OENG1118: Sustainable Engineering Design Project-Building a Methane Production Plant - Engineering Project Assessment Answers

August 17, 2017
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Question: Engineering Project Assignment

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Engineering Project Option 1

  • Automated Methane Extraction

– The objective of this project is to investigate technologies used to

extract additional methane (CH4) contained in effluents and develop a system of automation for its extraction. Methane biogas can be extracted from effluent and utilised for the generation of on- site electricity in waste water treatment facilities. Even if electricity generation is not cost effective, it is necessary to collect methane so that it can be flared (burned) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the treatment process.

Engineering Project Option 2

  • Melbourne Road-Rail Grade Separation – The objective of this project is to present a study for the

construction of a grade separation on road-rail level crossing. The road-rail level crossing for upgrading will be selected from across the Melbourne metropolitan area.

Engineering Project Option 3

  • Energy Monitoring Using infrared imaging Baking Ovens

– The energy usage and energy monitoring is an increasingly important issue for many food manufacturers in Victoria. Baking in particular is an energy intensive process and food manufactures are particularly interested in non- disruptive methods of adding energy monitoring to existing ovens. Current technology for energy monitoring often involves costly stoppage of the manufacturing processes. However, the recent advent of affordable and reliable infrared cameras has paved the way for non contact thermal energy monitoring to be deployed at various food manufacturing installations. The important issue arises from the fact that temperature measurement alone is not sufficient for energy monitoring. As such, the proposed project is aimed at the development of an innovative technology that uses the infrared imaging in combination with both oven and food thermal modelling to develop a non-disruptive energy monitoring technology prototype for baking process. If successful, the technology can be deployed to other forms of food manufacturing processes.

Assignment 1 (Individual)

  • You will prepare the sustainable system concepts that you are going to apply in the project in a written document.
  • You need to explain within the specified time the needs, context and possible system configuration of the facet you are designing.
  • You also need to propose preliminary solutions, based on your literature search and innovations. The work will be assessed on a set of criteria based on the above requirements.
  • The submission is expected to be in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 words.
  • This is an individual assignment (35%)

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Solution:  Sustainable Engineering Design Project-Building a Methane Production Plant



Methane which mostly is what makes up biogas is currently what is collected at the major wastewater treatment plants found in Melbourne, Australia. The methane collected is used in the renewable electricity generation project. At least 95% of what is produced in terms of energy from biogas which is mostly methane comes from only one plant. This is where the extra biogas that is not captured remains trapped in the plant’s effluents and is featured as micro-bubbles in the effluent or as dissolved methane (Daelman et al, 2013). The methane in the effluents can be used for additional onsite renewable energy generation. If the lost biogas is effectively captured, there is a possibility that consumption of renewable energy will have a net zero quantity. This project is therefore bound to create a methane production plant that allow for the extraction of the methane from the anaerobic effluent. If this methane is stripped, it may be a source of renewable power for all water treatment facilities.

Components Required

The methane generator

When primarily flammable gases are mixed together, they form biogas.  In order to produce these gases, there requires a component known as the methane generator. The most well-maintained and well managed methane generator can produce a good quantity of its own volume of biogas every other day. The generator is fed with food waste to produce a given amount of biogas dependent on the pounds of each of the solids put in the generator.  Therefore, in the case the generator is filled with 100 per cent solid, there is a probability that the generator will convert at most 60 per cent of the solids to biogas (Byun & Park, 2015). The solids mostly include food waste which works anaerobically the same way that it works for animals and human beings during digestive processes.

For each pound of dry material in the methane generator, the least cubic feet expected in terms of biogas energy is 3.  This therefore means that the make up for biogas is highly dependent on what an individual feeds to the methane generator. The reason why this is referred to as the methane generator is because biogas is mostly composed of methane or rather the bigger percentage of its com position is methane (CH4). This therefore approximately covers 70-80 % in comparison to other natural gases such as carbon dioxide among others. Biogas does not contain any combustible gases. These are gases such as butane, propane and ethane (Lin et al, 2016). They are mostly found in natural gas at approximately 20% of its components.  Biogas only contains non-combustible gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapour which is at very low percentages, hydrogen sulphide in traces and nitrogen which takes a much bigger percentage compared to all the non-combustible gases listed.

In order to produce biogas, the methane generator needs to be filled with grass silage. This produces at least 1 cubic feet of biogas per pound. A good amount of the right solid waste is great for the methane generator to produce any amount of biogas required. The best form of waste is always decomposed and is in plentiful and consistent supply at all times. The solid waste has to have a correct ratio of carbon dioxide and nitrogen (Jones, Nye & Dale, 2015). A methane generator has a feeding tube. That is used fill the vessel for the generator’s digestive purposes. The ‘digestate’ is the effluent outlet that allows for the removal of all digested solids and liquids. There is also a gas outlet and a tank known as the collection tank that is used to store the biogas.

When creating biogas, it is important that the temperature be maintained at 90 degrees Fahrenheit and if it is to exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, then it should not go beyond 100. These are the closest numbers to body temperature. The amount of external heat required for a methane generator can be reduced by either placing the generator under direct sunlight or using a greenhouse. In the case the generator needs extra insulation, it is important that it is wrapped with thin insulation foam that is flexible. If the insulation foam is in form of polythene paper, it should be either completely transparent or completely black for the best results. The methane gas generator has its own retention time depending on the amount of waste in pounds. This is the time it takes to convert solids into biogas. The rate of gas production is simply determined by the behaviour of the gas collection barrel in terms of expansion or contraction (Rodriguez et al, 2014).  What makes up effluent is the blend that comes from compostable solids and liquid rich in nutrients and is of low odour. In order to destroy any kind of pathogens, effluent is compost. Methane being a flammable gas makes it unsafe for methane generators to be to be contained in enclosed spaces or indoors. In the case the pressure drops around the biogas generator, it is bound to explode.

A methane generator produces fossil free gas for the utility purposes of a given area. Having a methane generator means that the amount of energy released can be controlled by the users and is very efficient if well utilised and maintained in accordance to the safety considerations (Daelman et al, 2013). The disadvantage of a methane generator is that it is immobile or cannot be frequently moved around. It also requires a whole lot of space to function far from residential areas. Another big problem comes with it pungent and bad smell as it converts the fuel to energy. In most cases, the best places where a methane generator can be maintained are in the rural areas.  This is because in several aspects, the places are mostly filled with ready sources for organic materials. This is mostly due to the considerably common high farming activity that takes place in the rural areas unlike in the urban centres. The benefits of a methane generator are that it prevents the release of methane gas to the air which is of more detrimental qualities in comparison to carbon dioxide which is also a greenhouse gas.

The flow regulator system

A flow regulator system is what stabilizes the methane gas production by controlling the hydrogen concentration of the gas. The hydrogen concentration has to be maintained at a given set point by continuously adjusting the reactor feed flow by using the proportional plus integral. A mathematical model of the process is what is used to tune the controller which appears in the form of a transfer function that has been estimated using a step-response experiment. The controller demands the feed flow range which can be found in the low end of the feed pump’s range (Beltramo et al, 2016). It may cause problems when it comes to obtaining the flow that is demanded. Pulse-width modulation is what helps obtain satisfactory pump control. It is however controlled by an on/off device where the demanded flow has to be equal with the average flow. A low pass filter is used to smooth the measurement signal for hydrogen that is mostly noisy. This is done before the measurement signal is connected to the controller. The control system has to be basically implemented using software that runs on a personal computer.  

A USB port is used to connect the device that controls the input and output. A system has to have major functionality levels in this case. It can also be remotely controlled by the use of internet-based supervision and control. The function used to control involves a proportional plus integral formula with the fixed parameter values being tuned where hydrogen and the operating point correspond. Stable control is also achieved at other operating points by the controller (Simeonov et al, 2014). The concentration PI calculates the analogue control signal. This is what the PC refers to as the feed flow. A very low required feed flow cannot be obtained at this rate. The pulse-width modulation comes in to play at this point. The remote internet-based access has to be set up using a secure device.

The flow regulator controls speed in that the valves that are within the flow control are connected to simple orifices that run up to electrohydraulic valves that are sophisticated and with closed loops. The valves adjust depending on the varying levels of pressure or temperature (Levisauskas, Jonelis & Brazauskas, 2015).  For the flow generator to work, the internet-based control and the direct USB port control have to be in sync with the whole process. In the case where the formula is incomplete then that means that the whole system becomes faulty which ruins the purpose of the PI meant to control the flow regulator. With the flow regulator, it makes it easier to maintain the state of the flow speed and the state of the system with relativity to biogas production.

The flow regulator system prevents the excessive emission of methane as a greenhouse gas. It rather disconnects the unnecessary flow of combustible gases to the air. It should therefore have a design that is inclined to pressure and temperature.

The Methane Gas Concentrator/ Purifier

The purification of natural gas has always been simple and includes no hidden formula or patterns. There is gas known as the feed gas which is pressurized and is transferred via the feed port to one portion of the membrane. There are permeating ports at the other side of the membrane which may necessitate the vacuum supply depending on the level of pressure of the feed (Estrada et al, 2014). The gases which are referred to as contaminants are capable of permeating the membrane much faster than methane. This may however strip the feed from the various contaminants.  They always have higher permeability levels than that of methane.

In the case where the gas is highly pure, it is possible for it to exit at the permeate port. In order for this to happen, permeate can be burnt or even cleared out as necessary. The silicone hollow fibre membrane packaging is more advantageous when it comes to clearing out contaminants or purifying methane.  It shows more benefits than the spiral wound format. The most common situation where the same is advantageous is when it comes to the applications of low feed pressure. There are ten times higher membrane area density per volume. The membrane lacks a porous substrate that may see into the limited compatibility and substantial lower cost per unit area.

The membrane technology is the most common purifications strategy for methane. The most effective aspect is that silicone is the one commonly used for the purification of natural gases (Robles et al, 2014). This has been done both commercially and as part of a research experiment. There has been research on finding the easiest technique towards the purification of the methane gas by using the membrane technology. The purification however takes very high operational aspects and costs. Dimethyl siloxane is an experimental purifier that was used to separate the hydrogen and carbon dioxide gases for experimental purposes. This was investigated in a continuous permeable system that would give the consideration of whether the two gases were a compatible match for the use in a biological hydrogen production process.

Biogas can be produced at many different environments. It is comprised of methane at 75% volume and carbon dioxide at approximately 25% volume depending on the level of pressure and temperature (Rodriguez et al, 2014). Hydrogen sulphide on the other hand is found in traces of thousand parts per million. In the case where methane is emitted, it is a powerful green house gas with worse effects than those of carbon dioxide. Hydrogen sulphide causes corrosion of the most important mechanical components that are within the engine generator sets.

Purification of biogas has environmental benefits. Therefore, with this in place, the method other than membrane technology that can be used to purify the gas is known as water and polyethylene glycol scrubbing. It removes carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide from biogas. This is mostly because they are both very soluble in water when compared to methane.  It has a purely physical absorption process. In this case there are no special chemicals that are required (Lin et al, 2016). This is known as chemical absorption. Once the solvent is regenerated, the bonds are broken and are correspondent to a relatively very high energy input.

In order for the purification process to be effective, there has to be a way in which the biogas is turned into a substitute for natural gas without having a negative effect on the environment. It is mostly turned into biomethane. Polymer membranes are the most common technological aspects used to turn biogas into biomethane without affecting the environment negatively. The benefits of turning biogas into biomethane are that it is a guaranteed quality that can be used for injection into the network. The recovery rate of methane increases from 95% to 98% after the process. This comes with an additional solution package.  The level of energy on purification is high and the environmental performances increase at a very high rate. It is a simple and very reliable process in terms of being economical and efficient in environmental cases. The main parts of a methane purifier consist of electrical cabinets and the automations section, oxygen and methane detectors, the membranes, the vent stack, and the biogas compressor.

 The electrical cabinet is responsible for the distribution of power into all the other parts of the methane purifier for it to function efficiently. The oxygen and methane detectors are what direct the gases that should permeate through the membranes while filtering out the unwanted gases. The membranes are responsible for the filtration and separation of the gases to their respective feed valves. The vent stack is the last section of the complete purification process. This is where the gases are flared or vented depending on the consistency and the effect to the environment (Hayashi et al, 2014). The biogas compressor stores the purified gas in an airtight storage area for it not to be contaminated.  The compressor controls the pressure relative to the amount of gas released from the vent.

Overall system controller

The most relevant biogas control system converts it into green energy for sustainability. This is done by operating the collective covers efficiently. It safely delivers biogas to be converted into green energy by protecting the cover from being damaged. The control system will allow for the prevention of sediments getting into the gas. These sediments are what contribute to its being impure and easily combustible. The other thing is that a reliable control system can allow itself to withstand corrosive gases such as hydrogen sulphide which exists in the biogas as an impure gas (Chen et al, 2015). Real time remote monitoring is allowed in this case, the control system is not selective towards various technological advancements that are reliable.

The withdrawal of biogas is regulated by the control system from underneath the cover. A consistency in the vacuum is maintained by the control system where biogas is removing at the same rate that it is generated (Upadhyay & Sharma, 2014). The water surface is what draws the cover in order for it not to be damaged by anything. It offers immediate and potential protection from damages.  In order for the control systems to create optimisation for the utility of biogas in engines or boilers, biogas storage is often incorporated. The base system is inclusive of the sufficient equipment that safely regulates the flow of biogas and the disposal of the same to a flare.

A good control system will deliver the biogas for use in low pressure applications without any negative effects. This means that with special applications, the biogas can be used in high pressure applications. Biogas in most cases is corrosive and therefore this means that all the biogas pipelines, valves and other relative equipment are designed in a way that they are resistant to the corrosive effect of the gases that come as a result (Guodong et al, 2013).  The corrosion resistant materials are put in place to avoid the destruction of the same. The most common material used is stainless steel. This allows for the trapping of moisture and with the presence of safety valves it becomes a complete biogas circuit.

There are emergency vent stacks that are solely meant for maintenance and allow for the dispersal of biogas into the atmosphere. The programmable logic controller found in the system is a remotely controlled aspect of the system and consists of software that can be manipulated with the right actions to suit the needs of the system. There are alarms attached to this system that are used as notification operators relative to real time issues. In a control system, the prevention of sediment accumulation is mostly by using paddle mixers that are very slow in movement along with propeller mixers that move very fast (Ross & Granda, 2013). It also stops the fermenter from floating in layers and promotes the separation of biogas at the same time. In order for the system to have a complete circuit it has to be effectively controlled remotely with back up information on the most reliable aspects of the system that make it unique and relevant.


Building a methane production plant is dependent on the amount of resources, the needs specific to the project and the levels at which the production of biogas affects the community. It also requires the responsibility over the release of methane into the atmosphere and how to handle it. The main aspects of this project include project planning which oversees all the safety measures, rules and outcomes. The second aspect is the engineering aspect which sheds light on the mechanical and scientific knowledge behind the construction of the methane plant. Another aspect is the component delivery which is relative to assembly as well and the installation of the same. A reliable control system has to be documented of all the electrical measurements and the technological control that is incorporated. To be able to maintain a control system in this case, it is relevant that all requirements regarding biogas production be met with a positive impact to both the community and the plant as well. The most reliable aspects of these are the project plans and training courses towards perfecting a methane plant.

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