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High gas prices, air pollution, and concerns about green house gas emissions, coupled with public anxiety over dependence on foreign oil, are renewing interest in alternative fuels. Many U.S. wastewater treatment plant and landfill managers recognize the opportunity to beneficially use excess biogas as a fuel. These authors are involved in several studies on behalf of local governments to evaluate technologies that produce gaseous fuel; known as “biomethane” that is 98 to 99-percent methane from biogas. This paper synthesizes recent research on this subject in an effort to promote forward-thinking approaches to utilizing biogas as a renewable fuel, specifically for use by compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles and distributed via varying methods, including through the existing natural gas pipeline system.

Available CNG vehicles, vehicle performance and safety, and means for refueling are presented to shed light on the existing users and potential market for biomethane as a vehicle fuel. The treatment requirements to meet regulatory standards for biomethane used in CNG vehicles is presented and compared to the available treatment technologies. Technologies available for scrubbing and removing impurities from biogas to produce pipeline quality biomethane gas are discussed, including: iron sponge scrubbers, carbon scrubbers, biological hydrogen sulfide scrubbers, water scrubbers, membrane separation, pressure swing adsorption, and removal of carbon dioxide using glycol and amine solvents. Known suppliers serving the U.S. market with key equipment components for biomethane production, delivery, and use are listed. Gas delivery options include on-site refueling facilities as well as dedicated pipelines, truck transport, and use of the existing natural gas pipeline system to deliver biomethane to vehicle refueling stations. Costs to construct and operate a biogas scrubbing and biomethane refueling facility at the site of gas generation (e.g., at a wastewater treatment plant or landfill) are presented for four sizes of facilities, ranging from 56,000 to 940,000 cubic feet per day (raw biogas production) are presented and compared.

The opportunities are growing for local agencies to create a successful biomethane venture. Financial incentives, grants, and tax credits to off-set capital costs are discussed. This research also compiles available information on several operating facilities in Europe, especially in France and Sweden where biomethane fuel facilities have been in operations for the last 10 years. Such facilities have fleet vehicles powered by biomethane including city buses, garbage trucks, and even taxis. Global experiences provide examples of how political, economic, environmental, and other drivers have created successful partnerships between biogas generators, local natural gas utilities, and the final CNG vehicle users.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-01-01

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