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Perspective

Biogas upgrading technology


overview, comparison
and perspectives for the future
Fredric Bauer, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
Tobias Persson, Swedish Gas Technology Center, Malm, Sweden
Christian Hulteberg, Lund University and Hulteberg Chemistry & Engineering, Malm, Sweden
Daniel Tamm, BioMil, Gteborg, Sweden

Received March 18, 2013; revised May 20, 2013; and accepted May 28, 2013
View online July 11, 2013 at Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com); DOI: 10.1002/bbb.1423;
Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013)

Abstract: The utilization of biogas produced from organic materials such as agricultural wastes
or manure is increasing. However, the raw biogas contains a large share of carbon dioxide which
must be removed before utilization in many applications, for example, using the gas as vehi-
cle fuel. The process biogas upgrading can be performed with several technologies: water
scrubbing, organic solvent scrubbing, amine scrubbing, pressure swing adsorption (PSA), and gas
separation membranes. This perspective presents the technologies that are used commercially
for biogas upgrading today, recent developments in the field and compares the technologies with
regard to aspects such as technology maturity, investment cost, energy demand and consumables.
Emerging technologies for small-scale upgrading and future applications of upgraded biogas
such as liquefied biogas are also discussed. It shows that the market situation has changed rap-
idly in recent years, from being totally dominated by pressure swing adsorption (PSA) and water
scrubbing to being more balanced with new technologies (amine scrubbing) reaching significant
market shares. There are significant economies of scale for all the technologies investigated,
the specific investment costs are similar for plants with a throughput capacity of 1500 Nm3 raw
biogas per hour or larger. Biogas production is increasing in Europe and around the globe, and
so is the interest in the efficient use of upgraded biogas as vehicle fuel or in other applications.
The market for biogas upgrading will most likely be characterized by harder competition with
the establishment of new upgrading technologies and further optimization of the mature ones to
decrease operation costs. 2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd

Keywords: biogas; biogas upgrading; CO2 removal; physical scrubbing; chemical scrubbing; pressure
swing adsorption; gas separation membranes

Correspondence to: Fredric Bauer, Lund University, Dept of Chemical Engineering, P.O. Box 124 Lund SE-221 00, Sweden.
E-mail: fredric.bauer@chemeng.lth.se

2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd 499
F Bauer et al. Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies

Introduction described by the research literature, a project was initi-


ated in 2012 by the Swedish Gas Technology Centre to
Background collect and thoroughly review the latest available data on
biogas upgrading and compare the different technolo-
decade ago, only a limited number of plants for

A biogas upgrading were in operation, and the technol-


ogies available were still immature. Since then, the
development has been fast, with regard to both technology
gies with respect to investment cost, energy demand,
consumables, future development, and applications.
The project was performed in cooperation with manu-
facturers of biogas upgrading equipment to ensure that
and market, and much new experience has been gained in the data reflect current state-of-the-art and not plants
the meantime. Biogas upgrading is, in this context, under- delivered and installed several years ago. End-users of
stood to be the removal of carbon dioxide from biogas to upgrading equipment were also contacted during the
produce a gas with a high methane content, suitable for project and supplied valuable information about the
substituting natural gas in different applications, for exam- operation of the upgrading plants. The stakeholder group
ple as vehicle fuel or for heat and power production. providing the data presented in this perspective and
A first report on biogas upgrading was published by
reviewing the report comprised 22 different organiza-
Persson ten years ago, giving a comprehensive view on
tions from Sweden, Germany, France, Norway, and the
the situation at that time.1 During recent years, there have
Netherlands, representing mainly manufacturers but also
been a number of publications on the subject. A review of
users of biogas upgrading equipment. The data presented
biogas purification processes was published by Abatzoglou
are thus not data found in the research literature but rep-
and Boivin.2 The paper however mostly focuses on the
resent what can be expected from state-of-the-art biogas
removal of contaminants such a hydrogen sulfide, ammo-
upgrading equipment at the time of publishing. Th is per-
nia, and siloxanes, whereas the removal of carbon dioxide
spective presents the specific investment cost and energy
is only briefly mentioned. Weiland presented an overview
demand within intervals covering all data collected in
of the whole biogas production and utilization chain, but
this project. The cost and performance of a specific plant
did not present any details on upgrading technologies.3
will depend on site-specific circumstances, manufac-
A paper on biomethane production by Ryckebosch et
turer, and investment options. The approach to actively
al. focused mainly on the removal of other compounds
engage the manufacturers and end users, i.e. stakeholder-
than carbon dioxide.4 Another paper by Bekkering et al.
engagement-based research, proved to be very successful
excluded an economic evaluation of the different upgrad-
in this project. As the project was fi nanced and mainly
ing options, and did not present updated data regarding
performed by Swedish actors, the focus has been on the
the technical performance of the different upgrading
European market, but the results are likely to be highly
technologies.5 A very ambitious report on the subject was
interesting for researchers in other countries as well.
published by the Fraunhofer Umsicht institute.6 The report
Th is perspective summarizes the work in this project and
does however strongly focus on the German market and
highlights the key results of interest to researchers in the
emphasizes legislation and economy rather than techni-
field of biogas utilization and distribution.
cal details. It has a rather broad view on gas upgrading,
The technologies that are used commercially for
including removal of sulfur and other compounds, but
biogas upgrading today water scrubbing, organic
does not include all technologies used commercially today
solvent scrubbing, amine scrubbing, pressure swing
for CO2 removal. The International Energy Agency (IEA)
adsorption, and membrane technology are brief ly
also published a short report on biogas upgrading tech-
described in the next section. Cryogenic upgrading has
nologies; the report covered many technologies but did
been omitted as the technology is not yet reliable and
not intend to give detailed descriptions of the technical or
in stable operation to the authors knowledge, only
economical performance of the technologies.7 In 2012, a
one plant using this technology is in operation today.
brief review of conventional upgrading technologies was
Thereafter follows a comparison of the technologies
published by the Vienna University of Technology.8
with regard to parameters such as maturity, investment
cost and energy demand, then a section on future appli-
Scope and outline cations for upgraded biogas. Finally a few concluding
As the most recent developments of the technologies and remarks on the development of the biogas market are
markets for biogas upgrading did not seem to have been presented.

500 2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb
Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies F Bauer et al.

Technologies for biogas upgrading dioxide is desorbed, while air enters from the bottom to
increase the driving force for CO2 desorption by lower-
Water scrubbing ing the partial pressure. The water that is transported to
the desorption column will contain the main part of the
In a water scrubber, carbon dioxide is absorbed from carbon dioxide but less than 1% of the methane in the raw
the raw biogas by the water in the absorption column at biogas. A water scrubber designed to upgrade 1000 Nm3/h
high pressure. The carbon dioxide is then released from raw biogas will typically need to circulate about 200 m3/h
the water again in the desorption column, by using air at water if operated at 8 bar(a) and 20 C. Cooling the water
atmospheric pressure as stripper medium. Earlier, water further will decrease the needed water flow, whereas
scrubbers operating without recirculation of the water decreasing the operating pressure will increase the needed
were built.1 Some of them are still in operation today, water flow. However, the methane concentration in the
but modern plants have a recirculating system (Fig. 1). raw biogas has no influence on the needed water flow; the
Units with a recirculating water system have a lower water water flow is only dependent on the total gas flow through
demand and more stable operation. the absorption column, the pressure and the temperature
The biogas, at 610 bar(a) and up to 40 C, is injected dependent solubility constant of carbon dioxide.
into the bottom of the absorption column, which is nor-
mally fi lled with a random packing to increase the gas-liq-
uid-contact, and water is injected at the top of the column.
Organic solvent scrubbing
Countercurrent flow of gas and liquid is crucial to ensure a Several organic solvents can be used to absorb carbon diox-
high efficiency, i.e. minimize the energy consumption and ide, for example methanol, N-methyl-pyrrolidone (NMP)
methane loss and maximize the CO2 removal rate. The and polyethylene glycol ethers (PEG). In the context of
carbon dioxide and a small share of methane are physi- biogas upgrading, the most common choice is the Genosorb
cally absorbed in the water. The selectivity of the process process which uses a mixture of dimethyl ethers of poly-
depends on the much higher solubility (approx. 25 times) ethylene glycol as solvent. The process itself is similar to the
of carbon dioxide in water compared to methane. water-scrubbing process as it is also a physical scrubbing
In order to minimize the methane slip, i.e. the methane process, however the solubility of carbon dioxide is about
lost to the off-gas stream, from the water scrubber, the five times higher in the organic solvent than in water.9 Due
pressure is first decreased to around 2.53.5 bar(a) in a to the higher solubility of carbon dioxide in the solvent, the
flash column. The main share of absorbed methane, as well volume of solvent that must be recirculated in the system
as a small share of the carbon dioxide, is released from decreases significantly compared to a water scrubber. An
the water and recirculated to the compressor and mixed organic solvent scrubber system is shown in Fig. 2.
with the raw biogas entering the scrubber. The water then The biogas is compressed to 68 bar(a) and thereaf-
enters the top of the desorption column, where the carbon ter cooled before it is injected into the bottom of the

Figure 1. Simplified process flow diagram of a recirculating water scrubber.

2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb 501
F Bauer et al. Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies

Figure 2. Simplified process flow diagram of an organic solvent scrubber.

absorption column. The organic solvent is added to the the purpose of sour gas treatment (CO2 and H2S removal)
top of the column so that the gas and the liquid have a are methyldiethanolamine (MDEA), diethanolamine
counter current flow. The organic solvent is cooled before (DEA) and monoethanolamine (MEA). Today, a common
being injected into the column to keep the absorption col- option is to use a mixture of MDEA and piperazine (PZ),
umn around 20 C. The organic solvent that is leaving the which is sometimes called activated MDEA (aMDEA).10
bottom of the absorption column is heat exchanged with The aMDEA has a significantly higher absorption capac-
the organic solvent that will be injected to the top of the ity compared to using only MDEA, the reason being that
column. Thereafter, the organic solvent is injected into the secondary and primary amines such as PZ have high reac-
flash column, where the pressure is decreased. The main tion rates for CO2 absorption and an ability to react the
part of the dissolved methane, as well as some carbon CO2 further with the tertiary amine (MDEA), which with
dioxide, is released and circulated back to the compres- its relatively low heat of reaction makes the regeneration
sor. To regenerate the organic solvent, it is further heated energy efficient.11,12
to around 40 C before entering the desorption column. In general terms, an amine scrubber system (Fig. 3)
The solvent is injected into the top of the column and the consists of an absorber, were the CO2 is removed from the
pressure is decreased to 1 bar(a). All heat required in the biogas, and a stripper in which the CO2 is removed from the
process is waste heat, which can be generated by the com- amine solution by addition of heat. The raw biogas enters
pressor and the regenerative thermal oxidation (RTO) unit the absorber from the bottom. In the absorber the gas is
that oxidizes the methane in the off-gas. contacted with the amine solution flowing from the top. The
Due to the anticorrosive characteristics of the organic CO2 in the biogas reacts with the amine and is absorbed
solvent, the pipework does not have to be made of stainless in the liquid phase. This is an exothermic reaction, heating
steel. Further, the low freezing point of the organic solvent the solution from 2040 C to 4565 C. The absorption is
makes it possible for the system to operate at temperatures favored by low temperatures from a thermodynamic stand-
down to 20 C without supplying extra heat. point, as the solubility of carbon dioxide in water increases
with decreasing temperature, but at higher temperatures
from a kinetic standpoint, as the reaction rate between
Amine scrubbing carbon dioxide and the amine increases with increasing
The use of reactive systems for removing CO2 from temperature. The product gas stream exits from the top. The
biogas is not a new notion, but has been less common operating pressure of the absorber is 12 bar(a).13
in this context compared to other technologies such as The liquid is then, via a heat exchanger, pumped to the
PSA and water scrubbing. The synopsis of features of top of the stripper column, in which the liquid is distrib-
the technology is to use a reagent that chemically binds uted and passed through a packing material where it is
to the CO2 molecule, removing it from the gas. This is contacted with steam and CO2 is released throughout
most commonly performed using a water solution of thestripper column. The bottom part of the stripper col-
amines. The most common amines used historically for umn is equipped with a reboiler in which heat is added

502 2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb
Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies F Bauer et al.

Figure 3. Simplified process flow diagram of an amine scrubber.

at 120150C and part of the amine solution is boiled. maximize the gas-adsorbent contact. The adsorbents are
The purpose of the reboiler is two-fold it provides the either of the equilibrium type, adsorbing a larger load
required heat of reaction for the release of CO2 from the of carbon dioxide than methane, or of the kinetic type,
amine and it generates steam which lowers the partial adsorbing carbon dioxide faster than methane due to con-
pressure of the CO2 in the column which improves the trolled diff usion rates. Common materials are activated
kinetics of the desorption. The stripper pressure is slightly carbons, natural and synthetic zeolites, titanosilicates,
higher than the absorber pressure, usually 1.53 bar(a).13 silica gels, and carbon molecular sieves.15,16 The adsorbents
are commonly irreversibly damaged by hydrogen sulfide,
Pressure swing adsorption which thus must be removed from the gas before the PSA
PSA is a dry method used to separate gases via physi- columns.17 Figure 4 shows a simplified process flow dia-
cal properties, i.e. the physical interaction between the gram for a PSA unit.
gas molecules and the adsorbent material.14 The adsorb- A PSA column cycle principally consists of four phases:
ents used are porous solids with high specific areas to pressurization, feed, blowdown, and purge. During the

Figure 4. Simplified process flow diagram of a pressure swing adsorption unit.

2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb 503
F Bauer et al. Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies

feed phase, the column is fed with raw biogas pressurized well known.20 The membranes used for biogas upgrad-
to about 410 bar(a). The carbon dioxide is adsorbed in the ing retain methane while the carbon dioxide is able to
column bed while the methane passes through the column permeate through the membrane. During the separation
unretained by the adsorbent. When the bed is saturated of carbon dioxide from the raw gas, other compounds
with carbon dioxide, the inlet is closed and the blowdown such as water vapor and hydrogen are removed from the
phase is initiated. The pressure is decreased to ambient biomethane. Although the technology has been used for
or lower pressure to desorb the carbon dioxide from the several years for biogas upgrading, the developments
adsorbent and the carbon dioxide rich gas is evacuated of more selective membranes and process designs with
from the column. As the column in the beginning of this higher methane recovery rates during recent years have
phase was fi lled with raw biogas, some methane is lost increased the interest in membranes and made the tech-
with the desorbed carbon dioxide. At the lowest column nology a viable alternative to the other technologies. The
pressure, the purge phase is initiated. Upgraded gas is advantages usually presented for membrane technology is
blown through the column to empty it from all the carbon the lack of demand for water or chemicals and the ability
dioxide that has desorbed from the column bed. The col- to scale down the process without large efficiency losses.21
umn is regenerated and can be repressurized, either with The process for upgrading biogas with membrane technol-
raw biogas or with upgraded gas.14,18 ogy is shown in Fig. 5.
As the cycle consists of several phases in which the col- The biogas is first cleaned from important contaminants,
umn is not fed with raw biogas, a continuously operating for example, water and hydrogen sulfide, before it is com-
PSA unit has several parallel columns, designs with two pressed to 520 bar(a) and fed to the membrane unit. In
or four columns are common. Thus one of the columns the membrane itself, the carbon dioxide is separated from
is always engaged in adsorption while the other(s) are the main gas stream as it permeates through the mem-
in different phases of regeneration. To reduce the loss of brane wall.
methane from the process the columns are usually inter- Different process designs for membrane gas separation
connected so that the exiting gas flow from one column units are available today, depending on the manufacturer
during blowdown is used to pressurize another column of the system and the membranes being used, using single
in a pressure equalization phase, which also reduces the membranes or several membranes in a cascade set-up with
energy consumption of the process. PSA unit character- recirculation.21 The simplest design option includes no
istics include feed pressure, purging pressure, adsorbent, internal circulation of the gas and therefore lower energy
cycle time, and column interconnectedness, among other consumption for the compression. The methane loss can
things. When using several columns there are many ways be rather high when using only a single membrane and it
of modifying the process cycle to increase the yield of is thus important to have cost-efficient treatment of the
methane from raw biogas to upgraded gas, reduce the off-gas. The second design option increases the methane
methane loss and reduce energy demand.14,19 recovery by using double membranes. The permeate from
the first membrane is removed from the system while
Membranes the permeate from the second membrane is recirculated
A membrane is a dense fi lter that can separate the com- back to the compressor to minimize the methane slip. In
ponents in a gas, most often based on molecular size. a third possible design, the retentate from the first stage is
Membranes have been used for CO2 removal in natural gas polished in the second membrane stage to obtain a prod-
processing for about three decades, the technology is thus uct gas with a higher quality. Additionally the permeate

Figure 5. Simplified process design for a membrane upgrading process.

504 2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb
Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies F Bauer et al.

of the first stage is polished in a third membrane stage to technologies relates mainly to optimization and smaller
minimize the methane content in the off-gas. The perme- adjustments, for example gas recirculation schemes, pres-
ate stream of the second stage and the retentate of the sure levels, and flow rates. PSA can be further developed
third stage are then mixed and recycled to the compressor. by new, more selective and less sensitive adsorbents.
As the membrane upgrading technology has developed, Metal-organic frameworks are materials which previ-
the more advanced design options have become more ously have been used to store gases such as hydrogen, but
accepted. Today, the second and third design options are they also show a large potential for use in PSA systems.
the ones most commonly offered by the manufacturers. Further, new process cycles, for example with several pres-
sure equilibrium phases, are being developed to optimize
methane yield and energy demand. Membrane technol-
Comparison ogy for biogas upgrading is less mature, but is rapidly
gaining interest and market shares. The main challenge
Technology maturity and market
for some manufacturers of membrane upgrading equip-
development ment is to show stable operation for a longer time and
The technologies which dominate today are water scrub- economic feasibility for large installations with the latest,
bing, PSA, and amine scrubbing. This situation differs most advanced designs. Questions have also been raised
significantly to the situation a few years ago when amine regarding the lifetime of the membranes, which is com-
scrubbing was still considered a rather unestablished tech- monly claimed to be about 510 years. Some of the newer
nology, for example, it was not considered commercial in membrane types have not been tested in operation for
the Fraunhofer study.6 Organic solvent scrubbing is also a more than a few years, which makes it difficult to state the
mature technology, but still has only a smaller share of the lifetime with certainty.
biogas upgrading market with no clear trend whether this The number of upgrading plants in operation has
share is increasing or decreasing. The development of these increased rapidly over the last decade (Fig. 6). In the early

Cryogenic separation
200
Membrane separation
Organic solvent scrubber
Amine scrubber
PSA
150
Number of upgrading plants

Water scrubber

100

50

0
<2001 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Year of commissioning

Figure 6. The growth of biogas upgrading plants. The figure shows upgrading plants that are in operation today
listed by year of start-up and grouped by technology.22

2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb 505
F Bauer et al. Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies

2000s, only about 20 upgrading plants were operating is commonly only present if biological sulfur removal is
globally, whereas 2012 the number has increased by a used or when upgrading landfi ll gas. As mentioned ear-
factor of ten, to more than 220 upgrading plants, accord- lier, all the technologies except the water scrubber require
ing to a list continuously updated by IEA Bioenergy Task pre-treatment of the raw biogas to remove H2S which will
37.22 The majority of the upgrading plants is however still otherwise damage the adsorber bed and the membranes,
concentrated in Germany (96) and Sweden (55). Then a and in the amine scrubber case it is removed to get a CO2
large gap follows to the other countries on the list, the next stream with high purity that can be used for other pur-
being Switzerland (16), the Netherlands (14), the USA (12) poses. A thorough investigation of the presence of other
and then a number of European countries with just a few contaminants in the raw gas, the effect on upgrading
plants, together with Japan, Canada, and South Korea.22 A equipment and the presence in the upgraded biomethane
decade ago, the choice was mainly between using a water has been published earlier.24
scrubber or a pressure swing adsorption process for biogas All the reviewed technologies have the opportunity to ful-
upgrading. These two technologies still cover the majority fill the requirements for compressed natural gas vehicle fuel,
of the market, with a 40% market share for water scrubbers for example, as defined by the Swedish standard SS 155438,
and 23% share for PSA. However, over the last five years, requiring the methane content of the fuel gas to be 97 2%.
amine scrubbers have become increasingly popular and Discussions on establishing a common European standard
today about 22% of the upgrading plants use this technol- for grid distribution are ongoing and there are some indica-
ogy. Organic solvent scrubbers have throughout the years tions that this standard will require 98% methane in the
had a smaller but stable market share and today cover about product gas, which the five technologies will also manage to
7% of the market, which is marginally less than the share comply with, although it may require some re-optimization.
for membrane technology which is about 8% and increas-
ing. Cryogenic upgrading technology is only utilized by a Investment costs
single plant, thus reaching less than 0.5% market share. The specific investment cost for a biogas upgrading plant
is largely dependent on the throughput capacity of the
Gas purity plant, i.e. there are significant economies of scale (Fig. 7).
When comparing the upgrading technologies with respect As seen in Fig. 7, the investment cost for an amine scrub-
to product gas purity, the most relevant parameter is ber is slightly higher in the lower end of the spectrum, but
the ability to remove carbon dioxide and produce a gas converges with the investment cost for other technologies
with a high methane content. All the technologies yield at higher throughputs. On the other hand, the investment
a gas suitable for use as vehicle fuel, i.e. with a methane cost for membrane upgrading plants is slightly lower than
concentration of 97%.23 Higher purity requirements do the others in the low to mid-scale range, but seems to not
however come at a cost of increased energy demand and/ benefit as much from the economies of scale as the other
or decreased total recovery, i.e. increased losses. However, options. There is little to no difference between the dif-
other compounds may also be present in the incoming ferent scrubber technologies and PSA for larger plants,
gas, for example if air is introduced anywhere in the sys- i.e. with a raw biogas capacity of more than 1500 Nm3/h.
tem. None of the technologies will remove the nitrogen The numbers presented in Fig. 7 should be understood as
from the gas in their standard configuration. Oxygen is indicative, presenting the specific investment cost for an
not removed by physical scrubbers whereas the perform- upgrading plant in its basic form. Supplementary equip-
ance of amine scrubbers will be irreversibly damaged by ment and case specific requirements may cause the invest-
oxidation of the amines.13 Membranes are able to partly ment costs to differ from these values for a specific unit.
remove oxygen from the gas. PSA units with advanced The investment cost graph presents the specific investment
kinetic adsorbents do however have the possibility to at cost for each technology within an interval correspond-
least partly remove oxygen and nitrogen from the biogas. ing to the thickness of the line as the cost for a specific
This means that if the raw biogas contains air, all the plant will depend on site-specific circumstances, extra
nitrogen in the gas will end up in the product gas and the investment options and manufacturer.
product purity will thus decrease. By using more com-
plex adsorbent bed configurations it is possible to remove
Energy demand
both nitrogen and oxygen with PSA technology, but it is a As is the case for the specific investment costs, the spe-
costly extra investment for a minor purification issue. Air cific energy demand for the upgrading processes seems

506 2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb
Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies F Bauer et al.

6000

Membrane
Organic solvent scrubber
5000
Amine scrubber
PSA
Specific investment cost (/Nm3/h)

Water scrubber
4000

3000

2000

1000

0
0 500 1000 1500 2000

Capacity raw biogas (Nm3/h)

Figure 7. Comparison of specific investment costs for the biogas upgrading technologies and the dependence on
raw biogas throughput capacity.

to decrease with increasing scale of the upgrading unit, accepted methane slip. Increasing demands on methane
although it may also vary depending on parameters, purity and decreased slip requires increased recircula-
for example, ambient temperature and operating point. tion which increases the electricity demand. Amine
Further, as described above the liquid flow in the physi- scrubbers have a significantly lower electricity demand,
cal scrubber is independent on the raw gas composition, about 0.120.14 kWh/Nm3 depending on plant size, but
making the energy demand independent on raw gas amine scrubbers also have an external heat requirement
composition, whereas PSA units have a clearly decreas- of about 0.55 kWh/Nm3. The heat is needed to regener-
ing energy demand with decreasing carbon dioxide ate the amines which have reacted with carbon dioxide,
content in the raw biogas. Complete data sets enabling but also to boil the water, which makes the heat demand
the comparison of the specific energy demand for dif- rather insensitive to raw gas methane content. The heat is
ferent plant sizes for all technologies were not available. most commonly supplied by combusting a part of the raw
The specific power consumption of a water scrubber is biogas; 80% of that heat may be reused in low-temperature
approximately 0.3 kWh/Nm3 raw biogas for a small unit applications such as substrate pre-heating or heating of
(400 Nm3/h) but decreases towards 0.2 kWh/Nm3 in large the anaerobic digester. The heat needed to desorb the CO2
units (2000 Nm3/h). The water scrubber also has a rather in the organic physical scrubber is supplied by a regen-
large seasonal variation in the electricity demand due erative thermal oxidizer which is an integral part of the
to the significantly higher cooling demand during sum- upgrading plant, enabling the efficient use of the energy
mer. The electricity demand span for PSA units is about in the off-gas but also reducing the methane recovery rate
0.20.3 kWh/Nm3 with larger units being close to the slightly. Catalytic or thermal oxidation of methane in the
lower limit which is applicable also for membrane units, off-gas from water scrubbers, membrane and PSA units
although the electricity demand for these depends highly can also be used to heat the anaerobic digester, but in
on membrane configuration, required methane purity and these cases the oxidizer is a supplement to the upgrading

2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb 507
F Bauer et al. Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies

0.6

0.5
Energy demand [kWh/Nm3]

0.4

0.3

0.2

0.1

0
Water scrubber Amine scrubber PSA Membrane Organic solvent scrubber

Figure 8. Specific electricity demand for biogas upgrading per Nm3 raw biogas for all upgrading technologies. The
specific external heat demand for amine scrubbers is shown in light blue.

unit. The specific energy demand of each technology is continuously replaced to not accumulate trace compounds
shown in Fig. 8. The electricity demand for each technol- from the biogas. The water consumption is about 20200
ogy is shown with a weighted average and an interval. It L/h, depending on plant size and operating conditions.
is however also important to remember that the product Amine scrubbers may also demand anti-foaming agents,
gas is available at different pressures from the technolo- and further, the amine scrubbers have a low demand for
gies. Depending on the intended application, the pressure make-up amine. The organic solvent scrubbers commonly
requirements may be very strict and a higher gas pressure have an annual make-up demand of solvent that is lost to
after upgrading may thus in some cases limit the need for the atmosphere during operation. As most technologies
further compression before the final application For use as preferably remove H2S before the upgrading process, there
vehicle fuel, the product gas must however in all cases be is commonly a need for activated carbon for sulfur absorp-
further compressed to about 250 bar(a). tion. Water scrubbers generally absorb the H2S as well as the
CO2 and thus the activated carbon is redundant, unless local
Consumables environmental regulations require the capture of sulfur.

For all the technologies, the consumables demand is low.


New applications and possibilities
Water and amine scrubbers may have a demand for anti-
foaming agents as foaming, which reduces the contact
for the future
between gas and liquid and thus the absorption efficiency,
sometimes is a problem. The exact reasons and parameters
Small-scale biogas upgrading
involved in creating foaming, however, are not properly To upgrade biogas in a small scale (less than 200 Nm3/h)
investigated and understood. Further, although water scrub- has been too expensive to be really interesting, due to high
bers today recirculate the water, a part of the volume is specific investment costs of the upgrading equipment. For

508 2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb
Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies F Bauer et al.

a plant with low capacity, more or less the same number not to vehicle fuel quality.26 The process has been tested in
of sensors, analysis equipment, control systems and valves lab scale and is being evaluated at a pilot facility. The new
are needed as for a plant with much larger capacity. The wood ash based absorption process utilizes calcium oxide
dimensions of the pipes and valves will be smaller, but the (CaO) present in the wood ash. The CaO is carbonated to
specific investment cost will be high. Conventional water calcium carbonate (CaCO3) by the carbon dioxide in the
scrubbing, PSA and biogas upgrading with membranes are raw biogas, yielding an upgraded gas with very high meth-
all available in small scale on the market today.25 There are ane concentration. Initial studies have shown that it is
however also new approaches to small-scale applications possible to capture the carbon dioxide with the wood ash,
that differ from conventional approaches. but for large scale operation very large volumes of ash are
In Finland, Metener has developed a special type of needed.27 Thus the method would probably be more suited
water scrubber for small-scale batchwise biogas upgrad- for smaller applications. Further research is needed to take
ing.* The main difference to conventional water scrubbing the process from proof-of-concept to a feasible upgrading
is the very high pressure (150 bar(a)) in the two absorp- process.
tion columns in the system. Biomethane is driven from
the absorption column with water, so at the end of the Liquefied biogas
batch cycle, the column is completely fi lled with water.
Thereafter, the column is evacuated and the cycle starts The introduction of liquefied biogas (LBG) to the market
anew. The water is thereafter treated as in a conventional has been delayed several times but now LBG is available in
water scrubber, with a flash tank to minimize the meth- limited quantities. In 2012, operation started at Lidkping
ane slip and a desorption column to remove the carbon biogas in Sweden, one of the first large-scale production
dioxide. Due to the high pressure, the columns are much sites for LBG, although several plants started liquefac-
smaller than in a conventional water scrubber system. tion of landfi ll gas earlier. Although the combination of
However, the pressure introduces new requirements on the liquefaction and cryogenic upgrading technologies has
materials and components. been proposed to offer a suitable integration of processes,
The Swedish company Biosling is developing a water LBG is today produced from conventionally upgraded
scrubber which uses a rotating coil in which the com- biogas, 28 which was the projected path a few years ago and
pression and scrubbing occurs. Biogas and water with a will probably remain the most viable process path in the
pressure of 2 bar(a) are alternately fed into coils of plastic near future.29 Cryogenic upgrading technology, which has
hoses that are rotating. The rotation increases the pres- been viewed as a perfect match for LBG production, is still
sure up to about 10 bar(a) and most of the carbon dioxide not available for full-scale commercial operation and will
will be dissolved in the water inside these coils. A product probably not be for another couple of years. LBG offers a
gas with <97% CH4, which is commonly requested on the way of significantly increasing the energy density of biogas
market today, cannot be reached by just using the coils for and thus facilitate the transition to biogas for several new
upgrading, as the process does not operate with counter applications, including long-distance transports. However,
current flows. Thus, a small conventional water scrubber the large-scale production of LBG in Europe is probably
must be used to remove the remaining carbon dioxide in a several years away, not unlikely even a decade. Although
final polishing step. The Biosling could be more suited for the trade of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is similar
applications in which a lower methane purity is sufficient to LBG, increases globally, the smaller scale applications
as the unit without the final polishing scrubber would used in for example maritime and road transport appli-
have a lower investment cost. cations are still rare. Typical applications are terminals
Other options that are being investigated are technolo- serving a few large customers with large demands, for
gies such as in situ methane enrichment and the possibil- example, industrial clusters or ferry lines. The use of LBG
ity to use wood ash as an absorbent for the carbon dioxide. for heavy road transports is an interesting future applica-
In the in situ methane enrichment process the carbon tion, requiring LBG infrastructure at strategic nodes along
dioxide is stripped from the digester sludge continuously important highways.
during the anaerobic digestion, thus increasing the meth-
ane content of the raw biogas leaving the digester, however Discussion and conclusions
*www.metener.fi The technologies which are dominating biogas upgrad-

www.biosling.se ing today are water scrubbing, PSA and amine scrubbing.

2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb 509
F Bauer et al. Perspective: Biogas upgrading technologies

Thus, the situation has changed considerably compared Erdgasnetz. Fraunhofer-Institut fr Umwelt-, Sicherheits- und
to only a few years ago when amine scrubbing was still Energietechnik UMSICHT, Oberhausen (2009).

an unestablished technology. Organic solvent scrubbers 7. Petersson A and Wellinger A, Biogas upgrading technologies
developments and innovations. [Online]. IEA Bioenergy Task
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gaining interest from the market actors. Although LBG is 8. Vienna University of Technology, Biogas to Biomethane
now being produced from conventionally upgraded biogas, Technology Review. [Online]. Vienna University of Technology,
Vienna (2012). Available at: http://tinyurl.com/Vienna-review
the cryogenic upgrading technologies are still struggling [March 6, 2013].
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SGC Rapport 246. Swedish Gas Technology Centre, Malm


(2012). Tobias Persson
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Christian Hulteberg is an Associate
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Swedish Gas Technology Centre, Malm (2013).
chemicals.

Fredric Bauer Daniel Tamm


Fredric Bauer is a PhD student at the Daniel Tamm currently works with
Department of Chemical Engineering systems analyses and design of
at Lund University. He holds an MSc biogas plants at the Swedish company
in Sustainable Energy Systems from BioMil. He holds an MSc in Chemi-
Chalmers University of Technology. cal and Process Engineering and has
His current research relates to markets worked with biogas technology in
and processes for renewable fuels and both Germany and Sweden for several
chemicals. years.

2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd | Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 7:499511 (2013); DOI: 10.1002/bbb 511

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