What is biogas made from?

Biogas management and monitoring in commercial and industrial sites

It has long been known that emissions produced by human activity are having an adverse impact on the global environment and climate conditions. The most notorious gas when it comes to issues surrounding pollution and climate change is carbon dioxide, and this is largely because it is the most prolific byproduct of human activity. By volume, far more carbon dioxide emissions are released than any other so-called greenhouse gas and this is why so many climate change initiatives are focused on mitigation strategies such as carbon capture and sequestration.

This focus on carbon dioxide emissions as a major cause of climate change does not give a complete picture of the problems relating to gaseous emissions. In fact, it is important to look at the other substances that cause a net warming effect in the atmosphere, and one of the most potent is methane. Methane, or natural gas, is an organic compound that has more than 80 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, meaning that while it is produced in smaller volumes, it has a disproportionately large effect on the climate.

Methane is certainly a potent greenhouse gas and has a measurable contribution to global climate change. There are several sources of this gas, some natural and some created by humans. For example, naturally occurring methane deposits can be found in certain parts of the world in the form of peat bogs, and it is also found in high volumes in permafrost. Man-made sources of methane and biogas include landfills and animal agriculture, and these are closely monitored and factored into national and global emissions data.

The biggest methane and biogas leaks are the most severe. They can affect the health of people and property. Despite its low smell, it can still be detected with the help of a reliable methane monitor. In fact, it can even be traced to its source by using geolocation technology. These technologies have helped detect methane leaks across the globe. In the US and other nations, governmental agencies have launched programs for satellite monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions including methane.

What is biogas made from?

In order to answer the question of what is biogas made from, we first need to look into how it is created. While the individual circumstances can vary, the major process by which biogas is made is through bacterial decomposition of organic matter. When organic matter breaks down anaerobically (without the presence of oxygen), certain anaerobic bacteria are allowed to flourish, and as their biological processes vary from those of aerobic organisms, they produce substances such as methane as a byproduct, rather than carbon dioxide.

This process is seen on a large scale in landfills, but it also takes place in the digestive tracts of farmed animals, and in agricultural effluent pools. Furthermore, the natural bacterial action responsible for biogas production can be synthesised using artificially engineered environments known as digesters.

The gases resulting from this type of anaerobic decomposition are collected as biogas, which is largely made up of methane, with some carbon dioxide, nitrogen, ammonia, and other trace elements and compounds. The product is highly flammable, and burns much more cleanly than fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

Risks of using biogas

While it is generally considered a safe form of fuel, biogas routinely leaks from agricultural sites, and oil and gas wells and pipelines as well as from poorly managed landfills. It is often not detected until the leaks have spread and are causing significant damage. The risks associated with biogas leaks include atmospheric emissions, groundwater and surface water pollution, and even respiratory problems where concentrations are high. People with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and bronchitis are more likely to feel ill effects from biogas exposure, but it can also cause lightheadedness and nausea in those without such conditions.

A more immediate danger of biogas leaks comes from the fact that it is so flammable. While a leak may not cause an explosive or fire risk in a well ventilated or outdoor area, if the gas is allowed to accumulate then it can easily be ignited. A methane-monitoring system can identify leaks at low concentrations, allowing you to manage a leak before it can become a serious issue, and this is the best way to mitigate the risks associated with the use of biogas as a commercial, industrial or domestic fuel.

Found in:
Biogas and Biomethane
Oil and Gas