New technique could cut production time for biomethane in half

Researchers at the University of British Colombia’s Okanagan campus have found the key to speeding up the production process of biogas, according to an article on Phys.org.

The new research from Cigdem Eskicioglu, associate professor with UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering, and her team, could hold the key to biogas that is cheaper, safer and much faster to produce, the Phys.org article claims.

“Methane is a biofuel commonly used in electricity generation and is produced by fermenting organic material.” Eskicioglu told Phys.org. “The process can traditionally take anywhere from weeks to months complete, but with my collaborators from Europe and Australia we’ve discovered a new biomass treatment technique that can cut that production time nearly in half.”

Focusing on methane produced from materials found in agricultural and forest waste, such as wheat straw and corn husks, Eskicioglu and colleagues compared traditional fermentation processes with their new technique, and discovered that Douglas fir bark in particular could produce methane 172% faster than before.

The process developed by Eskicioglu and colleagues pretreats the initial organic material with carbon dioxide at high temperatures and pressures it in water before the whole mixture is fermented. Significantly, the process uses equipment and materials that are already available and in use on an industrial scale. This means retrofitting existing bioreactors or building new, miniaturised ones could be done cheaply and easily.

"The potential to more efficiently harness the energy from forestry waste products like tree bark can open a world of new opportunities," Eskicioglu explained to Phys.org. "The new fermentation process would be relatively easy to implement on site and because the bioreactors could be much smaller, the costs could be kept low."

Eskicioglu suggested that as well as speeding up the biogas production process, the new technique could also make the process safer.

"Unlike traditional biomass pretreatment for bioreactors, our method doesn't require the use or generation of toxic chemicals. We still have some work to do to move it to an industrial scale, but our results so far are very promising."

The research is set to be published in the upcoming edition of the journal Water Research.

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