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WASTE TO ENERGY


Identifying a biogas leak can prevent a serious incident from occurring


BIOGAS LEAKAGE


PREVENTING


Tim Elsome explains how to protect your AD plant from the silent killer


T


he UK’s anaerobic digestion (AD) industry has come a long way in a short space of time, growing by 350% in a decade to 648 operational facilities. Yet although many efficiency and health & safety advancements have been made across the industry in recent years, there remains room for improvement. In particular, the issue of biogas leakage is one that many AD operators are still failing to address; often because the problem is invisible. However, the dangers associated with it – from diminished profits to environmental pollution and health and safety risks – should not be underestimated. Tere are several costs caused by unidentified biogas leaks; there are also a number of inexpensive steps that operators can take to reduce the risks on their plant.


38 www.engineerlive.com


THE SCALE OF THE PROBLEM Although most responsible plant operators will be monitoring key parameters such as temperature, digester biology and biogas production on a regular basis, the vast majority are not checking for gas leaks, believing it’s an issue that doesn’t affect their plant.


Te evidence proves otherwise. Over the past eight years, 85% of the 964 plants FM BioEnergy has surveyed in the UK and Germany were suffering from biogas leakage. A quarter of these were deemed ‘significant’ (>1,000l CH4/h), causing serious financial losses and safety concerns; half had only minor leakages (<100l CH4/h); while the rest were deemed ‘medium’ (<1,000l CH4/h). In most cases, more than one leakage type was present. Translating this to the UK as a whole could mean that 550 plants are currently at risk; with 137 in danger of a serious


financial or safety breach. Furthermore, if each of these 550 plants was to leak an average of just 0.5% of their capacity, it could equate to a potential loss of 37GWhe-e a year, resulting in 6,000 tonnes of methane escaping into the atmosphere annually.


THE RISKS OF DOING NOTHING Te implications of this volume of methane being released are significant. According to the latest IPCC Assessment Report, methane is 34 times more potent than CO2


as a greenhouse gas over a


100-year period. For any industry to be emitting this volume of methane would be a concern; but for a renewable sector, whose entire premise is based on being green, this is catastrophic. Aside from the considerable


environmental impact, biogas leaks bring other risks. In the worst-case


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