A helping hand with biogas upgrading
Stephen McCulloch of DMT Environmental Technology explains how the company’s new service can support businesses with biogas upgrading projects.
A helping hand with biogas upgrading. Could you tell our readers about yourself and your role at DMT?
With more than a decade’s experience within the UK biogas industry, I have an excellent track record in delivering pioneering gasto-grid projects. Areas of particular expertise include technology identification, the biomethane fuel supply chain and understanding the financial viability of major projects. This, alongside my continued work with industry influencers
and the government, has helped to create a successful infrastructure for the
biomethane to grid market. In 2017 I was appointed as UK & Ireland business director at DMT Environmental Technology. My key role since joining the business has been to deliver a number of groundbreaking biogas projects.
Could you explain the process of biogas upgrading?
Biogas is produced by degrading waste biomass such as manure, expired food products, agricultural waste and sludge, via anaerobic digestion (AD). However, during the digestion process, harmful chemical components are produced (carbon dioxide [CO2], hydrogen sulphide, siloxanes and volatile organic compounds [VOCs], among others). Using membrane gas separation technology, these unwanted compounds can be removed and the gas effectively upgraded to create pure biomethane. There are several options when upgrading biogas. For almost all situations, the DMT Carborex® MS offers the best economics and several technological advantages. Based on an ingenious, multi-stage, highly-selective membrane, the technology removes CO2 by preventing its flow through the dense, polymeric membrane. The Carborex® MS is a compact, modular and containerised unit, which uses highly-selective membrane technology to upgrade biogas.
The resulting biomethane has a methane concentration of 99% methane, which greatly reduces the consumption and cost for propanisation. The biomethane can be injected directly into the local gas grid, or further compressed for use as vehicle fuel. The CO2 is recovered as >99.5% pure, while up to 70% of oxygen is also removed. While systems like the Carborex® MS require power to function, they are not reliant on chemicals or water to upgrade biogas.
What are the greatest challenges faced by customers during biogas upgrading projects, and how does DMT help with these?
Biogas facilities can be a highly lucrative investment opportunity, capable of achieving a return on investment in less than seven years. Sites require minimal maintenance, can operate relatively self-sufficiently, can begin enerating revenue instantly and, thanks to fixed government subsidies, will
guarantee income for years to come. However, building a new biogas facility is highly complex. Therefore, the go-to approach has been to employ a selection of specialist sub-contractors, each given a specific task, role or area in parallel. While many hands make light work, it can also often make the build process somewhat disjointed. Take the six stages after gas leaves the digester, for example (pre-treatment, compression, membrane separation, propane injection, quality control and connection to the gas grid). Despite only taking up a relatively small space footprint on site,
responsibility is typically shared between several companies. A small contract issue, inexperienced workers, incorrect paperwork or delays to just one of these teams can prove detrimental to the efficiency of the entire build. Misjudging remit or poor fitment results in unexpected additional costs and unnecessary project delays. A delayed completion not only affects the payback period, but in the worstcase scenario it can be the difference between achieving or falling short of a subsidy deadline. For investors, simple mistakes can therefore cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Minimising the risk of delays is therefore important in securing project financing. Rather than multiple contractors and more risk of possible delays, the market is pushing for a new approach — a solution that provides a single point of contact, while maximising cost efficiencies.
You recently launched TSP to support customers with their biogas projects. Could you tell us more about the TSP service and how it benefits customers?
Total Solutions Provider (TSP) is our end-to-end project partnership that supports the customer from the moment biogas leaves the digester to when it’s injected directly into the grid. From planning support and finance provision, to equipment supply, installation and commissioning, TSP guarantees a seamless, integrated and highperforming solution to meet exacting site requirements. While most equipment suppliers will only provide the upgrading unit, TSP also covers the specification and installation of pre-treatment technology, grid entry/natural gas kiosks, interconnecting pipework, electrics and export to grid connection.
A key part within the TSP service is dealing with the gas networks and following their strict documentation protocols — a vital area if projects are to achieve their deadlines; not only for installation of equipment but also making sure all the correct documentation is correctly submitted and signed off. TSP takes away the concern of having to deal with different contractors and the risk of overlooking something, resulting in possible delays.
We want our customers to feel at ease throughout the project. A smoothly running biogas upgrading plant is a benefit for all parties involved and decreases the return on investment time, making it more attractive for investors. An investment in a biogas upgrading plant that runs smoothly, has low maintenance, performs from the beginning and generates income from the very start is highly attractive.
Do you think TSP willprove successful?
We believe that TSP will prove hugely popular with the biogas industry. Removing the pressure of deadlines, strict requirements and paperwork means our customers can focus on their business. Instead of a complicated, disorganised process, TSP offers the comfort of a single, efficient point of contact.
How is the TSP approach different to the approaches of your competitors?
When it comes to supplying biogas upgrading equipment, most companies will only provide the separation unit. This fails to address pretreatment, compression, propane injection, quality control and connection to the gas grid, which are left to other (often less experienced) contractors to deliver. TSP offers a start-to-finish approach that optimises site performance and guarantees a solution you can count on.
Our ability to consult with clients to deliver the perfect upgrading solution, while providing unmatched support and expert consultancy throughout the
whole process, sets us firmly apart from the market.
What can you tell us about your first TSP project in the UK? Have you rolled-out TSP internationally?
We have just completed our first TSP project in the UK and, already, it has proven a huge success. We were responsible for delivering and integrating the six stages after gas leaves the digester, which has resulted in a high-performing, highlyefficient biogas plant. We recently received another TSP order and we are looking forward to expanding our portfolio with similar projects and new customers. Internationally, we’ve applied the TSP approach to multiple facilities in the US. By taking away the unnecessary complexities of building a biogas plant, we have reduced customer risk and helped our customers to meet strict deadlines.
In your opinion, to what extent can biogas support Europe’s net-zero targets and help to achieve a circular economy?
Biogas is capable of contributing significantly to a circular economy, while consequently tackling air pollution and alleviating our reliance on fossil fuels. Its clean credentials, efficient properties and low emissions when used as vehicle fuel are hugely beneficial. Biogas plants have the ability to convert unwanted waste into renewable, decentralised, low-carbon fuel, while producing fertiliser that can be used to improve crop growth as a sustainable by-product — an excellent example of a circular economy.
What’s in store for DMT in 2020?
We have a number of exciting plans for 2020, but our key priority is to roll out the TSP service across multiple markets. We’ve recently received another TSP order and we are looking forward to expanding our portfolio with similar projects and new customers. We have noticed a dramatic change in requirements from the biogas industry and believe that TSP offers an approach that customers are looking for.