Economic and Environmental Impact of Biochar Addition on Anaerobic Digestion Process

Source: AIChE
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  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    AIChE Annual Meeting
  • Presentation Date:
    November 16, 2021
  • Duration:
    15 minutes
  • Skill Level:
    Intermediate
  • PDHs:
    0.50

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Anaerobic digestion (AD) technology is becoming a promising pathway for producing clean and renewable natural gas from waste resources. Despite growing industrial adoption, AD technologies still suffer from inefficiency due to process instability and microbial inhibitions. Scientists have demonstrated that biochar addition has positive impacts on AD. Biochar addition increases biogas yield and methane concentration and reduces gas contaminants. This influence is attributed to several mechanisms: providing support for microbial colonization, adsorbing excess inhibitory products, and improving electron transfer between syntrophic microorganisms. However, due to the cost and energy-intensive conversion process, the additional costs for biochar addition could offset the resulting energy benefits. This study investigates an integrated biorefinery where corn stover biochar is added to the AD of animal manure to produce biogas-derived Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) for pipeline injection.

A kinetic model of AD, biogas upgrading, and pipeline injection is simulated in Aspen Plus TM for a mid-size farm with 5000 cattle heads. The process simulation model estimates a 28% increase in biogas yield for 3% (wt. % of wet mass) of biochar addition. High pressurized water scrubbing process is used for biogas upgrading into RNG. Techno-economic analysis (TEA) determines the minimum RNG selling price for a 30-year plant lifetime with a 10% Internal Rate of Return (IRR). TEA estimates the minimum RNG selling price as $42/MMBTU and $35/MMBTU for the without biochar and with biochar scenario, respectively. Biochar addition lowers the RNG selling price by 16% whereas adding revenue from digestate selling and renewable identification number (RIN) credits result in up to 32% reduction. Biochar addition increases the capital and operating costs by 8% and 13%, respectively. Cradle-to-gate life cycle analysis (LCA) is performed in SimaPro TM to evaluate the GHG emissions of biochar amended AD for RNG production. GHG abatement for the without biochar and with biochar scenario is 0.038 kg CO2 eq/MJ of RNG and 0.123 CO2 eq /MJ of RNG, respectively. LCA results show biochar addition leads to 2.18 times GHGs abatement compared to the without biochar scenario. Environmental benefits mostly come from the additional carbon sequestration with biochar land use and fossil fuel displacement by syngas from pyrolysis. Sensitivity analysis shows the influence of different major processes and economic parameters on the RNG selling price. The process is cost-prohibitive for small-scale farms due to the significant economy of scale penalty for the biogas upgrading and RNG injection facility. Increased biogas yield reduces the manure input leading to less digestate production. This would decrease the environmental benefits of emissions avoidance from conventional manure management and carbon sequestration per MJ of RNG while reducing the emissions from digestate transportation and applications. Uncertainty analysis considers the variations of key technical and economic parameters within a reasonable range and gives an estimated range of fuel selling prices and GHG abatement. Minimum RNG selling prices vary between $8.82/MMBTU and $16.28/MMBTU and GHG abatement vary between 0.06 kg CO2 eq/MJ and 0.16 kg CO2 eq/MJ within 10-90% confidence intervals.

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