to generate renewable electricity, vehicle fuel and natural gas from abundant biowaste and biomass. Over the last few decades, this industry has grown rapidly, counting now more than 14,500 digesters in operation in Europe and an ever increasing number of digesters in the rest of world.
We can say we've come far, but when it comes to maximising efficiency and profitability, we still have a long way to go.
Continue to lesson 2
The "Black Box" Problem
Biogas plants today are operated far below their true potential. Most digesters are operated as a "black box" with little understanding of what is going on inside. This fundamental lack of knowledge about the processing techniques leads to an inefficient process, and limits both the technical and economical potentials of AD.
In order to advance the industry, it is crucial that we change the way we operate AD plants. Instead of operating a "black box", we need the tools and knowledge to steer a well-understood biochemical process, and overcome any challenges in our way.
Increasing Efficiency and Profitability by Tackling Process Challenges
Unlike engineering challenges (problems that randomly occur at the plant, such as a break down of actuators, pumps and instruments), Process Challenges relate to the different strategies used to steer the process in the right direction. This includes challenges found in feedstock management, feedstock pre-treatment, addition of additives, feeding strategy, mixing, process monitoring and control, gas distribution and utilisation, and digestate management.
In improving our process and tackling the key process challenges, we can maximise the process efficiency and stability, as well as profitability of the plant operation.
3 Key Factors that will Improve Your Process Efficiency:
- Get more process information
As we've already mentioned, the key to advancement is having more information and knowledge of the AD process. This means more frequent sampling, better online and more regular offline analysis as well as diagnosis of the process. These improvements will provide plant operators with more information on the optimal feedstock mixture to feed in, level of degradation, status of the biological process, utilisation of process units, and much more.
In particular, the variability of feedstock is often a major challenge for AD plants. If more information is available on feedstock quality and how it will affect the process, AD plants can better control the process and avoid problems.
The skill level of your operators will determine the success of a biogas plant. The operator is the brain that steers the process and is often the difference between a well- and poorly performing process. In order to make sure your operators have an adequate level of skills, you may want to invest in education and learning tools. It is also important to find efficient ways for operators to transfer their knowledge and experience to each other.
As we increase the need for better process information, it no longer makes sense to rely on manual procedures for monitoring and analysing the process, because they are so labour-intensive. Instead, we need automatic and smart instruments that provide easy and accurate measurements with minimised manpower and skill demand. It is also essential to carefully collect, interpret and analyse all available data so that the operational decisions are based on overall performance and not just on a single process parameter.
Smarter instruments, more sampling and better staff education make operations much more efficient. It also helps the AD sector evolve. In this course, we discuss key challenges and review existing solutions to get there.
Let's start with feedstock challenges and what smart instruments can do to tackle them.