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January 08, 2008



Google as I might, I can't come up with other estimates for biogas's potential in the developed world.
Anyone got any good links, or perhaps speak German so that we could get a better run-down on the original report?

Tim Wint

Right now, Honda makes a CNG vehicle that they can't get anyone to buy because everyone is going ga-ga over ethanol and hybrids. I can't understand the reluctance to pursue existing technology over something that is expensive and is less overall energy efficient.


Certainly seems an target for progress to me, where as I cannot see the advantage of converting biogas to ethanol such at Novus are doing.

Roger Brown

I have not had time to read the Biopact report, so perhaps I am making ignorant comments here, but I am skeptical about bioa gas 'easily replacing' natural gas. The energy content of manure is not that high, unsurprisingly, since it is that part of the biomass consumed by animals that they were unable to extract useful energy or nutrients from.

I came across a study on energy crops for anaerobic digestion once which concluded that cereal crops provide the highest yielding substrate. If we use cereal crops then we are back to the food vs fuel debate, plus issues of soil erosion, water use, fertlizer use etc. If methane production is more resource efficient than ethanol production the economics will be improved of course, but a huge improvement relative to ethanol is needed if we are going to use energy crops to support an OECD style consumer society.

I am not sure exactly what is meant by organic waste. Not all organic waste is a good substrate for methane producing bacteria. They do not digest celluose or lignin very well. Furthemore in truly sustainable food production systems the amount of "waste" generated will be far less than in today's industrial style agriculture/forestry. Crop residues left on the field prevent soil erosion, retain moisture, increase soil carbon content etc. Wood waste left to decompose on the forest floor would serve a simlar role in maintaining soil fertility.

I am convinced that biomass energy will play a signficant role a long term sustainable economy, but I am doubtful about it "easily supplying" a large fraction of our current level of energy consumption


It seems that biogas might be too de-centralized to make distribution straightforward, and I assume there are gas cleaning and low supply pressure issues that have to be addressed.

If we are comparing biogas with ethanol, consider the transportation challenges with each. While ethanol feedstocks are challenging to transport due to low energy density and correspondingly large required volumes of material, biogas from hundreds or thousands of dislocated sites will require gas transport via pipeline. Beyond the issues above such as cleaning and pressurization, doubtless a new pipeline infrastructure will need to be built to support this if it were to truly and meaningfully displace/replace conventional natural gas.


I don't think de-centralization is a problem. If you look at a map
most states have lots of pipeline access. Also it can be used locally for heating, electricity generation and CNG for transportation.


Does anyone know if switchgrass can be used to make biogas? The recent bbc report at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7175397.stm
suggests that 320 barrels of bioethanol can be produced from one acre of grassland, which seems pretty good. If it can be gasified to twice that energy efficiency, it could be a significant contributor to a low CO2 future!


Dano, yes, there are a few studies about using grass for biogas. Austria is pumping grass-based biomethane into a local grid.

For grasses grown in temperate climates, you can obtain some 2900 to 5000 cubic meters of methane.

For tropical grasses like sorghums or sugarcane, you get almost twice that.

On temperate grasses, see:

Annimari Lehtomäki, Biogas production from energy crops and residues [*.pdf], Jyväskylä Studies in Biological and Environmental Science, PhD thesis, Jyväskylä University, Finland, 2006


The video in our article about the German biogas study has been translated into English.

As you can see several European countries are feeding upgraded biogas into the gas grid. There's only one problem, the quality of the biomethane is too good - at least in Germany, which has an upper limit on heating value. Too good, can you imagine?!

Anyways, you can check out the vid here:

Or at overstream:

@ DavidJ: biogas-to-liquids would be very handy for remote communities that aren't connected to any grid, nor to any pipelines. That is, in the developing world.

Say a rural community has a very large sugarcane potential. But there's no city around to sell excess electricity from bagasse to. Or there's no pipeline. It could then be highly efficient to just use all the cane for biogas, and to convert it into liquid that can be transported out.

Converting all sugarcane biomass from a hectare, yields 130% more energy than if you were to convert it into ethanol + bagasse-power. But nobody in Brazil has looked at biogas from cane, because the ethanol industry there is fundamentally tied to producing sugar. Traditionally, and fundamentally, because the capacity to switch between sugar and ethanol is commercially interesting.

However, if biogas-to-liquids becomes efficient, this might change, especially in countries that are only beginning to think of bioenergy.

You should look at much of the developing world as one large zone of 'stranded biogas'.

Kit P

I was surprised to see the map of US pipelines on the Internet. Before 9/11, I used this map to identify customers for biogas and biomass gasification projects. The idea was to avoid places that had access to cheap natural gas. After 9/11, it was gone for awhile.

“The EIA has determined that the informational map displays here do not raise security concerns, based on the application of the Federal Geographic Data Committee’s Guidelines for Providing Appropriate Access to Geospatial Data in Response to Security Concerns “

Germany and other EU countries are providing leadership in biofuels. I have not looked at the ghg numbers for Germany but I have studied some of their technology. Look at Figure 1, http://www.epa.gov/agstar/pdf/2006digest.pdf to see a similar program has been effective in the US reducing ghg. Germany had already built 800 on farm anaerobic digesters.


Jonas said:
'For grasses grown in temperate climates, you can obtain some 2900 to 5000 cubic meters of methane.'
What's that? per hectare?
I would be grateful if some of you folk who know more about the subject could give me an idea of the areas available for this sort of use, and how cubic meters of gas translate into kwh, in short, how big is this resource?
Is it important, or marginal?


A first shot at some numbers (hopefully I've got something wrong as they as disappointingly small.

The these that Jonas pointed at claimed something like 50MWhr per hectare (this must be per year).
A hectare is 10000 M**2.
If I divide by area, and hours/year I come up with average power of roughly 2/3watt/M**2. If I throw out an order of magnitude est of average insolation 180W/M**2, this means that the net efficiency sunlight to methane is only around .5%. That seems to me to be way to small if we hope to replace NG with this resource, although perhaps only 10% of all land.

So the real question is, is it feasable to replace over say the next 50years NG with biogas? If so at what cost? What are the likely environmental impacts? NG is probably our best current fuel, so if this is feasable at reasonable cost it would seem to be a good way to go. Why are we wasting time/subsidies on Ethanol?


bigTom, that sounds about the right efficiency factor, 0.5%
I suspected that the resource would be orders of magnitude too small to make a real difference - that is why we swapped burning wood for burning coal, although sugarcane seems to do quite well so I may have missed something.
The blurb about replacing Russian imports with biogas is in fact different to the story headline on this blog, as Norwegian, Dutch and British gas production is still substantial, although dropping, so Russian imports in no way equate to EU use.
As for why Ethanol - votes is corn producing states is the answer!


.5% may not be as hopeless as it at first sounds. It is claimed that our entire energy use is only 10**-4 of the earths solar illumination. So at .5% that would require 2% of the area of the earth.


I quite like being Dvaemart!
I don't like those figures much.
At 2% of area of the earth, that is around 6% of the land surface.
This solution needs decent land, so we might be talking about 18% of arable land - OK for the States, not so good for China or India.
I'd put my money on electricity and batteries, although I also like the idea of mixed prairie grass and pyrolysis, which could use marginal land and wouldn't need the same inputs of fertiliser and so on, I believe.
Perhaps this gives us some handle on the size of the resource from agriculture, and personally I would prefer prairie to more intensive farming!
Carbon sequestration through agrichar would be nice too.
Food for people in the Sahel and so on can't do any harm as a last benefit.


Transcript of German Biogas Report:
Part One:
“ We present an as yet unpublished study which contains amazing findings. Biogas obtained from energy crops and manure could soon replace all imports of natural gas from Russia. What is more, it can even cover the total current gas needs of the entire European Union. Natural Gas takes up to 300 million years to form – biogas only one farming season. With biogas from one hectare ( 2.47 acres ) of maize, one can travel 70,000 kilometers ( 43,500 miles ). That is: almost two times around the earth. And all this without emitting climate destructive carbon dioxide gas. This presents an opportunity for the environment, for farmers, and for Germany, world leader in biogas technologies. Steffen Judzikowski and Hans Koberstein report. The cows of Jozef Pellmeyer are hardly profitable any longer. Milk prices are very low. That’s why the farmer bets on biogas. Ten years ago, he installed a first biogas plant at his farm. With maize he grows himself and with organic waste from the region – In my plant, I process organic waste such as food residues, and oil processing residues, as well as waste from my farming activities, and of course manure from livestock. All this biomass is converted into biogas – which is used to generate electricity. The facility heats and ferments the waste. This way environmentally friendly biogas is obtained. The waste resulting from biomass production, becomes fertilizer used by Pellmeyer on his fields. The biogas fuels gas engines which generate electricity – enough for 1,000 households. But Pellmeyer wants more. The next step is to feed biogas into the natural gas network. That’s why I have built another plant. I think this holds a great future. Biogas in the Natural Gas Grid. The future has already arrived here in Nieder Rheine. Pioneering work – The biogas is purified and upgraded to natural gas quality. It enters the Germany-wide gas network. Via this pipe, it enters the Germany-wide gas network. From here, it is pumped to the places that consume most electricity and heat: the cities. For the chief of the public utility of the city of Aachen, Dieter Attig, this is only the beginning. Biogas can break the monopoly of gas suppliers. Biogas is a decentralized technology. Especially public utilities can take advantage of this. We as the city of Aachen, want to build, together with many other public utilities, a pan-German biogas network. We want to construct a large number of biogas plants across the country and even more cogeneration power plants to generate electricity and heat from the biogas. The biogas plant here is fed with energy crops such as maize and fresh rye grown on 900 hectares ( 2,250 acres ) of land nearby. Enough to supply heat and power to 5,000 households living around Aachen. But the potential of biogas is much larger still. This is known by a study published by the Oko-Instituts and the Instituts fur Energetik in Leipzig. “Frontal 21” had the opportunity to look into the study. It states: “By 2020, biogas can replace…gas imported by pipeline from Russia…completely.” The scientists found that alongside the natural gas pipelines there is enough land available to grow energy crops. The biogas can be produced in a decentralized manner (me: local micro-plants along the NG pipeline) and fed into the entire main gas network to cover all of EU’s needs. In such a scenario, we would be creating 2.5 million new jobs. We would be tackling climate change in a serious way. And we would achieve energy security, because each year we can produce new biogas. Contrary to natural gas fields, which get depleted, biogas is renewable. It never runs out. A great opportunity. And research into energy crops has only just begun. Professor Zeddies of the University of Hohenheim shows the plant sorghum. The plant yields 50% more biogas than maize…”


Transcript of German Biogas Report:
Part Two:
“This is the type of crops farmers have been waiting for. This comes at the perfect time, because up till now, we produced a lot of excess food that had to be exported with taxpayer’s money. And we had to set aside farmland (EU policy). We can at last abandon this policy. This generates employment in rural areas and economic opportunities in agriculture. And not only in agriculture. The firm Schmack Biogas in Bavaria’s Schwandorf recently doubled its number of employees to 350. CEO Ulrich Schmack built its first biogas plant 12 years ago. Today, he exports all over the world, even to the U.S., and is a world leader in biogas technology. Today we can produce 3 times as much biogas from plants with the same volume, as 5 years ago. And over the next 5 years, we project this yield to double yet again. Enormous progress in research and development. There is only one problem that can jeopardize the boom: In many places, the upgraded biogas is too good for the natural gas network. That is: Its heating value is too high. And Germany’s bureaucracy imposes strict norms for the heating value: It should not be higher than permitted. The logic behind this rule is strange: It says citizens deserve good services, but only at the lower end of the scale. Citizens don’t deserve good services at the higher end. They are not entitled to the best services even when they are available. That’s the idea behind the law. I don’t see the sense in this, because citizens pay for a minimum service. If they happen to receive more than this, then the better for them. They will obviously be pleased. But German law is not meant to please. In other countries, like Switzerland, people are startled. Here, biogas is fed into the natural gas grid in this biogas facility near Zurich. Entirely without any upper quality limit. A lower limit is smart, because we want to guarantee quality energy. But imposing an upper limit is senseless, because the farmer or biogas producer decides for himself whether he wants to exceed the minimum standard to deliver better gas than is required. There’s no upper limit for quality in Switzerland. Only in Germany there’s such an upper limit. We shouldn’t burden the individual biogas producer who feeds biogas into the gas network. Instead, we need a law that obligates the pipeline operators to treat biogas in the same way as natural gas, and to allow both types of gas to flow parallel through the net. According to the Green Party, the Government must now act. They commissioned the biogas study. We need a law in Germany – a biogas feed-in law – that allows new biogas producers to enter the sector and gives them access to the natural gas network. This will give the breakthrough technology boost to biogas in Germany. A ‘biogas feed-in law’. This means: to attract biogas investments, the consumer will have to pay more. The Christian Democrats who control the Government hesitate. Their adage is: “Wait and see”. They want to wait until the general law on renewable energies has been rewritten – Aren’t you being too hesitant? Don’t we need action now, to give the sector a boost? But the sector is already booming. The sector is growing by 40% per year. So I think we are not denying anyone any opportunity by waiting until the Government presents its data on renewables this year, which we, as the Parliament, will use to act. Farmers like Pellmeyer and many others want to start feeding biogas into the natural gas grid this year. Only hesitant politicians and German bureaurocrats are standing in the way of the biogas boom. Biogas as the basis for energy independence and therefore political independence from Putin’s Gazprom – a very charming proposal indeed.”


Terrific job in the translation - thanks very much!


Perhaps it would make more sense to combust the biomass directly (instead of fermenting it and thus reducing net energy) for combined electric and heat, then shift the present consumption of the more energy-dense natgas to transportation use? Longer term, continue to use biomass fired electric generation to energize electric vehicles, further reducing net fossil inputs.


more precisely, should have included "digesting" in addition to fermenting

Kit P

“Perhaps it would make more sense to combust the biomass directly ...”

It depends on the the amount of moisture in the biomass. Dairy cow manure has lots of water and nutrients. Anaerobic digesters (AD) are a more efficient way to process nutrients to a organic fertilizer which has more value than than the energy. Think about it. Ammonia is produced with natural gas.

Dairy cow manure also has lots of enzymes. Blending in energy crops that with a higher carbon content produces more energy and more compost. I read one report where a new AD produced twice as much biogas as was theoretically possible. The dairy used recycled paper for bedding. One of the universities in Arizona or New Mexico, did research that 10% dairy farm manure added to clean organic waste headed to a landfill.

The feasibility study we did with the local utility found that we had a potential of 250 MWe @ a 90% capacity factor in the region.

Roger Brown

With biogas from one hectare ( 2.47 acres ) of maize, one can travel 70,000 kilometers ( 43,500 miles ). That is: almost two times around the earth.

The above translation reads like a Sunday supplement puff piece rather than a summary of a scientific study. At least they should give us the gas yield per hectare rather than a PR statistic like the one quoted above. And, by the way, if methane becomes a major transportation fuel then European per capita consumption will rise substantially above present levels.

The above translation does make it clear that cereal crops (corn, rye) are the preferred bio gas substrates, so that bio gas production is clearly competing for prime farm land. Methane production from biomass may be economically superior to ethanol, but the question that need to be addressed how much of it can we afford to produce without driving up the costs of food to unacceptable levels.


Kit P:

good point, however in the context of the German study and my proposal, it appears the vast majority of biomass being converted to biogas had not been through a bovine digester first.

hmmm ... how to put a practical methane tap on the bovines (and other ruminants for that matter) prior to the manure step ... ;)


Roger, it looks to me as though this is not the original report, but rather a piece written about it in German, which our friend on this blog has kindly translated.
Kit will correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think there is competition for land here, as you use the waste from the corn and so on to make the biogas, not the corn itself, unlike with ethanol production.
As for the car going around thee world and so on, I don't think they are actually proposing using the biogas for transport - they have just chosen a clumsy illustration.

Roger Brown


I am pretty sure that they are using the actual grain from energy crops as part the bio gas substrate. Here a link to an article about German bio gas production which clearly states that potential contribution of energy crops to bio gas production is much larger than agricultural waste or manure. Corn is mentioned as the preferred crop at present.


I realize the above translation is not the detailed study, but it is still described as as Transcript of German Biogas Report: and begins with the sentence:

We present an as yet unpublished study which contains amazing findings. Biogas obtained from energy crops and manure could soon replace all imports of natural gas from Russia. What is more, it can even cover the total current gas needs of the entire European Union.

If they are presenting as study, they ought to be held a slightly higher standard than the Sunday supplements.


Thanks for the link, Roger - they sure are using the actual corn cobs.
I'm not sure if they have to technically though,as it is political because the whole thing runs under the EU set-aside policy, so they couldn't use it for food if they wanted to as the regulations are just nuts - government policy!

Reality Czech
320 barrels of bioethanol can be produced from one acre of grassland
That's 320 gallons. 320 barrels would be more than 40 metric tons, while biomass yields are usually under 10 tons/acre.

I suspect that the complaint about bio gas having too high a heating value under German law is a red haring, They have to remove CO2 and other gasses from the bio methane before they put it in the pipeline. Just leave enough CO2 in the gas to meet the minimum heat value and you wind up selling the C02 at the price of natural gas!


To…Reality Czech:

You are quoting the reference given in the above Blog by Danothebaldyheid. He quoted the article correctly, which ORIGINALLY read 320 Barrels. THE AUTHOR CHANGED IT to 320 Gallons after Danothebaldyheid saw it(which you are also quoting correctly). When I first read the article, it read 320 barrels. And the author still doesn’t have it right. I have studied the yields on switchgrass. And it should be around 1,000 gallons per acre per year. (Switchgrass averages 11-12 tons per acre, and you get about 85 gallons of ethanol per ton). This conflicts with 320 barrels of ethanol per acre (10,000 gallons), and it conflicts with 320 gallons per acre (too low). Also miscalculated from the referenced article: “SWITCHGRASS FACTS : Produces an average of 320 barrels of bioethanol per hectare” – That’s incorrect. That would be 10,000 gallons per hectare or 4,000 gallons per acre – wrong…. I’m guessing that the author got his calculations wrong converting hectares and barrels to acres and gallons. Instead of 320 barrels, 32 barrels per acre would work: Multiply 32 barrels x 31 gallons per barrel – You get 992 gallons per acre – which is about right. Test plots of Switchgrass at Auburn University have produced up to 15 tons of dry biomass per acre, and 5 year yields average 11.5 tons = about 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year.


From the article, kindly translated by Jo:
'Today we can produce 3 times as much biogas from plants with the same volume, as 5 years ago. And over the next 5 years, we project this yield to double yet again.'
Anyone any idea what is going on there, and how they are altering the process to get these massive increases in yield?
Somehow I don't quite trust the reports numbers!
Jo? Kit?


To… Kit P

Back to the methane story – You seem to know a lot about methane and anaerobic digesters. People have a fixation on the CO2 being released, but I heard that methane - being released from livestock, dairy and poultry poop, sewage disposal plants and landfills – is many times more of a factor in global warming than CO2…Now that being said, a dynamic movement to capture all the sources of methane being released into the atmosphere and converting the methane into biogas and even liquid fuels – should impact global warming in a beneficial way. Any response?


Thanks, JoSmith, for clearing that up - it's still all very encouraging when compared to the godawful placebo that is bioethanol from corn. I'd previously thought that biofuels were only ever going to be a mistake - an assumption I may have to revise.
I'd also like to belatedly thank Jonas for his videos and info - I can't watch them just now (university wont let me) but I'll check them out when I get home!


Increase and Speed-up Biogas Production…

JoSmith response to DaveMart:

>>“The firm Schmack Biogas in Bavaria’s Schwandorf recently doubled its number of employees to 350.”<< The company seems to be booming, so their biogas digesters must be top-of-the-line productive. How are they doing this? Good question – I’d like to get my hands on one. But I do have some ideas as to how you could increase and/or speed-up biogas production: (1) The bacteria and the enzymes in the feedstock is very important, so perhaps they are adding high-performance bacteria and/or enzymes that are more productive inside the digester. Also note that when manure is used, it is already laced with bacteria and enzymes from the animals that are well-suited to breaking down biomass. So using manure as a feedstock could be advantageous, and could also substitute for additives. (2) The optimal amount of heat and regulating temperature is a factor. (3) The optimal amounts of water added at the right times. (4) The types and combinations of biomass feedstock. Some combinations would be symbiotic, and others might be somewhat counterproductive by comparison. (5) Here’s the Biggie: FRACTIONATION of the feedstock. This breaks the cell walls of the feedstock and increases the surface area dramatically. ULTRASOUND would be good to try for this. Look into the “Windhexe” – GS GreenTech has licensed this to pulverize biomass into powder. They call it “Tornado Generator”. Check out the mini video clips of this thing powdering glass bottles, aluminum cans, biomass, etc. – in seconds. It’s ultra-fast and costs $12 per hour to operate. This thing may be using the principle of Ultrasound. Other Ultrasound electronic devices are also used to kill algae in ponds and to fractionate corn. It’s cost effective. This should reduce the residual solids to maybe nothing but liquid effluent – which you would want to use to grow Algae – and then use the Algae as either livestock feed, additional feedstock for the digester, or feedstock for biofuels. Grow 1 to 3 types of algae: 94% starch, 60% protein, or 50% oil – depending on what you want to do with it. Algae is already successfully being used for feedstock in biogas digesters in France and India. Again – you grow onsite Algae with the nutrient residue effluent from the methane gas digester - producing onsite feedstock from what was once waste…One American methane pioneer: Ruihong Zhang – professor UC Davis has a cutting edge methane digester project in the U.S., and he’s working with California Energy Commission and industry partner Onsite Power Systems Inc…


Some good reading material there, Jo - that puts me a little more in the picture, I haven't realy paid too close attention to biofuels, perhaps writing it off as a bit-player prematurely.
That 'Windhexe' device sounds fascinating - it's a shame that it's rather 'out there', so a lot of researchers shy away in case they get classified as eccentric - the implications of 'why' it works could be considerable..
I would like to solicit further comment on how the biogas route compares to pyrolysis and the production of biochar, whose implications seemed to me to be profound:
Improving soils, sequestering carbon and producing fuel seems like a good deal! - but this biogas route is also attractive, so any comparisons would be valued.


For Pyrolysis of biomass, the major player is Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation (Canada). They decided years ago to go after the crude oil niche, such as heating oil and crude industrial oil. Dynamotive builds small $20 million localized modular plants using fast pyrolysis on lumber industry residues for feedstock – Small modular plants which they place closer to the source of feedstock, to save biomass shipping costs. Pyrolysis works great on the wood residue, whereas the biogas digester apparently does not. The byproduct char can be added back to enrich the soil and to sequester CO2, or the company will mix the char in with the bio-crude oil they produce. Petroleum based heating oil can be replaced by Dynamotive’s crude bio-oil. And what’s more, future engines and gensets, such as the Cyclone Green Revolution Engine, will run directly on Dynamotive’s unrefined bio-crude oil. So we should look forward to seeing biomass gradually replace petroleum in different ways and be locally produced and consumed. You might one day have your very own automated biomass micro-refinery to make your own fuel around the house.


The only biomass around in the middle of Bristol is the neighbour's kids, which is tempting but likely illegal!
Any idea how the efficiencies of pyrolysis vs biogas compare?

Kit P

AD have been used to treat organic waste for many years. Until concern about AGW popped up no one worried much about the methane. WWTP used the methane to fire boilers. Excess biogas at WWTF and landfills bust now be flared. During the first energy crisis, manure was used to produce electricity. Except for good farmer operators, not many survived but just enough to know that the idea has merit. JoSmith's post did a good job of describing methods of improving energy performance. Equally important is properly using compost. I have reports from farmers who have achieved better crop yields with 75% less chemical nitrogen when a fraction comes from compost. Wind and soil erosion is also reduced.

This at least one dairy farm AD in the magic valley of Idaho that is putting gas into the pipeline but I would suspect it will be a long time before we reach the level of biogas production in Germany. In the US, I do not think competition for land is an issue. It will be a long time before so AD can be built a significant amount of biomass.

Kit P

Ditto what Jo said about Pyrolysis. In this case, the environmental benefit is removing excess biomass in semi-arid forest of western North America. Forest health is a huge issue. One of the first bills out of congress that Bush signed was legislation to so that renewable energy could be used to help the environment while spending less time in court.


According to a presentation by Tim Evans (Renewable Zukunft) which was reported by Biopact: “…biomethane… upgraded biogas made from anaerobically fermented crops, slurry (manure) or organic waste, tops the chart at nearly 97,000km/ha (24,390 miles/acre) almost five times as much as biodiesel. (Not counting Algae - which will be 10,000 gallons per acre x 35 miles per gallon = 350,000 miles per acre). Compared to second-generation biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol or biomass-to-liquids, biogas is a mature technology… Here are some examples of the biogas movement that is sweeping the country. Biogas has been re-discovered: Environmental Power Corporation, at the Huckabay Ridge facility in Stephenville, Texas is making biogas out of cow manure on a big scale. Methane is purified and piped to 6,000 homes in Texas through Lower Colorado River Authority. This is the biggest Biogas plant in North America. Environmental Power will also build three other commercial sized plants in Nebraska, California, and another one in Texas - to feed purified methane into the natural gas grid… Another company, Waste Management is capturing enough land fill methane to feed 1 million homes, and will double that by 2020… Prometheus Energy Company creates liquefied natural gas from landfill gas and ships it to Orange County Transit Authority fleets in Southern California – using a truck powered by the liquefied natural gas Prometheus makes… Integrys Energy Services is operating a 6.4 megawatt power plant (in Rockford, Ill.) running on methane gas from trash to power four Caterpillar engines that feed the grid – enough to power 5,000 homes… Bill Davis of Ze-gen estimates that tens of thousands of megawatts can be produced from 300 million tons of municipal solid waste every year, by converting it to $28 billion worth of electric power. Although Davis is using gasifiers instead of biogas to methane digesters, this gives us an overall picture of how big the potential is to exploit landfill waste. CVPS Cow Power (Vermont) http://www.renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=50314&src=rss is the fastest growing cow manure to biogas to electric power assistance program in the country. These are a string of Vermont Dairy Farms converting their cow manure into electric power. CVPS power company pays them 95% of the regular price of electricity… Ruihong Zhang, a UC Davis professor of biological and agricultural engineering has perfected the Biogas Digester. He employs the optimal bacterial species and creates their favorite environmental conditions. He has a dual gas producing digester project that produces both methane and hydrogen, in half the time. This has been licensed by Onsite Power Systems Inc., who says they will custom build for you whatever size methane digester you want: http://www.technologynewsdaily.com/node/4968


Hmm - one of my posts seems to have disappeared!
What I was trying to say is that the information Jo gives about Tim Evans and 97,000miles/ha refers to running a small car, and is from this link:


Tim stated:
I suspect that the complaint about bio gas having too high a heating value under German law is a red haring, They have to remove CO2 and other gasses from the bio methane before they put it in the pipeline. Just leave enough CO2 in the gas to meet the minimum heat value and you wind up selling the C02 at the price of natural gas!

This would need to be done carefully. If there were too much CO2 and the gas were fed into the high pressure gas transmission system, the CO2 could condense into liquid in the pipeline :-(.

Roger Brown

(Not counting Algae - which will be 10,000 gallons per acre x 35 miles per gallon = 350,000 miles per acre).

My understanding is that these very high levels of biomass production by algae require continuous warm temperatures and high levels of CO2 availability (far above the atmospheric background). In a post fossil fuel future the CO2 will have to come from atmospheric carbon. Algae could be used to enhance overall biomass production. Biogas from anaerobic digestion contains a substantial amount of CO2 which could be directed to algae growth. Furthermore if the combustion of the bio-methane is done at the point of production then CO2 from the emissions could also be fed back into the algae production system. In addition waste heat could be utilized to optimize the algal growing conditions. However, I am doubtful that effective productivity of the whole system will be any where near 10,000 gallons (do you mean gallons of ethanol equivalent or gallons of gasoline equivalent?) per hectare.


I found arguments doubting algae production, particularly of the bioreactor type, persuasive:


JoSmith response to donb and Roger Brown:

Wow – This is unfolding beautifully! Donb – you suggest limiting the percentage of CO2 in methane that can be mixed into the natural gas pipeline – excellent. And then Roger Brown, you say: Instead of putting the CO2 into the natural gas grid, spin that CO2 off, and feed it to the algae – how eloquent!...OK – so we have 4 branches of methane use: (1) Purified methane added to the natural gas grid; (2) Liquefied Methane/ Natural Gas shipped to urban markets; (3) Methane made onsite and consumed onsite, for farms or industries; (4) And Methane made exclusively to be converted to electric power and sold to the Grid - as in the examples above. All 4 categories produce CO2 which can be spun-off for algae production. Waste heat (3&4) and/or part of the methane product (1&2) or byproduct can be used to keep the algae warm. Plus, the nutrient-rich effluent left over from biogas digestion is also recycled to feed the algae.

Roger Brown

I found arguments doubting algae production, particularly of the bioreactor type, persuasive:

I am not believer in algal bioreactors. I think that a niche for algal ponds may be found in some cases. I also think that processing the algal biomass through anaerobic digestion is a better option than trying to make biodiesel; For biogas production you do not need specialized algae with high lipid content.

Ty Cambell

DaveMart - This study has already been minimized:

Part One: The following is a response to the Krassen Dimitrov Critique: GreenFuel Technologies: A Case Study for Industrial Photosynthetic Energy Capture… (1) KD says: “The numbers just didn’t work: solar energy is too dilute and photosynthesis has fundamental limitations.” This is NOT TRUE. In the aquatic world, algae rules. It is what it is. Algae comes in over 10,000 forms, and has no shortcomings. You design your apparatus to maximize whatever solar energy you have. For me, the bottom line is how much mass of algae can you extract out of a square meter by the end of the day… And how cost effective and profitable is your exploitation of that mass of algae… (2) FALSE: KD says: “Designing even a super-efficient strain would not be economical without completely rewiring the photosynthetic machine.” IT’S NOT NECESSARY to redesign the algae. Maximize the design of the apparatus, and later tweak the algae. Algae can thrive on as little as 6% of the sunshine normally being cast on them. That means you can grow up to 16 batches of algae from the same square meter of sunlight – by distributing the light, rotating sheets of growing algae, or recirculating algae through a water medium. That’s what a closed photoreactor algae concentrator is all about…(3) KD says photosynthesis is a limitation. I say it’s not. All I need to know is that algae multiplies 2-3 times a day – that’s good enough for me. I don’t put any stock in twisted efficiency equations blaming photosynthesis… (4) FALSE: KD: “Algae, however, are not known to store large quantities of carbohydrates, and thus expend additional energy to convert them into proteins and lipids.” This is not true. Here’s proof: Veridium has a BioStarch Recirculation System, which recycles CO2 exhaust from the fermentation stage of a first generation corn ethanol refinery – into their algae bioreactor. This feeds their proprietary strain of algae which is composed of 94% starch and about 6% oil. Veridium-GreenShift algae may then be fractionated with ultrasound, which bursts the cell wall, and allows the algae starch to be fermented into ethanol - in parallel with corn ethanol. Marc Orion Cardoso, who produces biofuels from all kinds of feedstocks says: “There are (high starch) algae that can be fermented into ethanol.” (5) KD was overloaded with genetics, genomics, and other unrelated projects. He says: “I decided to end my direct involvement with bioenergy.” Keep in mind KD has probably never actually grown algae. All his numbers are hypothetical – not based on actual results in the field. KD is not an expert on cutting edge algae production. And who could be? I count over 40 companies conducting R & D on algae, plus over 15 universities and several high profile laboratories. There is a lot of positive proprietary information being generated that we are not aware of… (6) KD thinks all the money invested in algae research is a waste of time – sees the cup half empty - instead of half full. We can spend a trillion dollars abroad protecting our oil dependency, but when we spend a couple billion dollars at home on algae self-sufficiency, KD thinks it’s a waste of money… (7) False Conclusions – KD singles-out GreenFuels, and because GF did not show profitability yet, he smears the entire algae industry. The reader comes away with the impression from KD that all R & D on algae is a waste of time and money. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my view, algae production integrated into a source of manure and effluent and anaerobic digestion is here now. And by 2015, more advanced algae production systems will set records for biomass production - somewhere between 100 to 200 tons per acre. The only thing that comes close is CATTAILS at 140 tons per acre, 32 tons of which is starch. That’s another story… (8) In my opinion KD underestimates the amount of algae that can be produced per square meter by 3 to 4 times. He also underestimates the value of co-products, particularly when symbiotic systems are integrated with algae production… (9) FALSE – KD: “Vitamin supplementation will be uneconomical for large scale production.” NOT WHEN YOU INTEGRATE. Combine a methane digester with algae production, and dispose of the effluent by feeding it to the algae as nutrients. No need to buy vitamins for algae…

Ty Cambell

Part Two: (10) KD does make many valid statements (that I agree with) about the algae system that he evaluated. I agree. GreenFuels solar collectors should not be curved tubes, because too much light is lost due to reflection. GreenFuels’ algae system, at that point in time, needed improvement. That’s what R&D is all about – to constantly improve. That GF algae apparatus was one of the first of its kind. Years later, the company now has an advanced design, and some of the criticisms in KD’s case study are no longer applicable… (11) In his case study, KD summarizes that one of GreenFuels early prototype algae systems was not cost effective and not destined to be profitable. Why does KD come to the slash and burn conclusion that all other proprietary algal photobioreactors (PBRs) are not cost effective? That’s a false assumption… (12) No integration is ever suggested by KD, except to burn algae residue biomass in the adjacent power plant (which I think is a good idea - to co-fire grown-onsite algae with coal). But KD downplays and way undervalues burning algae pellets in a coal plant. For me, that is the wave of the future. The co-products of an integrated symbiotic operation are many times more valuable when you consume them onsite. In my view, you don’t have to redesign algae. You need to position algae production to dispose of complementary waste products, and with the value added products you create, direct them to their highest use: Example A: Combine a dairy farm, an algae farm, and a natural gas power plant. Produce methane from the cow manure, and co-burn it with the natural gas. Feed the digester effluent to the algae, and feed the algae to cows. Throw the surplus algae into the digester or use it as biomass feedstock. Produce milk, methane, electric power, cow feed, and biofuel. Example B: Combine a cattle feedlot with a first generation corn ethanol plant and a 96% starch algae production facility. Example C: Combine algae production with a municipal landfill or a sewage disposal plant… (13) Algae as direct fuel: Cyclone Green Revolution Engine runs on biomass – Ultrasound fractionated, unrefined algae slurry will fuel this engine or co-generation set… (14) University of Georgia engineering professor K.C. Das and Universidad Autonoma de Coahuila professor Nagamani Balagurusamy in Mexico are jointly working on integrating algae production into dairy farms and feedlots: Again - animal waste to methane to electric power, plus digester effluent to algae to biofuel and livestock feed to milk and meat and manure… (15) Algoil – has stopped producing algae for oil. The company is now successfully producing basic Spirulina and Chlorella, which they call excellent biomass. In addition to local farm residues, the algae grown by Algoil goes into anaerobic digesters to produce methane and electric power – recycling the CO2 and the effluent back to the algae. Chlorella and Spirulina also provide rich dietary supplements for local human consumption. This approach is being used in small villages in India – supplying them with methane gas for cooking, electric power, nutritional supplements, and animal feed… Algae is not all about oil.


Shell Oil open pond pilot plant in Hawaii gets 7,400 gallons of oil per acre per year from ALGAE. That is only the 50% oil portion. The other half is starch and protein biomass, which can be converted into additional products such as ethanol, animal feed, or biogas based fuel or electric power. This depends on the type of algae grown and the percentages of starch, protein, and lipids. Graeme Sweeney, Shell's executive vice president of future fuels, said the economics and technology of turning algae into fuel have changed. Algae can produce on average about 60 tons of oil per hectare per year.


El Paso's Valcent Products and Canadian alternative energy firm Global Green Solutions formed a joint venture called Vertigrow. About 20,000 bags (of Algae) can be hung in one square acre, yielding 100,000 gallons of algae oil per year, said Glen Kertz, CEO of Valcent, who developed the system. Again, that doesn’t include the 50% starch / protein byproduct, which can be turned into other biofuels and value-added products.



“GS CleanTech’s C02 ALGAE Bioreactor can produce more than 200,000 gallons of fuel per acre (per year).



According to researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. and Livermore, Calif., part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Algae to fuels project: “While algal oil is similar to other vegetable oils in terms of fatty acid composition, the oil productivity of micro-algae, on an annual per-acre basis, could potentially provide 100 times greater yield than soy and 10 times greater yield than oil palm.” Palm oil is yielding about 750 to 850 gallons of oil per acre per year, so algae is rated here at 8,000 gallons per acre per year. http://www.sandia.gov/news/resources/releases/2007/biofuel.html

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