Renewable energy is the way of the future. We see hydropower towers on river beds, wind farms on hillsides, and solar panels on rooftops. Now a company in Pennsylvania has perfected a way to produce biogas, or a gas fuel derived from the decay of organic matter, by extracting methane from decomposing landfill waste and supplying it to customers as an alternative “greenhouse” fuel.
Unharnessed, methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. The end user’s project uses wells to both oxygenate the waste mass — expediting the decomposition process — and to trap the raw biogas before it can escape into the atmosphere. Separators are then used to clean the gas by extracting methane from the remaining gas substance (composed of carbon dioxide and trace elements) for use as a natural gas alternative.
The whole process creates a symbiotic eco-relationship between waste and energy by aiding in the waste degradation process; repurposing methane that would have otherwise been emitted into the atmosphere; providing a less expensive form of energy to the world; and providing an alternative to less eco-friendly options.
One of the company’s biggest customers, a major international food supplier, uses the green energy as a natural gas substitute to power the boilers that keep its entire plant operating. Because the biogas supplied by the company is approximately half the cost of natural gas, the customer is able to significantly decrease their power costs without much of an upfront investment. To utilize the company’s biogas product, the customer had to customize their boiler system, but that required little more than increasing pipe sizes and installing an alternate piping system to be used in lieu of their natural gas or fuel supply.
“It’s just another supply link that has to be put in and retrofitted into the existing scheme of things. This cost is recouped quickly by the savings they receive from our program,” said an electrical engineer with the biogas-production company.
The plant is relatively large and spread out, with metering panels located throughout the various buildings on site to track the amount of gas used. Inside each of the three panels is a Rockwell Automation® CompactLogix™ PAC, which monitors gas flow variables to measure consumption at the facility.
To connect the biogas company’s main facility to its customers, a T1 hardwired phone line is used. The next decision was how to link up the end of the phone line at the customer site to the three PACs.
“Because the plants are so spread out, we opted to use wireless at those points to save on installation. We just needed to find a product that is robust and easy to implement,” the electrical engineer said. ProSoft Technology’s water- and dust-tight Industrial Hotspot radios were selected.
“We use CAT-5 cable and Power over Ethernet (PoE) for both power supply to the radio and communication between the radio and the PAC. PoE allows us to plug the radios right into our PACs, plus the casing allows them to be mounted outside without weather concerns,” the engineer said.
The T1 connection links the plant back to a master PAC in the biogas company’s main plant, which is constantly pulling meter data from the remote customer sites and feeding the information up the chain to corporate for billing.
The bandwidth allows them to see things in real-time, and is entirely automated so there is no need to go onsite at the customer’s facility to collect meter information.
“The radios are great. They saved us on installation and simplified implementation. I would recommend them to anyone,” the engineer said. “My ProSoft sales representative was incredibly helpful, involved in the process, and knowledgeable on the technology and application. He deserves kudos.”
The biogas company is a carbon-negative facility. They convert their own product onsite into electricity using an electrical generator to run their facility, so they are entirely self-sustained. The balance of remaining unused electricity is sold to the local utilities company, reducing dependency on fossil fuels.
The food manufacturer can feel good too. By using repurposed methane, the highly potent greenhouse gas was not emitted into the atmosphere.
“Landfill-gas-to-energy is not just an environmentally responsible choice, it makes sense financially,” the biogas company’s engineer said. “Another one of our customers was able to save enough money using our natural gas substitute to add a third shift during the week and schedule weekends into production. The extra shifts mean extra jobs. It’s a nice feeling.”
Learn more about ProSoft Technology’s Industrial Wireless Solutions here.