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Small-scale, Rural Biogas Programmes: a


Book · January 2015

DOI: 10.3362/9781780448497


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David Fulford
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Small-scale, domestic biogas digesters - Chapter Abstracts
Chapter 1 Overview of Biogas Extension
An overview of biogas extension work considers the background to the development and use of the
technology in less developed countries. The technology is placed in the wider global context of a
concern for the environment since the early 1970s. It offers a long list of benefits to the users of the
technology. A brief history looks at its origin in India and China, as well as applications for sewage
processing in Europe and USA. The benefits of biogas technology for small farmers led to programmes
in China and India, which inspired the programme in Nepal. This book is the latest publication
following a series of reports and a previous book about the biogas programme in Nepal. People in
Europe and USA have only lately realised that a technology for processing sewage is also a good
source of renewable energy.
Chapter 2 Biogas History in Developing Countries
Three large biogas programmes in the developing world: in China, India and Nepal, have been growing
since the 1970s. Some of the smaller biogas programmes in other countries also started in the 1970s,
but did not grow at the same rate. The history of the three large programmes offers insights into the
reasons for their success. Other programmes in countries in the rest of Asia, in Africa and in Latin
America are considered, so comparisons can be made. Biogas programmes in many of these countries
are now being influenced by lessons learned from the larger programmes.
Chapter 3 Aspects of a Biogas Programme
The process of making biogas technology available widely in a country involves a large number of
different factors. The provision of domestic biogas units to very large numbers of people, as done in
China, India, Nepal and elsewhere requires very careful planning and there are many challenges that
face people who work on such a project. There are many benefits of biogas technology, such as
replacing firewood or LPG. Biogas plants can be made at a range of different scales, from small
backyard systems to large industrial systems. Particular challenges are faced in the economic,
organisational and research and development areas.
Chapter 4 How Biogas works
The making of biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) from food materials is an anaerobic
microbiological process, involving a symbiotic population of microbes (bacteria and archaea). The
process requires the right conditions, such as pH, temperature, retention time, the chemical and
physical nature of the feed, and moisture content. There are several ways in which an anaerobic
digester can be run, such as in batch, continuous or semi-continuous modes. Different approaches to
the process include using stirred tanks (CSTR), plug flow, upflow sludge blanket (UASB), anaerobic
filters and baffled reactors. There are also different ways to pre-process the feed including chopping
and pre-digestion using flooded pre-digesters and leach beds. The qualtiy of the feed material can be
monitored using different parameters, such as TS (Total Solids), VS (Volatile Solids), COD (Chemical
Oxygen Demand), BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand), batch or semi-continuous tests. The process can
be mathematically modelled.
Chapter 5 Biogas Effluent as Compost
The value of anaerobic digestion to produce compost has received little interest until recent years.
Biogas effluent slurry, or bio-slurry, is increasingly seen as having value, not only as a fertilizer, but
also in reducing crop disease and acting as a soil conditioner. Its use has lasting effects on the soil. The
ways in which it is processed affect the value of the product: composting and vermi-composting
increase its usefulness. The benefits of bio-slurry are shown by the results from many practical
Chapter 6 Main Domestic Biogas Plant Designs
From the wide range of biogas digester designs, only a few meet the criteria for use in the programmes
in Asia which have been made in large numbers. The floating drum system was developed in India, but
has largely been replaced by fixed dome systems. Fixed dome systems were developed in China and
the two main approaches are to use a dome made from brick or concrete. There are several aspects that
are common to both fixed dome designs: such as how the dome is sealed, how reservoir pits are made,
the covers over reservoir pits and inlet pits. Various attempts have been made to adapt such plants for
climates that have lower ambient temperatures.
Chapter 7 Plastic Biogas Plant Designs
There are two main types of plastic biogas plant: ones that use flexible plastic and those that use rigid
plastic to make plants that are similar to floating drum or underground plants. Flexible plastic systems
include "bag" digesters, where the whole plant is made from plastic and "membrane" digesters where
the plastic membrane acts as a gas holder over a pit made from masonry or other materials. Floating
drum designs also include systems in which the tank and gas holder are both made of plastic(Martin,
2008; Roos et al., 2004) or ones in which only the gas holder is of plastic and the digester tank is made
from masonry or other materials. Underground plants are also available in which the digester pit and
reservoir are both made of plastic.
Chapter 8 Ancillary Equipment
Ancillary equipment used with a biogas plant includes slurry and gas handling equipment. Inlet slurry
of dung and water can be mixed with various types of machine. Food waste often requires a pre-
digester. Outlet slurry should be used as a compost. Gas equipment includes pipes, valves, manometers,
stoves and lights. Gas pipes can be made of several different materials, such as metal (steel or copper)
and plastic (HDPE, PVC, etc). The best valves to use for gas are ball valves. Gas stoves and lights need
to have been carefully designed and tested. Biogas can also be used in engines with suitable ancillary
Chapter 9 Using Biogas Plants
The process of building a biogas plant involves a series of decisions: the design of plant to be used; the
feed stock available and therefore the size of the plant; the location of the plant and its distance from
the feed stock supply; and where the gas is to be used. Starting a plant involves adding the right
microbes and allowing the population to be built up. Running a plant is a matter of feeding it regularly
and avoiding contaminants.
Chapter 10 Management of a Biogas Programme
Lessons can be learnt from the way biogas programmes have been run in places such as China, India
and Nepal. The way a programme is run depends on the local environment and, particularly the needs
of local people for the technology.
One key aspect is a balance between central and local management. Biogas technology, as a renewable
energy, attracts central political interest, which can often help an extension programme. However, the
work of selling, building and follow-up of biogas units needs to be done by trained local people in any
area. Such extension agents need to be identified and given a range of important skills. Programme
finance is an important issue, especially if customers can receive subsidies and loans to enable them to
purchase biogas units. Carbon offset finance has been used to provide extra funding, but there are
Quality control of biogas units is essential and can be linked to the provision of finance. Many
programmes need to include research and development work to enable the technology to be kept up-to-
date and to take advantage of new opportunities for its use.
Chapter 11 Starting a Biogas Programme
Starting a new biogas extension programme in an area requires information that should be gained from
an assessment survey. People in the area need to know about the benefits of biogas, so publicity is re-
quired. A limited pilot programme allows staff to be trained and extension methods to be tested and es-
tablished. As the programme moves into forward, standards should be defined that are used to encou-
rage quality control. Follow-up surveys quickly identify areas in which the programme management
can be improved. Staff need to be flexible, so improvements can be made and new opportunities recog-
Chapter 12 Philosophy of biogas extension
The concept of the triple bottom line encourages the application of auditing to environmental and so-
cial aspects of a project, as well as the financial aspects. Biogas extension programmes have a high po-
tential to demonstrate that they are sustainable in all three areas: environmental, social and financial, if
they are properly planned and managed. Its use to process food waste allows biogas to change the lives
of the poorest of the poor.
Appendix 1 Chemistry of Simple Digestion
A basic analysis of the process by which food materials are converted to biogas provides an
understanding of the energy released by this process. Calculations are provided for the conversion of
two basic food materials: sugar and starch. A simple first order rate model is also presented, which
allows the gas production from a biogas plant to be estimated, based on the plant working volume and
the daily feed volume.
Appendix 2 Biogas Plant Design Details
Various designs of a biogas plant have been developed by the different biogas extension projects. Since
these plants have been designed to do similar jobs, basic dimensions are similar. Earlier designs used
longer retention time, and therefore larger volumes. The required retention time is affected by the local
ambient temperature.
The mathematical formulae required to calculate various volumes are given. Actual measurements may
be slightly different from those calculated from the formulae, as the shapes produced when plants are
built may not fit exactly to the shapes defined by the formulae.
Appendix 3 Building a Masonry Biogas Plant
Biogas units made in large numbers in Asia are made from masonry by manual labour, using
cylindrical or spherical shapes. The basic building techniques are defined and use basic skills that need
to be gained by the masons who are doing the work. Similar approaches need to be used for the
different designs, although there are particular approaches required for each different design.
Appendix 4 Basic gas pipe fitting
The biogas from a biogas plant is only beneficial if it can be piped to where it is needed and used
efficiently. Gas leaks from piping are often a cause of operators deciding that their biogas plants are not
working. Biogas is being produced, but it is lost through the leaks. Biogas contains water vapour,
which can condense in pipes and block them, so measures need to be designed for the water to be
removed. As gas flows down a pipe, friction between the gas and the walls of the pipe causes pressure
losses, which can be calculated.
Appendix 5 Gas appliance design
The design of biogas burners depends on the properties of biogas. The basic theory for the design of
biogas burners uses fluid flow theory and defines the sizes of key parameters, including the diameters
of the gas jet and the mixing tube throat. The total area of the flame ports is another important
dimension. Methods can be used to improve the stability of gas flames.
Appendix 6 Follow-up surveys
Surveys are part of the work of follow-up, which is a key part of a biogas extension programme.
Surveys start with secondary sources: existing information on the survey area. Different types of survey
include inspection, questionnaires, group interviews, use of key respondents and field measurements.
Surveys must be carefully planned and then tested by using a pilot survey.
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