July 15, 2020

No Pipeline for Renewable Natural Gas Projects? No problem

Use Virtual Pipeline Technology

Author: Stephen McCulloch and Kyle Snyder

Keywords: Biomethane, biogas, green gas, renewable energy, renewable natural gas (RNG), biogas upgrading, Compressed Natural Gas, Liquified Natural Gas, CNG, LNG, virtual pipeline, virtual pipeline technology

On site biogas production

Biogas can be produced from various organic resources of which the most common are agricultural waste, municipal waste, landfills, and wastewater treatment facilities. But biogas upgrading is also very much applicable in the (food & beverage) industry. Through biogas upgrading, trace impurities and carbon dioxide (CO2) in raw biogas are separated from methane (CH4) to produce pipeline-specification RNG suitable for injection into the natural gas grid or direct use for vehicle fuel. By upgrading the raw biogas produced in this gasification process, this raw biogas is turned into a very efficient usable renewable energy source and we avoid that this potent but very pollutant greenhouse gas enters the atmosphere. Upgraded biogas, also referred to as biogas, RNG or biomethane can be used interchangeably with natural gas, the ‘conventional’ fossil fuel.

Already municipalities, wastewater treatment facilities and large agricultural site upgrade their biogas to biomethane. This gas is either injected into the national gas grid network or, even on-site, used as a transportation fuel. In some cases, the raw biogas is even upgraded to LNG, liquified Natural Gas, and used in heavy-duty transport. Development within the biogas upgrading industry often varies from project to project. When determining the feasibility of a potential biogas upgrading plant, ideally, there should be a pipeline network available or within the general geographic area of the site.

But what if your site is remote, and there is no national gas grid network to inject the upgraded biogas into? Is the project still feasible? Does installing five to ten kilometres of pipeline at EUR 500k-EUR 1 million per KM make sense? What is the best way to gain the revenue available for these potential biomethane projects? The answer may be a virtual pipeline.

What is a virtual pipeline?

A virtual pipeline is an alternative method to transport natural gas, or biomethane, to remote places or places that are not connected to the national gas grid network. It replicates the continuous flow of a fixed physical pipeline, working where physical pipelines can’t to monetize gas in regions with changing supply and demand centres.

Flexibility of choosing an injection point

As a flexible and diverse approach, a virtual pipeline is based on a scalable and modular system where the biomethane is treated and compressed to Compressed Natural Gas (Bio-CNG) or liquefied to Liquified Natural Gas (Bio-LNG), It is stored on a mobile unit at its source location before it is transported to the location where it is needed. The gas is then transported to a fuelling station or injected into the natural gas pipeline for entry into the incentive programs, tariff schemes/Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program.

A virtual pipeline provides the flexibility to keep the gas flowing as well as the option to use alternative injection centres.

Additionally, virtual pipelines facilitate the transportation sector and make biomethane while profitable, providing the same reliability and flexible augmentation from a physical gas grid network network. A fitting twist is that the trucks delivering the CNG or LNG can also be fuelled by the same gas they are transporting, making them independent of petrol sources and providing carbon-neutral transportation.

The Virtual Pipeline in Real Life

Typically, the composition of raw biogas contains impurities such as moisture, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and possible VOC’s. To be able to use the biomethane (CH4) these impurities have to be removed.

As an example, biogas from a dairy digester is pretreated to remove the moisture, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and possibly VOC’s. After its compressed, the CO2 and methane (CH4) get separated by the DMT Carborex®MS system, a biogas upgrading technology using high-selective membranes to separate the CH4 from the CO2. Then the upgraded biogas, that is compressed to CNG, is transported to a designated injection point that may be shared by multiple supply sites. The virtual pipeline is born.  

DMT is currently working on several projects from biogas from agricultural waste that utilize the virtual pipeline approach. All projects use DMT’s technology, Carborex®MS, to separate CO2 from the CH4 stream. By implementing the virtual pipeline, the gas produced on this site can still be used profitably. At these normally remote sites, the biogas is upgraded on site, compressed, and stored in storage tanks before it is being transported to an injection point where it is injected into the national gas network. This is the way forward to make remote biomethane production facilities profitable and contribute to lowering the carbon footprint.

Like any other biogas upgrading projects, these Virtual Pipeline projects include a testing centre, including moisture, hydrogen sulfide and a full gas chromatography to monitor the testing set up that is typically found at an injection point. The upgraded biogas is tested in this testing centre before it is stored and transported to the injection point. This approach prevents any RNG that does not meet specification from getting shipped to the injection site, an error that could cost multiple days of expected revenue.

ROI From a Virtual Pipeline

As growing concerns about greenhouse gases, the use of natural gas is encouraged. The virtual pipeline should not be considered as a definitive alternative, but rather a faster way to move the biomethane to places where the conventional pipeline is not technically or economically viable. The Virtual Pipeline offers enormous flexibility and is a passport to new possibilities, it consolidates natural gas consumption and prepares the region for the future use of conventional gas supply.

Injecting biomethane directly into the natural gas grid is not always profitable for potential biogas upgrading projects. The cost and complexity required for such an undertaking are not always suitable for projects with a smaller production capacity or further away from an injection site. The virtual pipeline approach may be able to save or improve potential biogas upgrading projects by offering the flexibility to keep development moving along in the cases where injection points are an issue. As the value of biomethane has increased, the virtual pipeline approach is no longer a concept but an alternative option that can offer a quick return on investment and can greatly contribute to the development of regions.

About DMT Environmental Technology

DMT is a global solutions provider focused on creating a sustainable future. We are a social and environmentally responsible engineering company specialized in biogas upgrading and gas desulfurization. With over 150 references globally, we are one of the biggest biogas upgrading suppliers in the industry.

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Marjolein Overbosch | Marketing manager moverbosch@dmt-et.com

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