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Biogas Operational Parameters

1. Organic load
The construction and operation of a biogas plant is a combination of economical and technical considerations. Obtaining the maximum biogas yield, by complete digestion of the substrate, would require a long retention time of the substrate inside the digester and a correspondingly large digester size. In practice, the choice of system design (digester size and type) or of applicable retention time is always based on a compromise between getting the highest possible biogas yield and having justifiable plant economy. In this respect, the organic load is an important operational parameter, which indicates how much organic dry matter can be fed into the digester, per volume and time unit, according to the equation below:

2. Hydraulic retention time (HRT)

An important parameter for dimensioning the biogas digester is the hydraulic retention time (HRT). The HRT is the average time interval when the substrate is kept inside the digester tank. HRT is correlated to the digester volume and the volume of substrate fed per time unit, according to the following equation

According to the above equation, increasing the organic load reduces the HRT. The retention time must be sufficiently long to ensure that the amount of microorganisms removed with the effluent (digestate) is not higher than the amount of reproduced microorganisms. The duplication rate of anaerobic bacteria is usually 10 days or more. A short HRT provides a

good substrate flow rate, but a lower gas yield. It is therefore important to adapt the HRT to the specific decomposition rate of the used substrates. Knowing the targeted HRT, the daily feedstock input and the decomposition rate of the substrate, it is possible to calculate the necessary digester volume.

3. Parameters
A number of parameters can be used for evaluation of biogas plants and for comparing different systems. In literature two main categories of parameters can be found: - Operating data, which can be determined by measurement - Parameters, which can be calculated from the measured data In order to evaluate the performance capabilities of a biogas plant a multi-criteria analysis should be performed. Evaluations based on a single parameter can never do justice to the process. In order to determine if a biogas plant can provide a return on investment, in an acceptable time frame, economic parameters must always be included.

Parameter Temperature

Symbol T

Unit C

Determination Measurement during operation

Operational pressure


Measurement during operation

Capacity, throughput Reactor volume Gas quantity

V VR V per day V per year

m/d; t/d m m/d; m/a

Measurement Determined by construction Measurement during operation and conversion to Nm

Retention time (hydraulic, minimum guaranteed)


Calculation from operating data

Organic load

kg oTS / (m * d)

Calculation from operating data

Methane concentration in biogas


Measurement during operation

Specific biogas yield

Calculation from operating data

Specific biogas production

m / m

Calculation from operating data

Gross energy


Determination from the quantity of biogas and methane concentration

Electricity production


Measurement at the BTTP generator

Output to grid


Measurement after the BTTP generator

Efficiency of BTTP

Calculation from operating data

Station supply thermal / electric


Basis of planning, afterwards measurement during operation

Specific station supply thermal / electric

kWh/m Input kWh/GV

Calculation from operating data

Energy production


Sum of energy that can be sensibly utilized. Calculation from operating data

Plant efficiency

Net energy drawn from gross energy


Percentage of hours in a year in which a plant is fully functioning


Ratio of the real quantity input to the projected capacity

Total investment

All expenses caused by the biogas plant

Subsidies Subsidy percentage

Pre-determined Percentage of all subsidies in relation to total investments

Specific investments

/m reactor /GV

Only sensible when primarily manure from animal husbandry is used

Specific treatment costs

/m Input; /GV


4. Building materials and dimensions

Reinforced concrete is obtained by adequately mixing specific proportions of aggregates (gravels and sand), cement, and water (Bartali, 1999). The water:cement ratio is 0.53 L kg -1

and the cement:sand:gravel mass ratio is 1:2.2:3.7 for floors, driveways, structural beams, and columns (Lindley & Whitaker, 1996). Cylindrical cast-in-place concrete tanks are commonly used in biogas plants for storing liquid manure during long periods. A serviceable tank should be watertight to prevent groundwater pollution and corrosion of the reinforcing rods. Therefore, these tanks should be designed to withstand different design loads, i.e. the loads of the soil outside the digester which is buried underground level and loads of the liquid stored inside the digester. Liquid manure is often stored in large cylindrical concrete tanks, which are partially underground. The dimensions of these tanks vary from 18 to 33 m in diameter with heights from 2.4 to 4.9 m and a uniform wall thickness varying from 150 to 200 mm (Ghafoori & Flynn, 2007; Godbout et al., 2003). The internal volume of the tank can be calculated by multiplying the volume of substrates that should be stored in the tank by 1.10 in order to consider 10% as headspace. The cement mass (kg), gravels volume (m3), and sand volume (m3) required to build the tank can be calculated by multiplying the concrete volume of the tank by the constants C, G, and S, respectively, where C represents the mass of cement required to make 1 m3 of concrete (325 kg m-3), G is the volume of gravel required for 1 m3 concrete (0.8 m3 of gravel per m-3 of concrete), and S is the volume of sand required for 1 m3 concrete (0.4 m3 of sand per m-3 of concrete). The type of iron rods should be selected. The different types (ND m-1, where N is the number of iron rods per meter length, and D is the diameter of the iron rod) are 66 m -1 (0.666 kg m-1) and 68 m-1 (0.888 kg m-1). In the case of constructing a tank without a concrete top, both types can be used. On the other side, in the case of building a tank with a concrete top, the type 68 m -1 must be used with two iron grids (Samer, 2008, 2010, 2011; Samer et al., 2008). The thickness of digester wall should be 35 cm and is built using reinforced concrete to bear the loads of the materials stored in the digester. Tables 1 through 3 show the typical digester specifications for a commercial biogas plant, the required quantities of construction materials to build the digester, and the quantities of the substrates.

Specification Internal diameter of the digester

Value Unit 23 m

External diameter of the digester


Internal height of the digester

Buried part of the digester

Wall thickness of the digester



11820 m3

Material Rebar Cement Sand Gravels


Table 2. Required quantities of construction materials to build the digester Material Raw slurry storage1 Liquid organic matter2 Liquid substrate3 Dry organic matter4 Total substrates5

Quantity 18 21 80 267 10750

a duration of 3 days for mixing and pumping, daily manure deposition of 6 m 3 day-1, 1.8 m3

cow-1 month-1, and 100 cows


a storage duration of 7 days and liquid organic matter deposition of 3 m3 day-1 3Consider 40 days of storage duration a m-3 5Total quantity of substrates (10750 m3) that should be stored in a digester having a capacity of 11820 m3 Table 3. Quantities of the substrates