EPA 430-B -20-003
.AgSTAR Anaerobic Digester/Biogas System
Operator Guidebook
A Guidebook for Operating Anaerobic Digestion/Biogas
Systems on Farms in the United States
November 2020
0%	United States
Environmental Protection
m \ Agency

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
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U.S. EPA AgSTAR Program
AgSTAR is a voluntary outreach program that encourages the implementation of anaerobic
digestion (AD) projects in the agricultural and livestock sector to reduce methane (CH4)
emissions from agricultural residuals including livestock waste. AD projects can be cost-
effective mitigation techniques and provide numerous co-benefits to the local communities
where they are installed, including environmental, energy, financial, and social sector
AgSTAR is a collaborative program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that promotes the use of biogas
recovery systems to reduce ChU emissions from livestock waste. As an education and
outreach program, AgSTAR disseminates information relevant to livestock AD projects and
synthesizes it for stakeholders who implement, enable, or purchase AD projects. The
program's goals are to provide information that helps stakeholders evaluate the
appropriateness of an AD project in a specific location, to provide objective information on
the benefits and risks of AD projects, and to communicate the status of AD projects in the
livestock sector. Through the AgSTAR website (www.epa.gov/agstar) and at public events
and other forums, AgSTAR communicates unbiased technical information and helps create
a supportive environment for the implementation of livestock AD projects.
AgSTAR provides technical input to the USDA Rural Energy for America Program, which
provides grant funding for AD systems at farms.
AgSTAR works collaboratively with livestock producers, the digester and biogas industry,
policymakers, universities, and others to provide unbiased information to assess the use of
anaerobic digesters. By identifying project benefits, risks, and options, AgSTAR provides
critical information to determine whether an AD system is the right choice for an operation.

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Anaerobic Digester Operator Guidebook Purpose
The purpose of this Anaerobic Digester/Biogas System Operator Guidebook is to help on-
farm AD and biogas (AD/biogas) system operators improve performance and efficiency. It is
also intended to assist in the prevention of common difficulties and challenges that can
lead to community opposition and system shutdown. This Operator Guidebook covers
technical topics for a wide range of stakeholders. It is intended to be a resource that helps
operators maximize profitability by optimizing biogas yield, improving biogas quality and
improving operating uptime, while minimizing operations and maintenance (O&M)
expenses. The Operator Guidebook spans all aspects of on-farm AD/biogas production as
well as certain utilization processes, providing industry expert experience and suggestions
for dealing with performance, safety, and other issues commonly encountered with
AD/biogas systems.
This Operator Guidebook complements other AgSTAR resources for developing biogas
projects on U.S. farms. It is designed to be used in combination with the third edition of the
AgSTAR Project Development Handbook. The Project Development Handbook and the
Operator Guidebook were collectively prepared to improve the successful development,
implementation, and operation of on-farm AD/biogas systems.
While this Operator Guidebook addresses numerous aspects of AD/biogas systems, it is
not possible to cover every component, as there are many different types of systems, and
each AD/biogas project is unique. Therefore, this document should not be considered fully
comprehensive, nor should it be used in place of a site-specific O&M manual. Rather, it
should be considered a supplement to the operations manual provided by the project
developer or the engineering firm that prepared the project design and supervised the
construction and start-up of an AD/biogas system. Project stakeholders may utilize this
document to ensure that developing or existing site-specific O&M plans cover a baseline of
topics needed for successful project operation. The Operator Guidebook will be updated as
AD/biogas systems evolve.
Pursuant to 5 CFR § 2635.702(c)(2), names are displayed here as the result of recognition
for achievement given under an agency program of recognition for accomplishment in
support of the agency's mission. Any reference to a specific company or commercial
product or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, company, or otherwise does
not constitute or imply the endorsement or recommendation of EPA.
The EPA's AgSTAR Program would like to acknowledge the many individuals and
organizational contributors who supported the update and enhancement of this 3rd version
of the Project Development Handbook.

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Within EPA, work was led and directed by Nick Elger, AgSTAR & Global Methane Initiative;
Program Manager and Vanessa McKinney, AgSTAR Program Manager.
EPA also wishes to acknowledge and thank the following individuals who conducted a
technical and independent review of the document: Craig Frear, Regenis; Brian
Langolf, University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh; Bernie Sheff, Montrose Environmental Group,
Inc. and Mark Stoermann, Newtrient These industry experts also serve on the American
Biogas Council's Operations Committee, in order to offer AD/Biogas system Operators a
Best Practices Guide, on-site training, online training, and operators certification.
This document was prepared by Eastern Research Group, Inc. through a technical support
contract with EPA in support of AgSTAR. EPA wishes to especially acknowledge the efforts
of staff including Cortney Itle and Amber Allen. EPA would also like to acknowledge the
valuable input from Dr. John Martin from Hall Associates.
EPA also wishes to acknowledge and thank the following Tetra Tech staff who provided
significant technical and operational expertise in the development of the Operator
Guidebook: primary authors David Palmer and Phil Lusk. Supporting authors Chris Noah,
Keith Henn, Jeff Geer, and Jennifer Guo. Project management Cathy McGirl and Steve

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Table of Contents
Acronyms	iix
1.0 Introduction	1-1
2.0 Digester Basics	2-1
2.1	What Does an Anaerobic Digester Do?	2-1
2.2	How Does an Anaerobic Digester Work?	2-1
2.3	Types of Anaerobic Digesters	2-4
2.4	Key Factors for AD Efficiency and Performance	2-6
2.5	AD/Biogas System Components	2-6
2.6	Fundamentals of Biogas Safety	2-7
3.0 Operational Fundamentals	3-1
3.1	Retention Time	3-1
3.2	Organic Loading Rate (OLR)	3-1
3.3	Operating Temperature	3-2
3.4	Degradable Organic Material Conversion and Limitations	3-2
3.5	Biomethane Potential	3-3
3.6	Anaerobic Toxicity Assays (ATAs)	3-4
4.0 Process Control	4-1
4.1	Consistent Loading	4-1
4.2	Performance Monitoring	4-2
4.2.1	Biogas Monitoring	4-2
4.2.2	Digester Monitoring	4-3
4.2.3	Effluent Monitoring	4-3
4.3	Co-Digestion Recordkeeping	4-3
4.4	Critical Issues Analysis and AD Performance	4-3
4.4.1	Digester Loading Risks	4-3
4.4.2	Foaming	4-4
4.5	Critical Issues Response	4-5
5.0 Laboratory Testing and Data Recording	5-1
5.1	What Tests Should You Do?	5-1
5.2	Where Samples Should Be Taken and Proper Sampling Procedures	5-2
5.3	Frequency of Testing	5-3
5.4	Data Evaluation	5-4
6.0 Fundamentals of Digester Mechanical Systems	6-1
6.1 Pumps	6-1
6.1.1 PumpTypes	6-1
Table of Contents	iv

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6.1.2 Redundancy	6-2
6.2	Piping Systems	6-3
6.3	Mixing	6-3
6.3.1	Why Mix?	6-3
6.3.2	Mix Where?	6-3
6.3.3	What Are the Mixer Types?	6-4
6.3.4	What Are Mixer Maintenance Concerns?	6-4
6.4	Influent and Effluent Management	6-5
6.4.1	Pretreatment	6-5
6.4.2	Flow Equalization	6-5
6.4.3	Digestate Processing/Storage	6-5
7.0 Biogas Handling and Conveyance	7-1
7.1	Biogas Handling and Conveyance	7-1
7.2	Leak Testing	7-1
7.3	Pressure Regulation	7-3
7.4	Condensate Removal and Freeze Protection	7-4
7.5	Piping	7-4
7.6	Valves	7-5
7.7	Blowers and Compressors	7-6
7.8	Biogas Use	7-7
7.8.1	Combined Heat and Power (CHP)	7-7
7.8.2	Boilers and Furnaces	7-8
7.8.3	RNG	7-8
7.9	Biogas Processing	7-8
7.9.1	Processing for Onsite Combustion	7-8
7.9.2	Upgrading to RNG	7-10
8.0 System Inspection and Maintenance	8-1
8.1 General Maintenance Requirements	8-1
8.1.1	Routine Versus Major Maintenance	8-1
8.1.2	Impact of Process Conditions on Frequency	8-1
8.1.3	Monitoring Changes in Process Conditions	8-1
8.1.4	Insulation and Freeze Protection	8-2
8.1.5	Housekeeping	8-2
8.1.6	Buildings/Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC)	8-2
8.1.7	Site safety	8-3
8.1.8	Third-Party Expertise	8-3
8.1.9	Warranty	8-3
Table of Contents

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8.1.10	Digester Tanks and Vessels	8-3
8.1.11	PRVs	8-3
8.1.12	Drains and Vents	8-4
8.1.13	Leaks	8-4
8.1.14	Corrosion Monitoring	8-4
8.1.15	Fresh/Waste Oil Storage Tanks	8-4
8.2	AD Mechanical System Maintenance	8-4
8.2.1	Pumps	8-4
8.2.2	Mixers	8-5
8.2.3	Heat Exchangers	8-6
8.3	Biogas System Maintenance	8-6
8.3.1	Blowers and Compressors	8-7
8.3.2	Heat Exchangers	8-7
8.3.3	Particulate Filters	8-7
8.3.4	Coalescing Filter/Separator	8-8
8.4	Power and Heat Generation O&M	8-8
8.4.1	IC Engine	8-8
8.4.2	Routine	8-8
8.4.3	Oil Changes	8-9
8.4.4	Monitoring	8-9
8.4.5	Overhauls	8-9
8.4.6	Heat Exchangers and Pumps	8-9
8.4.7	Boilers	8-9
8.4.8	Chillers	8-10
8.5	Biogas Upgrading System Maintenance	8-10
8.5.1	H2S Removal	8-11
8.5.2	Bulk Moisture Removal	8-11
8.5.3	CO2 Removal	8-12
8.5.4	Dehydration	8-12
8.5.5	Compression	8-12
8.5.6	Activated Carbon and Other Media	8-13
8.6	Flare Maintenance	8-13
9.0 Odors and Odor Control	9-1
9.1	What Are Odors?	9-1
9.2	How Can Odors Impact the Viability of an AD Operation?	9-1
9.2.1	Potential Odor Sources	9-1
9.2.2	What Do Unusual Odors Mean?	9-1
Table of Contents	vi

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9.2.3	Odor Control	9-2
9.2.4	Building Control	9-2
9.2.5	Source Control	9-3
9.2.6	Odor Treatment	9-3
9.2.7	Biofiltration	9-3
9.2.8	Chemical Scrubbing	9-3
9.2.9	Adsorption	9-4
9.2.10	Odor Masking	9-4
9.2.11	Minimizing Odors During Operation	9-4
10.0 Safety	10-1
10.1	Biogas Safety Considerations	10-1
10.1.1	Flammability and Explosion	10-2
10.1.2	Explosive Gas Hazard Zones	10-3
10.1.3	Toxic Gases	10-4
10.1.4	Personal Detection Device	10-5
10.1.5	Permanent Gas Detection	10-5
10.1.6	Toxicity Hazard Zones	10-5
10.2	General Safety Considerations	10-6
10.2.1	Material Handling	10-6
10.2.2	Confined Space	10-6
10.2.3	Ventilation	10-7
10.2.4	Slips, Trips, and Falls	10-7
10.2.5	Electric Shock	10-8
10.2.6	Electrical Fire	10-8
10.2.7	Entanglement	10-8
10.2.8	High Pressure	10-8
10.2.9	Extreme Temperature	10-9
10.2.10	Noise	10-9
10.2.11	Drowning	10-9
10.2.12	Pests	10-9
10.3	Safety Conclusions	10-10
Table of Contents	vii

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List of Tables
Table 4-1. Digester failure relationships	4-5
Table 5-1. Recommended sampling for operating parameters	5-1
List of Figures
Figure 2-1. The four steps of anaerobic biodegradation	2-3
Figure 2-2. Photograph of an anaerobic digester facility (a patented sequential-
batch system)	2-5
Figure 3-1. Methods of biomethane potential determination	3-3
Figure 4-1. Biogas fluctuation with feedstock variability	4-1
Figure 2-1. Pump type examples	6-2
Figure 6-2. Illustration of a submersible mechanical mixer	6-4
Figure 7-1. Gas analyzer and flow diagram of sequence and gas analyzer	7-2
Figure 7-2. Examples of PRVs	7-3
Figure 7-3. Photograph and schematic of an isolation valve	7-6
Figure 7-4. Cross-section of a packed tower scrubber for an H2S removal system	7-9
Figure 7-5. Cross-section of a typical adsorber bed	7-11
Figure 7-6. Schematic diagram of a membrane permeation	7-12
Figure 7-7. Water scrubbing unit flow schematic	7-12
Figure 10-1. Safety signage on AD feed system	10-2
Figure 10-2. Explosion potential sign	10-4
List of Tables and Figures	viii

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AD	anaerobic digestion
ATA	anaerobic toxicity assays
BMP	biochemical methane potential
BOD	biochemical oxygen demand
CH4	methane
CHP	combined heat and power
CO2	carbon dioxide
COD	chemical oxygen demand
EPA	U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
H2S	hydrogen sulfide
HRT	hydraulic retention time
HVAC	heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
IC	internal combustion
IDLH	Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health
kg	kilogram
L	liter
lb	pound
LEL	lower explosive limit
mg	milligram
NH3	ammonia
O2	atmospheric oxygen
O&M	operations and maintenance
OLR	organic loading rate
OSHA	Occupational Safety and Health Administration
ppm	parts per million
PRV	pressure relief valve
PSA	pressure swing adsorption
RNG	renewable natural gas
SRT	solids retention time
TKN	total Kjeldahl nitrogen
TS	total solids
UEL	upper explosive limit
VFA	volatile fatty acid
VS	volatile solids

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
l. o Introduction
Anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas systems are designed to convert biodegradable
organic materials into recoverable methane (ChUHich gas and a stabilized digestate using a
well-documented, complex biological process.
A successful AD/biogas system operator has one primary objective: provide the
microorganisms in the digester with a favorable environment to maintain a stable
population. If this stability is achieved, the microorganisms will efficiently convert readily
biodegradable organic materials into biogas and other products, which can then be
captured and utilized, prohibiting their release into the environment. Achieving this
primary objective is challenging because AD/biogas systems comprise complex biological
and mechanical engineering systems that must work together efficiently. An
underperforming mechanical system will limit the AD/biogas system's ability to perform the
necessary biological processes. Similarly, a biological system failure means that even the
best mechanical system will only be useful for moving ineffective biomass out of the
reactor vessel, requiring a restart of the operating system.
The goal of this Operator Guidebook is to increase understanding of effective operations
and maintenance (O&M) for the performance of these complex systems. This document is
intended to be a resource for AD/biogas system owners, managers, operators, and other
project stakeholders to educate, maintain, or improve effective operation. Operators can
also maximize profitability by increasing biogas yield, quality, utilization, and operating
uptime while minimizing O&M expenses and avoiding common difficulties that can lead to
lower performance, shutdown, and community challenges such as odors. The Operator
Guidebook addresses fundamental questions about "what it takes" to successfully operate
and maintain an AD/biogas system on an agricultural operation.
Effective operator training can increase AD/biogas system productivity and operating
efficiency. Training can help avoid some of the common challenges that, if not actively
managed, could lead to unintended AD/biogas plant shutdowns, neighbor complaints, or
elevated operator costs.
This Operator Guidebook is not intended to serve as a fully comprehensive standalone
reference guide, provide regulatory guidance, or take the place of a site-specific O&M
manual, but rather to serve as a complement to these essential resources. Each facility
should have its own comprehensive, site-specific O&M manual that addresses the
•	Specific O&M requirements for each portion of the system.
•	An operation plan discussing the system's operating sequence.
•	As-built drawings, schematics, and diagrams for the system.
1.0 Introduction

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
•	Clear instructions on any automated system, including descriptions of the automated
functions and related operating procedures.
•	General daily functions.
•	Potential site-specific safety issues, mitigation measures, and procedures.
•	Specifications and O&M requirements for the major equipment pieces.
All agricultural AD/biogas systems employ two distinct processes that must work together:
•	The biological process involves the microbial population that breaks down
biodegradable organic material and converts a portion of it into CbU-rich biogas and
digestate. Just as livestock farmers work to maintain proper animal nutrition, consistent
feeding, and comfortable living conditions to maximize livestock growth or food
production (milk or egg), AD/biogas system operators must also work to maintain
proper AD nutrition, including consistent and high-quality feed and sustainable living
conditions for their microorganisms. If these conditions are consistently achieved, the
AD will efficiently produce high-quality biogas, digestate, and resultant saleable
products on a consistent basis.
•	The mechanical process involves the facility's conveyors, pumps, blowers, piping,
tanks, and other equipment that move and process the incoming organic material and
the recovered biogas and digestate. The mechanical process also includes equipment
for biogas utilization (as biogas can be used as a source of energy either for on-farm
use or for sale). Just as farm operators must maintain their tractors, implements, and
manure-handling equipment to properly maintain farm production, AD/biogas system
operators must also maintain the mechanical systems to ensure consistent production
of high-quality biogas, digestate, and resultant saleable products.
This Operator Guidebook focuses on biological and mechanical O&M considerations.
1.0 Introduction

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
2.0	Digester Basics
2.1	What Does an Anaerobic Digester Do?
In simplified terms, anaerobic microbes within the AD degrade or break down organic
matter to obtain energy and nutrients for growth and reproduction. Biogas, a byproduct of
this process, is composed primarily of CH4. Biogas also includes carbon dioxide (CO2), as
well as trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and ammonia (NH3), which must be
removed for certain biogas end uses. An engineered AD system creates a controlled
environment that efficiently converts biodegradable organic materials (i.e., manure) into
biogas and produces a stabilized residual effluent (digestate) that can be put to beneficial
use. The primary responsibility of the AD/biogas system operator is to maintain process
stability. If this is done successfully, a well-designed, constructed, and operated AD/biogas
system will have a microbial community that is very effective at generating biogas.
AD functions include:
•	Converting biodegradable organic matter into biogas, which can be sold as a fuel or
combusted for on-farm energy use.
•	Reducing biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD).
•	Reducing odors.
•	Converting organic nitrogen into more plant-available forms that can be used as
•	Reducing pathogens.
•	Capturing CH4 that otherwise would be released.
2.2	How Does an Anaerobic Digester Work?
This section describes the underlying biochemical principles of AD. The biochemical
conversions in an anaerobic digester are quite complex; in simple terms, a variety of
microorganisms break down the readily biodegradable organic matter to form biogas.
Organic matter anaerobically decomposes naturally under wet conditions where dissolved
oxygen (O2) is absent. This most commonly occurs in the bottom sediments of lakes and
ponds, swamps, peat bogs, animal intestines, and the interiors of solid waste landfills.
The AD process involves the following four steps:
2.0 Digester Basics

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
• Hydrolysis—Complex organics are broken down into
simple organics. Specifically, hydrolytic
microorganisms break down complex organic
compounds such as proteins, carbohydrates, and
VFAs can cause strong odors
due to their small molecule
size and ability to volatize
quickly. VFAs in high
concentrations lower digester
pH, which can contribute to
system upset. VFAs are
discussed in further detail in
Text Box l
Volatile Fatty Acids (VFAs)
• Acidogenesis—Acidogenic microorganisms ferment
the simple organics into short-chain fatty acids (also
called volatile fatty acids [VFAs]), CO2, and hydrogen
•	Acetogenesis—Acetogenic microorganisms convert
the mixture of short-chain fatty acids to acetic acid, with the release of more CO2 and
hydrogen gases.
•	Methanogenesis—CbU-producing microorganisms called methanogens convert acetic
acid and hydrogen to biogas. The biogas is a mixture of CH4, CO2, other compounds of
lesser proportion such as H2S, and numerous trace elements. There are two classes of
methanogens: one class primarily converts the acetic acid to CH4, while the other class
combines the hydrogen and CO2 into ChU; some unique methanogens can do both.
The four steps of anaerobic biodegradation are shown in Figure 2-1.1 One key to successful
AD operation is maintaining a balance between the populations of the methanogenic
microorganisms and the hydrolytic, acidogenic, and acetogenic microorganisms—which are
heterotrophs, meaning that they consume complex organic substances. It is important to
ensure an adequate population of methanogens because methanogens reproduce at a
slower rate than heterotrophs. With insufficient methanogens, VFAs will accumulate, and
these acids are toxic to methanogens at higher concentrations.
1 Image source: "Biomass degradation." Institute of Microbiology, Technische Universitat Dresden, https://tu-
2.0 Digester Basics	2-2

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
To maintain methanogens, the rate of methanogen loss in the digester effluent should not
be greater than the rate of methanogen growth. This can be managed by controlling the
amount of time that waste is in the digester, called the residence or retention time. To
achieve the desired conversion of any specific organic waste, including livestock manure,
operators must maintain the digester-specific design values for residence times (discussed
in Section 3.1).
Most AD/biogas systems employ a single reactor, where the production of acetic acid,
hydrogen, CO2, and CH4 occur concurrently. Theoretically, separating the various
populations of microorganisms should provide for more precise process control. Two-stage
digesters target microorganisms for the first three phases of digestion (hydrolysis,
acidogenesis, and acetogenesis) in the first vessel and the CbU-forming microorganisms in
a second, downstream vessel. However,
separating phases of AD has not been
shown to offer any significant advantage
over single-stage digestion.
In all cases, given the range of process
options, the art of deploying a successful
digester lies in selecting the best
engineering solution for the specific
(amino a
(e.g., prof,.„,„„,
Text Box 2
Basics of Microbial Biogas Production
•	Degradable organic matter is converted
to biogas via a consortium of
microorganisms, which occurs in four
1.	Hydrolysis
2.	Acidogenesis
3.	Acetogenesis
4.	Methanogenesis
•	Heterotrophic microorganisms (which
perform hydrolysis/acidogenesis/
acetogenesis) grow faster than the CH4-
forming microorganisms
•	Due to these growth rate differences,
the methanogen colony needs to be
larger to convert the acids to biogas.
acetic acid

acetate oxidizing/ acetogenic bacteria
carbon dioxide
Figure 2-1. The four steps of anaerobic biodegradation.
feedstock (i.e., material being converted in the anaerobic digester) being treated. There are
numerous design, operational, and cost reasons for choosing a specific type of digester.
Each type should be considered carefully for its suitability to treat the specific feedstock.
2.0 Digester Basics

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
There is not any one AD/biogas system design or technology that works the best for all
feedstocks. This Operator Guidebook does not endorse any specific brand or process.
2.3 Types of Anaerobic Digesters
There are two basic approaches for anaerobically digesting organic matter—conventional
AD and high solids digestion. Conventional AD is used when organic matter is managed as
a liquid (i.e., manure with a total solids [TS] concentration of up to 10-12 percent).
Commonly used conventional anaerobic digesters are listed below, although other
conventional designs may be feasible for on-farm applications. See the AgSTAR Project
Development Handbook (Section 3.4) for more information.
•	Completely mixed digesters
•	Covered lagoons
•	Plug flow digesters
•	Modified plug flow digesters (vertically mixed plug flow digesters)
Conventional AD can be classified by its rate of biogas generation. High-rate digesters are
heated and hydraulically or mechanically mixed. Standard-rate digesters are not typically
heated or mixed. High-rate digesters include completely mixed digesters (also called
complete mix digesters) as well as modified plug flow digesters. Other plug flow digesters
do not fit neatly in either category because they are heated but not mixed. A covered
lagoon is considered a standard-rate digester due to the absence of heating or mixing.
There are numerous variations of these basic types of digesters.
Other types of high-rate digesters that are generally not feasible for on-farm application
•	Upflow anaerobic sludge beds
•	Attached growth (fixed film) systems
•	Induced bed reactors
2.0 Digester Basics

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
These types of digesters are suitable only for wastes with a very low percent solids.
Figure 2-2. Photograph of an anaerobic digester facility
(a patented sequential-batch system).2
For manures that are managed as a solid, conventional AD is not an option because of the
inability to pump and mix the material. Manures are managed as a solid when the manure
is combined with liberal amounts of bedding or another biodegradable organic waste such
as a solid food processing waste. Digestion of a solid waste involves stacking the waste in a
container that can be sealed to collect the biogas being produced. This process is called
high solids AD or "dry fermentation." High solids AD is normally a batch process (i.e.,
feedstocks are loaded at once, digestion occurs, then the container is emptied and
2 Image source: BioCycle, https://www.biocycle.riet/2012/03/14/anaerobic-digestion-in-the-northwest/.
2.0 Digester Basics

AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
2.4 Key Factors for AD Efficiency and Performance
The amount of organic material converted
into CH4 by an AD/biogas system and the
efficiency of conversion depends on many
factors, as shown in the Text Box 3.
Text Box 3
Key AD/Biogas Parameters Required to
Maintain Efficient Biogas Production
This complex set of parameters is highly
dependent on site-specific conditions,
including chemical and physical
characteristics of the feedstock, the
AD/biogas system design, technology, etc.
These parameters are defined and
Several parameters determine the efficiency
of converting organic materials to biogas:
•	Retention time
•	Organic loading rate (OLR)
•	Temperature
•	Characteristics of volatile solids (VS)3
•	Inhibitors4
discussed in greater detail in Section 3.0.
2.5 AD/Biogas System Components
On-farm AD/biogas systems include the following components:
•	A structure for waste reception and short-term storage. This may be an aboveground or
in-ground tank and include a pump for transferring the waste to the digester.
•	A digester, which may be an aboveground tank or a covered lagoon. For high-rate AD,
the digester contains a mixing system to maintain completely mixed conditions and
internal or external heat exchangers for digester heating.
•	An effluent (digestate) storage structure, which most commonly is a fill-and-draw
storage lagoon. For effluent stored in the structure, land application is the method of
ultimate disposal.
•	A biogas processing system to remove impurities, with the degree of processing
dependent on the intended use of the gas. When the intended use is onsite fuel,
processing usually is limited to the reduction of moisture and H2S concentrations. When
the objective is to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) for sale, more extensive
processing is required. This includes removal of CO2, NH3, and other impurities in
addition to moisture and H2S.
•	Equipment for biogas use or destruction. This often includes one or more engine-
generator sets that combust the biogas to produce electricity for onsite use and/or sale
3	VS is the organic fraction ofTS, a portion of which is converted into biogas.
4	Inhibitors refer to toxic chemicals or contaminants or other conditions that prohibit the controlled biological
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to the local electric utility. Typically, waste heat from engine-generator sets is recovered
for on-farm use, such as digester heating or other heating needs. Biogas can also be
used onsite as boiler or furnace fuel in place of natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, or
heating oil. Interconnection equipment is required when biogas or generated electricity
is used off site. All systems include a flare to safely burn surplus biogas.
Some AD/biogas systems may also include one or more of the following components:
•	Waste pretreatment, which most commonly is the screening of dairy cattle manure to
remove coarse, slowly digestible fiber before digestion in a covered lagoon.
Pretreatment could also include grinding or maceration when there will be co-digestion
with other wastes such as food wastes.
•	Solids separation, to remove and concentrate solids from the digester effluent. With the
digestion of dairy cattle manure, this
would most commonly use a screw
press with the separated solids used
for bedding. These separated solids
can be dried, composted, or both for
sale as a soil amendment.
•	Equipment for nutrient and water
recovery. Nutrient capture processes
such as dissolved air flotation may be
used to recover phosphorus, nitrogen,
and potassium from separated solids.
Technologies for nutrient recovery
using ultra-filtration and reverse
osmosis are available but have not
been widely used for livestock waste.
These systems concentrate primary
plant nutrients and produce a dischargeable effluent.
2.6 Fundamentals of Biogas Safety
Biogas is primarily composed of CH4 and CO2, and it contains small amounts of H2S, NH3,
volatile organic compounds, water vapor, and other substances. In certain concentrations,
some of these gases may be flammable, explosive, toxic, or asphyxiating. Handling biogas
requires respect and caution. CH4 is combustible with air at concentrations between 5
percent and 15 percent, known as the lower explosive limit (LEL) and the upper explosive
limit (UEL), respectively. Biogas systems typically produce CH4 concentrations in the range
of 45 percent to 70 percent, and introducing air into the biogas handling system could
bring the CH4 concentrations into the explosive range, presenting risk of an explosion in
the presence of an ignition source. H2S is a toxic gas that can cause severe health effects or
Text Box 4
Safety First—Monitoring Gas
Concentrations to Protect Worker Health
and Safety
•	AD/biogas systems typically produce CH4
concentrations between 45 percent and 70
percent. CH4 is combustible with air at
concentrations between 5 percent and 15
percent. The combination of CH4, air, and a
spark in a closed condition can cause an
•	CH4 and H2S are toxic gases that can cause
severe health effects or death.
•	Sufficient monitoring and design are
required to minimize potential health or
safety issues.
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AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
death. Adequate safety procedures are necessary to protect workers and equipment.
Safety should be the focus of plant designs and operating procedures and is further
discussed in Section 10.0.
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AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
3.0	Operational Fundamentals
As noted in Section 2.4, site-specific operating parameters influence an AD/biogas system's
ability to convert organic matter to CH4. Key parameters are discussed below. Further
information may also be found in the Project Development Handbook.
3.1	Retention Time
Retention (or residence) times are important for maintaining healthy microbial populations
in an AD/biogas system:
•	Solids retention time (SRT) is the average length of time the feedstock VS or COD
remain in the digester's reactor and remain in contact with the microbes.
•	Hydraulic retention time (HRT) or hydraulic residence time is the average length of
time the dissolved portion of the waste spends in the digester.
SRT is the most important design and operating parameter for AD. It is critical for
maintaining a population of the slower-growing methanogenic microorganisms that is
adequate to convert the acetic acid, hydrogen, and CO2 produced by the heterotrophic
microorganisms to biogas. If a digester SRT falls significantly below the design values, the
rate of loss of methanogens in the digester effluent will exceed their rate of growth. The
result will be the accumulation of VFAs, which are toxic to methanogens in high
concentrations. The result is an upset or "stuck" digester.
The required HRT for an AD/biogas system is determined by many factors, including:
•	Laboratory data available for similar feedstocks
•	BMP test results
•	OLRs published for the digester type
•	HRT minimum published for the digester type
For plug flow and completely mixed digesters, the HRT and SRT are equal. Therefore, a
significant increase in influent volume will significantly reduce SRT, and a "wash out" of the
methanogen population will occur. This could happen if a new waste source not
incorporated into the original digester design is added to the digester. For unmixed
covered lagoons, SRT greatly exceeds HRT due to the accumulation of settled solids.
However, a reduction of HRT below design value will reduce biogas production and the
degree of waste stabilization.
3.2	Organic Loading Rate (OLR)
The organic loading rate (OLR) indicates the amount of VS that can be fed into the digester
per day. Maintaining a consistent OLR is critical to maintaining a healthy microbial
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Text Box 5
Temperature Ranges of Biogas
Biogas is generated in three temperature
•	Psychrophilic (less than 68 °F)
•	Mesophilic (86 °F to 104 °F)
•	Thermophilic (122 °Fto 140 °F)
Conventional AD/biogas systems are
commonly designed to operate in either
the mesophilic or thermophilic
temperature range.
population for all digesters and thus effective
AD/biogas system performance. OLR usually
is expressed as pounds of VS added per cubic
foot of digester volume per day. The OLR of
an anaerobic digester determines the sizes of
the various microorganism populations under
steady-state conditions. Therefore, any
significant increase in the OLR must be
gradual to allow for an increase in microbial
OLR is an important design parameter for
covered anaerobic lagoons. For plug flow and
completely mixed digesters, maintaining a
consistent OLR translates to maintaining a constant SRT and HRT.
3.3	Operating Temperature
In nature, biodegradable organic matter anaerobically decomposes over a wide range of
temperatures; the rate of decomposition increases as temperature increases, since
microbial growth increases as temperature increases. However, the species of
methanogens present at ambient temperatures differ from those in a heated digester. The
microorganisms generally are characterized as psychrophilic (present at less than 68 °F),
mesophilic (present at 86 °F to 104 °F), and thermophilic (present at 122 °F to 140 °F).
Ambient conditions are generally used for in-ground, low solids covered lagoons, which are
most effective in warm climates. The areas of the United States that have temperatures
high enough to support energy recovery from ambient temperature digesters are generally
below the 40th parallel north.
3.4	Degradable Organic Material Conversion and Limitations
VS refers to the fraction of TS that are combustible and are used as an estimate of organic
matter content. Managing VS is important for maintaining a stable OLR. Manure solids are
composed of VS and minerals (commonly referred to as fixed solids or ash). While all
organic matter is ultimately biodegradable, its various components degrade at different
rates. Organic matter is a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Although most
proteins and fats are readily biodegradable and decompose rapidly, the biodegradation
rates of different carbohydrates vary significantly. For example, simple sugars are readily
biodegradable, whereas more complex carbohydrates such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and
especially lignin biodegrade more slowly. Of the three, cellulose is the most readily
biodegradable, whereas lignin is the most resistant.
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3.5 Biomethane Potential
The potential to produce biogas from an organic waste can be determined both
experimentally and theoretically. A diagram demonstrating different methods of
determining biomethane potential is shown in Figure 3-1.
Methods of Biomethane Potential Determination
Direct Methods
(Measured via
Indirect Methods
(Estimated & calculated from
indirect measurement)
BMP test

The Envital' kit
transform mid-
Figure 3-1. Methods of biomethane potential determination.5
The direct experimental method is known as the biochemical methane potential (BMP)
assay. It is a laboratory-scale batch digestibility study where the waste material is added to
an active population of anaerobic heterotrophs and methanogens, and the produced
biogas is collected, measured over time, and compared to a control reactor. The control
reactor contains an active population of anaerobic heterotrophs and methanogens. The
control reactor's biogas production is then subtracted from the biogas production of the
reactor containing the waste to determine net biogas production. Usually, VS reduction
over time is also calculated to determine the fraction of organic matter that is readily
BMP assays are conducted under controlled conditions and tend to overestimate biogas
production when compared to actual full-scale field conditions. A more accurate but more
expensive approach is to determine biogas production potential in a pilot plant-scale
5 Image source: Jingura, R. M., & Kamusoko, R. (2017). Methods for determination of biomethane potential of
feedstocks: a review. Biofue! Research Journal, 4(2), 573-586. https://dx.doi.Org/10.18331 /BRI2017.4.2.3.
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reactor, simulating expected full-scale digester operating conditions. Pilot plant-scale
testing is typically done for municipal systems but is uncommon for on-farm systems.
A BMP assay can be especially valuable for testing the successful use of AD for mixtures of
manure and other wastes. While the BMP of each waste can be determined individually, a
BMP assay of the wastes combined in the expected proportions is more accurate since it
captures any possible synergetic effects; it also reduces the number of tests and therefore
the costs.
Indirect methods are estimated and calculated from indirect measurement. They include
analysis of various parameters, including TS, COD, and VS, in combination with subsequent
calculations to estimate biogas production. Indirect methods are relatively quick and can
be conducted at a lower laboratory cost, but they also require assumptions about
biodegradability. For example, based on stoichiometry, the complete conversion of organic
compounds under anaerobic conditions would yield 5.6 standard cubic feet of CH4 per
pound of COD destroyed. However, this relationship is only useful for analysis if the
expected COD reduction is known. Because indirect methods are estimates based on
assumptions, the results are less precise than direct measurements.
3.6 Anaerobic Toxicity Assays (ATAs)
There are a variety of chemical compounds that can inhibit AD and especially CH4
formation. These include chlorinated compounds, such as detergents and bleach, and
quaternary ammonium compounds. These materials are used extensively for cleaning and
sanitizing equipment and facilities in the food processing industry and in milking centers
on dairy farms. Other substances of concern include antibiotics, other pharmaceuticals,
and pesticides.
Toxic compounds are most commonly introduced when another waste, such as food
processing waste, is co-digested. When considering co-digestion, the best approach is to
initially conduct anaerobic toxicity assays (ATAs) on random samples of the waste. Because
it is impractical to perform ATAs on samples of every waste delivery, the digester owner or
operator should evaluate the potential risk versus reward based on the assay results and
discuss with the waste generator the nature of their operation and the specific processes
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AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
4.0	Process Control
Adequate monitoring and controls help the operator maintain proper operating conditions
and digester health and ensure AD/biogas system performance. This section describes the
necessary process controls and monitoring.
4.1	Consistent Loading
Maintaining a stable microbial ecosystem is critical to successfully operating all types of
anaerobic digesters, which includes maximizing the biogas production potential. This
requires a regular schedule for waste addition at the design volume to maintain the design
SRT. It also requires minimizing variation in influent physical and chemical characteristics,
including TS and VS concentrations, to maintain a constant OLR.
When a mixture of different wastes is being co-digested, the wastes should be added
concurrently in constant proportions and ideally blended before being added to the
digester. Although biogas production can increase drastically with the addition of
substrates, inconsistent loading (due to factors such as a lack of storage space, delivery
times, types of substrates and their speed of biodegradability), can result in high
fluctuations in biogas production. Figure 4-1 illustrates this increase in biogas production
and biogas variability when substrates are added to manure but loading is inconsistent. As
seen in the figure, biogas production was considerably lower, with far less fluctuation,
during the period where no substrates were added.

ra 200,000
o Total Biogas
•	Total Manure
•	Total Substrate
400,000 _0
300,000 5
200,000 O
7/15/2015	11/26/2016
Figure 4-1. Biogas fluctuation with feedstock variability.e
6 Source: Data provided to AgSTAR by Regenis for farrn-based anaerobic digester data 2012-2019. Data
recorded with online liquid and gas flow meters as well as substrate delivery volumes. Dairy manure and
various pre-consumer food processing organic wastes.
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AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
A digester can be operated as a continuous or semi-continuous flow reactor. Operating a
digester as a continuous flow reactor involves adding a constant flow of waste uniformly
over a 24-hour period. Semi-continuous flow operation, where waste is added one or more
times per day at equal time intervals, is more common.
The various mechanical systems involved in the routine addition of digester influent, such
as piping and pumps, must operate reliably to ensure maintenance of steady-state
conditions. Therefore, routine performance monitoring and preventative maintenance as
specified in the manufacturer's O&M manual are necessities. Operators should check for
blockages, as blockages can lead to over-pressurization and structural damage. Operators
should also verify actual pumping rates. Measuring digester influent holding tank
drawdown during a feeding cycle can be an easy way to check influent pump performance.
4.2 Performance Monitoring
AD/biogas system operators should monitor the system's performance to look for
inconsistencies and notable changes, as these are indicators of digester upset or
impending upset.
4.2.1 Biogas Monitoring
The key indicator of anaerobic digester performance is biogas production. Therefore,
biogas production should be continuously measured and recorded. A reduction in biogas
production is a clear indicator that either design operating parameters are not being
maintained or a toxic substance has been fed into the digester. Biogas composition, the
relative percentages of CH4 and CO2 by volume, is also an important indicator of process
stability or instability. While the ratio of CH4 to CO2 in biogas will vary to some degree
depending on the influent waste's chemical composition, an abrupt or even gradual
increase in the percentage of CO2 also indicates a loss of process stability due to a
reduction in the conversion of CO2 to CH4.
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AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
4.2.2	Digester Monitoring
To keep the AD/biogas system operating, it must be monitored to detect problems and
prevent upsets that can interrupt operation. Daily checks or monitoring should be made, at
a minimum, of digester flow rates and loading rates. For heated digesters, the temperature
of the digester contents should be continuously measured. In addition, the heat source
being used for digester heating should be routinely inspected and maintained in
accordance with the manufacturer's O&M manual.
Toxicity testing should be routinely done when co-digesting feedstocks come from outside
sources. For example, typical sources of inhibitory materials in food processing wastes are
compounds used for cleaning and sanitation such as chlorine and ammonia (NH3). Many
operators also check VFA levels on a regular basis but typically not daily. Measuring VFA
concentrations requires more sophisticated analytical methods, either distillation or gas
chromatography, and a specialized laboratory must perform these. The cost of these
methods is significant and probably not justified for routine performance monitoring.
4.2.3	Effluent Monitoring
Digestate pH and alkalinity should be monitored. A properly operating digester will have
neutral or slightly alkaline effluent pH between 7.0 and 8.0. However, pH tends to be a
lagging indicator of anaerobic digester process instability.
The most reliable indicator of process stability is alkalinity. Alkalinity is the measure of a
buffering capacity, or the ability to resist a change in pH due to the addition of an acid or
base. Therefore, the accumulation of VFAs and C02will be reflected in a reduction in
alkalinity even before a decrease in pH. Measuring alkalinity is a relatively simple
procedure and can be determined on site at a modest cost (the cost of chemicals and
laboratory glassware).
4.3	Co-Digestion Recordkeeping
When wastes obtained from offsite sources are being co-digested with livestock manures,
detailed records should be kept. Each source should be recorded, along with the date and
time of delivery and the volume delivered. At a minimum, pH should be measured and
recorded. Ideally, a representative sample of each delivery should be collected and
preserved for possible future toxicity, physical, and chemical analysis.
4.4	Critical Issues Analysis and AD Performance
4.4.1 Digester Loading Risks
As noted previously (see Sections 3.2 and 4.1), maintaining a constant OLR is critical to
successful AD health and performance. Rapid changes in OLR can adversely affect the
biological balance, can cause undesirable conditions such as foaming, and can even cause
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AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
the death of the methanogenic bacteria. When a digester fails because of unbalanced
microbiological conditions, it must be emptied and restarted.
The main causes for upset conditions are an increase in feeding (OLR) or a drastic change
in feedstock composition. Such changes cause an OLR spike that allows the acidogenic
bacteria to exceed the growth rate of the methanogenic bacteria, lowering the digester's
pH. A second cause would be the introduction of toxic elements. This would likely result in
a more rapid system death than an overfeeding situation.
A digester will give several "warning signs" or indications as performance decreases and
before catastrophic failure. The first indicator is a reduction in the CH4 concentration of the
biogas. Continuous biogas analyzers are preferred for monitoring the CH4 concentration of
the biogas, as they provide the most frequent and accurate indicators of system upsets.
However, due to cost, many systems do not use a continuous biogas analyzer and rely on
handheld meters that provide manual measurements. Regardless of approach, the
monitoring system must be routinely calibrated according to manufacturer
recommendations and the data recorded and analyzed on a frequent and routine basis.
A second early indicator of digester health is the digestate's total alkalinity content. A
digester may be experiencing an upset condition when the alkalinity decreases. pH is often
used as a health indicator. However, because changes in pH happen over a longer time
period than changes in alkalinity, pH testing does not give an early warning of an upset
condition. Other digester heath indicators are a rise in the concentration of VFAs and the
ratio between VFAs and alkalinity.
Regardless of approach, the monitoring system must be routinely calibrated according to
manufacturer recommendations and the data recorded and analyzed on a frequent and
routine basis.
4.4.2 Foaming
A sudden, rapid increase in organic loading may cause solids to float on the digester
surface and trap air, leading to the collection of foam on the digester surface; this is called
foaming.7 Foaming is a serious problem, typically found in the main biogas reactor or in the
pre-storage tank within a biogas plant. Entrapped solids in the foam can cause severe
operational problems, such as gas meter blockage and pump collapse, as well as over-
pressurization and thus overflowing of tanks. Experiments and observations of full-scale
digesters have shown that foaming results from an increase in the OLR. Foaming leads to
7 Kougias, P. G., Boe, K., & Angelidaki, I. (2013). Effects of organic loading rate and feedstock composition on
foaming in manure-based biogas reactors. Bioresource Technology, 144,1-7.
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reduced biogas production for shorter or longer periods of time, which results in poor
economic consequences for the biogas plant.
4.5 Critical Issues Response
The system operator should begin making the required adjustments when the digester
monitoring program first detects any trends of increased VFAs, reduced alkalinity, reduced
pH, reduced CH4 concentrations, or increased CO2 concentrations in the biogas. Digesters
take a long time to respond to certain changes, and when indicators associated with these
changes show issues, the problem has usually been developing for some time. For
example, by the time pH is affected, the problem has likely become serious.
The most probable causes of digester failure are a sudden increase in the organic loading
rate, a sudden decrease in the HRT, or the introduction of one or more toxic compounds.
These scenarios lead to a decline in the population of the slower growing autotrophic
methane forming bacteria relative to the population of the faster growing heterotrophic
acid forming bacteria. The result of this population imbalance is an increase in the
concentration of VFAs, which toxic in higher concentrations. A significant increase in
digester effluent VFA concentration is a leading indicator of impending process failure.
Both effluent alkalinity and pH will decrease in response to the increase in the VFA
concentration (with alkalinity being the more sensitive parameter). Ultimately, this
population imbalance will be reflected in biogas composition with the CO2 fraction
increasing due to the reduced reduction of CO2 carbon to CH4. Table 4-1 summarizes the
relationship among these parameters when process failure is imminent or occurring.
Table 4-1. Digester failure relationships.8


8 Spencer, C., & Sheff, B. B. (2017, June 18). Chemistry for digesters [Presentation], American Biogas Council.
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5.0	Laboratory Testing and Data Recording
5.1	What Tests Should You Do?
Every AD/biogas system should be equipped to perform routine testing of operating
parameters. Refer to manufacturers' instructions to ensure all routine tests are calibrated
appropriately and on a required schedule. These data should be recorded and ideally
graphed over time to monitor system performance. The following parameters are essential
to determining system performance and efficiency:
•	TS
•	vs
•	pH
•	Total alkalinity
•	Temperature
•	CH4
These critical operating parameters require frequent monitoring and testing. The actual
frequency varies by parameter and is discussed in further detail in Section 5.3. These
measurement tests do not require significant expenditures for equipment, nor extensive
training. Various manufacturers sell test kits forTS/VS and alkalinity that are relatively
simple and accurate. Meters for determining pH are commonly available with calibration
liquids to assure their accuracy.
Monitoring additional parameters generally requires onsite sampling and lab analyses,
including those listed in Table 5-1
The specific types of tests that should be run vary for each digester. Many are only relevant
to digestate, and some only apply to discharge limits for effluent discharge to a municipal
sewer system. Some may not apply to livestock manure systems. When the facility is
connected to a municipal sewer system, the facility's discharge permit may contain limits
for other parameters that will need to be tested. The recommended sampling for
parameters in digester influent and effluent, as well as individual feedstocks and post-
digestion separated liquids, is shown below in Table 5-1.
Table 5-1. Recommended sampling for operating parameters.

Total Solids


Volatile Solids



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Total Alkalinity




Biochemical Methane

Volatile Fatty Acids


Chemical Oxygen Demand

Biochemical Oxygen Demand


Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen

Total N-P-K


Secondary Nutrients



AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
For conventional low solids digester systems, the digester's influent and effluent should be
sampled. Samples should be taken downstream of the feed pump while the pump is
operating. If the system includes a storage tank with mixing and equalization, the sample
taken from the feed line will be representative of the composite feedstock. If the
feedstocks are fed separately, a sample will need to be taken while each feedstock is being
added, and a composite sample that reflects the volume of each feedstock will need to be
created. As with the influent, samples of the effluent should be taken while it is flowing. The
effluent from a wet digester is mixed enough to serve as a representative sample. The
effluent should be sampled prior to any solid separation.
When taking the sample, let the sample port run for a small time to flush any accumulated
material in the valve and piping. Samples should be placed in clean jars designed for the
appropriate sample.
When dealing with high solids waste, it may be difficult to capture a representative sample.
It is best to start with a large sample and create a usable sample by visually selecting
appropriate representative components based on observed ratios. Ideally, the large
sample would be divided into components and each component weighed to get its relative
percentage. This sampling procedure is difficult and is not regularly performed for farm-
scale digesters.
Biogas should be sampled from at least three points: in the biogas line exiting the digester,
after water separation, and after removal of H2S. Sampling can be done using an
automated or handheld sampling and analysis device. If samples are to be sent to an
offsite lab, containers recommended by that lab should be used for the samples.
If solids are separated from the effluent, the liquids should be sampled after separation.
The samples should be collected as the liquid is being separated. Most separators use a
gravity discharge, so the sample could be drawn from the liquid discharge point into a
holding vessel or a sample port in the gravity line.
It is important to protect the integrity of any samples. For onsite lab analysis, the samples
would ideally be analyzed immediately. If this is not possible, the samples should be
refrigerated until analysis. For samples being sent to an outside lab, the samples should be
immediately cooled and transported. Most samples should be shipped in ice to ensure they
degrade little during transport.
5.3 Frequency of Testing
Influent and effluent should be tested daily for:
•	TS
•	vs
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•	Alkalinity
•	pH
•	Temperature
Influent and effluent should be tested weekly for:
•	Pathogens
The remainder of tests for influent should be based on a monthly sampling program.
Effluent should initially be tested for VFAs daily. Once the digester effluent shows stable
VFA values, this test should be done weekly. If the VFA/total alkalinity ratio is 0.25 or
greater, VFAs and total alkalinity should be tested daily.
Biogas should preferably be sampled and tested using an online continuous meter
programmed to collect and analyze samples at regular intervals. The meter should produce
a record of continuous biogas characteristics. If using a handheld analyzer, the operator
should take samples at least twice a day.
While manure-only AD systems should not have issues with siloxanes, these compounds
can be found in a host of consumer products that may be present in co-digestion
feedstocks. If feedstocks are suspected of being from sources that could create siloxanes,
the biogas should be tested once the substrates have been in the system long enough to
be converted to biogas. Siloxanes are volatile organic silicon compounds. When biogas is
burned as fuel, the silicon in siloxane oxidizes to silica. High silica concentrations can
reduce the lifespan of capital equipment, resulting in greater plant O&M expenses. Filtering
systems can be used to reduce siloxane concentrations prior to combustion, but filter
efficiency must be evaluated regularly. A variety of methods that use different sampling
techniques and detectors have emerged to measure siloxanes.9 Accurate monitoring of all
the siloxanes known to be present in biogas is needed to avoid damage to power
generation systems. If biogas testing indicates that siloxanes are being formed, the supplier
of the suspect feedstock should be notified, and the feedstock eliminated.
5.4 Data Evaluation
Data from lab testing for TS, VS, total alkalinity, VFAs, COD, BOD, NH3, TKN, total N-P-K,
secondary nutrients, and sodium are generally expressed as either percentages or in mg/L.
By definition, a liter of water weighs 1,000,000 mg, so by inference, 10,000 mg/L is a 1
percent solution. Some labs report the test result concentrations as mg/kg; in practice the
9 Hayes, H. C., Graening, G. J., Saeed, S., & Kao, S. (n.d.). A summary of available analytical methods for the
determination of siloxanes in biogas. https://www.eurofinsus.com/media/15873/a-summarv-of-available-
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units are used interchangeably, since under standard conditions a liter of water weighs 1
The critical factor for feeding a digester is OLR, which is mass per unit of volume per day.
For test results to be meaningful, the concentrations noted above must be converted to a
mass flow. To do this, one must know the volume of flow to which the concentration
corresponds. Digester facilities should have flow meters on the influent, effluent, and liquid
flow from a post-digestion separator. If the facility feeds separate feedstocks from multiple
containers to the digester, there should be a flow meter on each line to the digester. Few
digester facilities are equipped in this manner and instead rely on estimated flows for
analysis. Proper flow metering is a relatively small investment and makes monitoring the
digester's performance easier and more accurate.
In the United States, most flow meters read in gallons. They can provide gallons per minute
or can be equipped with a flow totalizer to record accumulated flow over a time period. If
the meter reads in gallons per minute, the flow rate (gallons per minute) will need to be
multiplied by the number of minutes the flow occurred over a 24-hour period to get the
total gallons of flow per day. If the flow meter has a totalizer, the operator will need to
record the totalizer reading at a consistent time for each 24-hour period to determine
gallons per day. To calculate the mass, gallons will need to be converted to pounds and
kilograms. It is also possible to purchase meters that record in cubic meters. A cubic meter
contains 1,000 kg of water.
To convert mg/L and gallons/day to lb/day, multiply the test result in mg/L by
0.0000083454, times the gallons per day. This is derived from:
lb mg / 1 kg \ /2.20462 lb\ /3.78541 L\ /gal\
day ^ L ^ X VI,000,000 mg) X V kg ) X V gal ) X \day)
For mg/kg, the same multiplier applies, as the numerical values of mg/L and mg/kg are
TS is expressed as the concentration of the solids in the sample. VS may be expressed as
the concentration in the total sample, but it is most commonly expressed as a percentage
of the TS. If the lab report shows TS equals a percentage and VS equals a percentage of TS,
convert the TS percentage to a value in mg/L and multiply that TS value by the VS
percentage to get the VS value in mg/L.
For example, if TS is expressed as 10.7%, this is equal to 10,700 mg/L. If VS is
expressed as 83% of TS, this means that VS is 10,700x 0.83 = 8,881 mg/L.
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AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
To calculate the VFA/total alkalinity ratio, divide the mg/L of VFAs by the mg/L of total
alkalinity. This value should normally be between 0.1 and 0.25. A ratio higher than this
indicates an upset condition.
To properly monitor the digester's performance, the operator must record the test results
and the calculated mass based on the test results. The trending data will help the operator
maintain the proper biological balance required for healthy bacteria.
Biogas quantity and quality should be plotted as well so that any variations can be trended.
If the facility contains multiple digesters, it is best to record flow rates and biogas
characteristics for each digester separately. While digesters may appear identical, they are
each individual living colonies and respond as such. Monitoring each digester
independently allows the system operator to maximize biogas production while minimizing
potential upsets.
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6. o Fundamentals of Digester Mechanical Systems
An AD/biogas system is primarily a mechanical system. To function properly, digesters rely
on an integrated conveyance network moving materials throughout the entire facility. A key
part of the conveyance network is the system of pumps and pipes controlling the digester's
feeding and the discharge of treated digestate.
6.1 Pumps
A digester's ability to produce biogas depends on regular feeding and digestate removal. A
pump is the equipment primarily responsible for moving feedstocks from storage and then
later moving the treated digestate through the process. Maintaining the pumps to operate
at their design capacity is critical to maintaining system health.
6.1.1 Pump Types
The type of pump used depends on the feedstock or
influent TS concentration and piping system pressure
requirements for moving the material. Dilute materials
with a lowTS concentration (i.e., less than 6 percent) are
generally pumped using centrifugal pumps.
For influents with higher TS concentrations (up to 12
percent), most digesters using manure feedstocks either
use "chopper pumps" or positive displacement pumps.
Chopper pumps are essentially centrifugal pumps with a
cutter on the pump inlet that grinds the solids a bit finer
prior to pumping them. This type of pump allows for a
more uniform particle size and can pump higher TS
concentrations than a conventional centrifugal pump.
These pumps are typically used for feedstocks with TS concentrations between 4 percent
and 12 percent.
Another pump type is the positive displacement pump. This pump works by forcing small
slugs of material through the pipes. This allows the pipes to move higher TS-concentration
materials using less horsepower than a comparable chopper pump. Positive displacement
pumps are generally used for pumping slurries with TS concentrations between 10 percent
and 15 percent. The main types of positive displacement pumps are as follows:
•	Rotary lobe
•	Progressive cavity
•	Piston
Text Box 6
Pump Types
Different pumps are
designed for specific types of
•	Centrifugal pumps are
for substances with low
•	Chopper pumps grind
solids before pumping.
•	Positive displacement
pumps are for
substances with high TS.
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AgSTAR Operator Guidebook
Figure 2-1. Pump type examples.
This figure features the 50840 series Low Pressure Cyclone Centrifugal Pump (top left),10 a Horizontal
Hydro-Sol ids pump (top right),11 the BLUBSne rotary lobe pump (bottom left),12 and a LobePro Rotary
Pump (bottom right).13
For a pump to perform properly, the piping system must be designed for the pump's
pressure requirements and the expected TS concentration of the material to be pumped.
6.1.2 Redundancy
Because pumps are critical to the system's operation, system redundancy is important.
System redundancy is to have duplicative equipment at critical points in the system to limit
interruption of waste flow. A system's specific redundancy needs depend on the design of
the entire AD/biogas system, including storage, pump rates, and the potential for
environmental issues if the system fails. While digesters will continue to make biogas for an
10	Image source: Xylem, https://www.xvlem,com/en-ti/products-services/pumps--packaged-pump-
11	Image source: Phoenix Pumps, Inc., https://www.phoenixpumps.com/goulds-pumps-itt-hs-hsd-horizontal-
hydro-solids-pumps 8 1237 13Q6.html#.XI_oGxehKiUI.
12	Image source: Borger. https://www.boerger.com/en US/products/rotarv-lobe-pumps/pump-series/the
13	Image source: Phoenix Pumps, Inc., https://www.phoenixpumps.com/lobepro-rotarv-lobe-
pumps 8 1231 1109.html#.XLn2Y-hKiUk.
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extended period without influent flow, projects are seldom able to store feedstocks for
long periods. Redundancy is important for critical areas where pump repairs cannot be
made in a timely fashion. In these process areas, having at least one redundant pump is
A similar pump from a non-critical location can be substituted for a failed critical-use pump,
but this requires that the same manufacturer and type of pumps are used throughout the
conveyance. A single redundant pump can also serve multiple locations.
6.2	Piping Systems
The piping system must be monitored and maintained to allow the proper feeding of
feedstocks and movement of digestate. The piping should routinely be checked for leaks,
and all manual and automated valves should be periodically checked for proper operation.
Manual isolation valves should always be kept serviceable. It is beneficial to have pressure
sensors on the piping to control over-pressurization.
6.3	Mixing
Mixing is an integral part of the AD/biogas system. This section describes why mixing is
important, where mixing should be done, what types of mixers are available, and several
other important factors to consider.
6.3.1	Why Mix?
To provide a uniform feed rate, most AD/biogas systems accumulate waste in an influent
storage tank before periodically transferring it to the digester. Typically, manure is
removed from livestock confinement facilities on a periodic basis. For example, manure
may be collected by flushing two to three times per day. In addition, wastes for co-
digestion may be delivered daily or even less frequently. Thus, mixing is important to
maintain uniformity in the influent's physical and chemical characteristics.
High-rate AD requires continuous mixing. Mixing's primary function is to prevent settling
and the accumulation of settled solids. Settled solids reduce the actual HRT and SRT and
therefore need to be removed, which creates additional work. Mixing in a high-rate
digester also facilitates heat transfer from heat exchangers and keeps the digester
temperature uniform. Mixing also improves substrate-to-microorganism contact.
6.3.2	Mix Where?
Mixing should be done wherever feedstock is stored, even for short periods. Mixing inside
a digester should be done at differing height levels throughout the tank to ensure complete
mixing. A dedicated mixer, or a mixer that can be brought to the surface of the liquid in the
digester, is used to prevent crust formation.
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6.3.3 What Are the Mixer Types?
Depending on the purpose of the mixer, different types of mixers are used. Mixers can be
used for agitating solids to keep them suspended (typically a high rate of mixing) and for
creating homogeneous conditions inside the digester (typically a slow rate of mixing),
among other purposes. This section provides a general introduction to various options.
Mixers are generally divided into two types: submersible and external mount. Depending
on their functions, mixers operate at either high speeds or low speeds. Mixers are powered
with either electric motors or hydraulic motors. Submersible mixers are generally mounted
to rails or lifts attached to the tank sidewall. This allows for easy removal for maintenance
and repair. External mount mixers are located outside the tank on sidewalls or ridged
digester covers.
Digesters can also be mixed hydraulically using a submersible or external pump with
nozzles that increase discharge velocity to recirculate the digester contents. Another option
is gas mixing using compressed biogas released from the base of the digester.
Figure 6-2. Illustration of a submersible mechanical mixer. '4
6.3.4 What Are Mixer Maintenance Concerns?
O&M concerns for external mixers include the proper lubrication of the gearbox and the
integrity of the penetration where the mixer enters the tank. For example, poor
maintenance of the seal where the mixer enters the tank can result in biogas or liquid
leaking from the tank.
14 Image source: SUMA America Inc., https://www,gosuma,com/gosuma/agitators-biogas-agriculture-
optimix 2g.html.
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O&M concerns for submersible mixers involve maintaining the seals that prevent the
intrusion of water into the motor and other electrical parts, the integrity of the mounting
structure, and the integrity of the seal for electrical wiring or hydraulic lines.
6.4 Influent and Effluent Management
The digester influent may require pretreatment and flow equalization. The digester effluent
may require processing and storage.
6.4.1	Pretreatment
The type of feedstock used, the conveyance system, and the type of digester used dictate
the amount and type of preprocessing. Preprocessing involves using storage to control the
feeding of the digester. Preprocessing systems include:
•	Separating fiber of dairy manure, if necessary
•	De-packaging food wastes
•	Reducing feedstock particle size
•	Screening non-volatile materials
•	Removing grit
•	Separating sand
6.4.2	Flow Equalization
As noted in Section 6.3.1, feedstocks are rarely brought to a digester facility in a continuous
manner, whether they are manures being collected or feedstocks transported from off site.
For this reason, many digester plants include feedstock storage to provide flow
equalization by allowing for a continuous, consistent input of influent.
6.4.3	Digestate Processing/Storage
Typically, digestate it is composed of undigested organic and inorganic materials contained
in the digester feedstock, as well as water. One of the many management issues associated
with using an AD/biogas system is how to properly treat and manage the digestate.
Digestate is typically discharged to a storage lagoon or pond, and then it is often land-
applied on crops. When anaerobically digested dairy cattle manure has not been screened
before digestion, a significant quantity of coarse fiber remains in the effluent. This coarse
fiber consists primarily of lignin, which biodegrades very slowly. Mechanical solids
separation equipment such as screw presses or vibrating screens can remove this fiber.
The separated solids have value as a bedding material or soil amendment. Depending on
the end use, the separated solids may be dried, composted, or both.
After the fiber is removed, the main digestion product is a liquid organic substance
commonly called "filtrate." Filtrate from manures commonly has combined nitrogen,
phosphorus, and potassium percentages ranging from 3 percent to 4.5 percent on a dry
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matter basis, and it can be spread directly onto farmland to provide nutrients. Filtrate can
also be further processed into a liquid material called "centrate" and a solid product called
Another aspect of AD/biogas system effluent management to consider is nutrient
management. This is critical when wastes from offsite sources are being incorporated into
the digester influent. These wastes may contain significant concentrations of the primary
plant nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Thus, the impact on the ultimate
disposal site's comprehensive nutrient management plan must be considered. Some
AD/biogas systems include nutrient recovery technologies to help manage the amount of
nutrients in the digestate.
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7.0	Biogas Handling and Conveyance
Biogas handling and conveyance is an important aspect of AD/biogas system management
to ensure safety, ensure proper system operation, and prevent equipment damage. Biogas
is generally between 50 percent to 75 percent CH4. The remaining amount is primarily CO2,
trace quantities (0 to 15,000 parts per million [ppm]) of corrosive H2S, and water vapor.
7.1	Biogas Handling and Conveyance
Because both CH4 and CO2 are only slightly soluble in water, biogas produced by an
AD/biogas system is continuously emitted from the digesting substrate and is collected and
temporarily stored in the digester's headspace. Because biogas is continuously produced, it
must be continuously removed to maintain a safe pressure level in the digester. Otherwise,
mechanical failure of the cover or some other structural element will occur.
When produced, biogas is a saturated gas. This means it is at 100 percent relative humidity
and contains all the water vapor that it can possibly absorb. Untreated, this water vapor
can readily condense and cause damage inside piping and equipment. The water vapor
must first be separated from the biogas and then properly disposed of.
CH4 and H2S are both flammable gases, and considerations must be taken to prevent a fire
or explosion. Additionally, both H2S and CH4 can be toxic to humans. H2S also forms highly
corrosive sulfuric acid when it is combined with water. Due to these factors, special
considerations must be taken to ensure personnel safety (see Section 10.0) and to prevent
damage to the AD/biogas system's components (see Section 8.0).
7.2	Leak Testing
Because of the toxic, flammable, and corrosive nature of biogas, a leaking biogas handling
system can pose a major threat to personnel safety and AD/biogas system operation.
Avoiding biogas leaks also has financial significance, as lost biogas is lost income.
Prior to the startup of a new or newly modified AD/biogas system, all biogas piping and
connections should be pressure-tested to ensure that there are no leaks. This testing is
typically performed by isolating and pressurizing the biogas handling system with
compressed air or nitrogen. System pressure is then monitored over a time period
specified by the system designer. In the event of a leak, the leak's location can be identified
by spraying the exterior of the biogas handling system with a mixture of soap and water -
bubbles will form where leaks are present. This method can also detect leaks in a biogas
handling system after disassembly or modification.
Leaks are common at places like piping joints, fittings, valves, and equipment connections.
AD/biogas system operators can monitor for biogas handling system leaks by looking for
odors, physical changes in the piping, and unexplained decreases in biogas flow rates. A
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portable meter designed for detecting natural gas leaks should be used routinely to test for
leaks in biogas piping and all other possible sources of leaks, such as flexible digester
When biogas is processed or utilized in an enclosed structure, the risk of fire or explosion
increases. Therefore, it is recommended to install a permanent gas detection and alarm
system (see Figure 7-1).
Clean Ambient Air
or Instrument Air
1 »l



* B
Gas Analyzer

¦ •


Figure 7-1. Gas analyzer and flow diagram of sequence and gas
Biogas handling system leak detection technologies monitor odors, physical changes in the piping,
and unexplained decreases in biogas flow rates. Examples Include the BIOGAS3000 (top), a gas
A flow diagram (bottom) shows how a sequencer and a gas analyzer help evaluate the quality of
the gases.16
15	Image source: Landtec, https://www.landtecna.com/product/biogas3000-2/.
16	Image source: Nova Analytical Systems, https://www.nova-gas.com/analvzers/landfill-biogas.
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7.3 Pressure Regulation
Because anaerobic digesters are sealed vessels and biogas is generated continuously, any
restriction of the flow of biogas from the digester will increase the internal digester
pressure above the design value. Other causes of excessive digester pressure include a
biogas production rate that exceeds biogas use or processing capacity, processing
equipment failure or other circumstances that result in failure to use the biogas. A
blockage caused by condensate buildup, foam carry-over into the piping, or frozen
valves/fittings can also raise the internal digester pressure.
To ensure the integrity of the digester's reactor and the biogas handling system, an
automatic pressure relief valve (PRV) should be a component of every AD/biogas system.
The PRV should be connected to an automatically igniting flare to burn the released biogas.
See Figure 7-2 for examples of PRVs. Depending on the type of downstream equipment,
pressure/vacuum relief valves can also be installed to prevent an excess vacuum from
occurring inside the digester or biogas handling system.
Pressure relief systems are designed to protect the vessels and piping in the event of a blockage or
biogas generation pressures that exceed design specifications, PRV examples include an open bonnet
Open Spring
Figure 7-2. Examples of PRVs.
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direct spring PRV (left), a threaded portable direct spring PRV (center), and a flanged portable direct
spring PR V (right).17
7.4	Condensate Removal and Freeze Protection
The amount of water vapor in biogas is a function of temperature and pressure. The water
vapor will condense as the biogas cools. To avoid condensed water vapor accumulation,
biogas piping should be sloped and fitted with one or more self-dumping condensate
traps. In regions where freezing temperatures are probable, the biogas piping system
should be insulated and possibly heated. It is important to note that insulation slows the
transfer of heat from inside the piping to the outside environment, but it does not stop it
entirely. In most cases, heat tracing must be installed to provide a heat source inside the
insulation to prevent freezing in the case of extreme temperatures, extended shutdowns,
or long piping runs. These freeze protection methods must be checked periodically to
ensure they are functioning properly.
7.5	Piping
Biogas piping system designs are based on:
•	Flow rate
•	Pressure
•	Moisture content
•	Temperature
Piping systems are sized to allow for a certain pressure drop at a given biogas flow rate.
Pressure drop through the piping system results from friction along the pipe walls and
obstructions such as reducers, elbows, strainers, filters, and valves. If the biogas flow rate is
higher than the design value, then the pressure drop through the system will also be
higher than the design value.
Biogas piping systems should be constructed from corrosion-resistant materials due to the
moisture content and corrosive nature of H2S. Stainless steel, PVC, and high-density
polyethylene are common construction materials used in biogas piping systems. Biogas
piping systems should be designed and installed to allow for thermal expansion and
contraction caused by temperature changes to the piping system. If piping system thermal
expansion problems arise, expansion loops, flexible couplings, and rolling or sliding pipe
supports can be installed to mitigate the issue and to help prevent damage to the piping
17 Image source: Emerson, https://www.emerson.com/documents/automation/pressure-relief-valve-
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All piping systems should be adequately supported to prevent excessive stress, sagging,
vibration, and the resulting damage to the piping system and potential risk to the system
operators. Piping should be adequately supported throughout straight runs, at all direction
changes, at equipment connections, and at wall penetrations. Piping systems should never
be operated with modified or missing supports unless the designer has approved the
7.6 Valves
Valves are used to isolate biogas lines and equipment for maintenance, to regulate line
pressure, and to direct biogas flow to varying locations. Valve types commonly used in
biogas handling systems include ball valves and butterfly valves, due to their relatively low
pressure drop and positive shut-off capabilities.
Biogas handling valves can be manually operated by a lever, gear, or chainwheel, or they
can be automatically operated by a pneumatic or electric actuator. The selection of the
valve operator or actuator depends on the purpose of the valve, the location of the valve,
and how quickly the valve must be opened or closed.
Valves used in biogas handling systems must have internal components that are
compatible with the corrosive nature of biogas and condensate, as well as external
components that are suitable for the environment in which the valves are installed. Valve
internals commonly used in biogas handling systems include 316 stainless steel and
Viton™. Valve external components are commonly cast iron, stainless steel, or polymer.
Electric valve actuators must meet all electrical and fire prevention requirements for the
environment in which they are installed. Valves should be exercised, or fully opened and
closed, regularly to maintain their functionality and positive shut-off capabilities. The valve
operator or actuator should also be inspected regularly for signs of wear or corrosion.
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Figure 7-3. Photograph and schematic of an isolation valve.
Shown above is a type of isolation valve, a bidirectional knife gate valve that assures non-dogging shut-
off on suspended solids.18
7.7 Blowers and Compressors
Blowers and compressors are designed to process biogas at specified flow rates, inlet and
outlet pressures, and temperatures to increase the biogas pressure. Compressors
generally increase the pressure to higher values than blowers. It is important to be aware
of the design conditions for a blower or compressor system and to monitor the
temperature and pressure at the inlets and outlets of blowers and compressors to gauge
equipment performance and detect problems early.
Biogas blowers generally are equipped with bearings to support the drive shaft and seals
to prevent biogas from escaping around the drive shaft into the surrounding atmosphere.
Image source: Orbinox, http://www.orbiriox.com/eb-ser11 -bidirectional.
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It is important to monitor the condition of these bearings and seals and to make sure the
bearings are lubricated according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Biogas compressors are often packaged with circulating oil systems to lubricate and seal
the compressor components. It is important to monitor and maintain the condition of the
compressor oil system, including the oil level, temperature, pressure, and replacement
interval according to the manufacturer's instructions.
7.8 Biogas Use
7.8.1 Combined Heat and Power (CHP)
Historically, the most common use of biogas has been to produce combined heat and
power (CHP) in a reciprocating internal combustion (IC) engine-generator set. Traditionally,
spark-ignited diesel engines have been used. CHP systems are relatively efficient in
converting biogas into heat and electric power. Common electrical conversion efficiencies
approach 40 percent, and thermal recovery efficiencies exceed 50 percent. Thus, a CHP
system can potentially recover around 90 percent of the available biogas energy content. In
a CHP system, heat exchangers recover the heat generated by biogas combustion and
engine friction from the engine cooling and exhaust systems. The recovered heat is
typically used to maintain the operating temperature in the digester, with excess heat
available for other uses such as space heating.
To prevent engine damage, moisture and most of the H2S must be removed from the
biogas prior to combustion. Proper O&M of the IC engine and generator is essential.
Lubrication, cooling, electrical, and emission control systems must follow the
manufacturer's instructions to ensure reliable service.
A few CHP systems have microturbines instead of an IC engine to drive the generator and
to generate heat. In most microturbine systems, a separate combustion chamber allows
for the combustion of biogas with higher H2S and moisture levels than biogas that can be
used in an IC engine. Microturbines generally operate with lower electrical efficiencies but
higher thermal efficiencies than engine-based systems, making them more suitable for
projects with a higher demand for heat or hot water. They also have lower emissions,
making them more acceptable in areas with air pollution concerns.
Because onsite demand for electricity varies hourly and in some instances seasonally, most
on-farm AD/biogas systems that generate electricity are interconnected with the local
electric utility with a net metering agreement. This arrangement allows for electricity
delivery to the local grid when electricity production exceeds onsite demand. The
interconnection also allows the local utility to meet onsite demand during periods when
the electricity generated from biogas is not adequate to serve all on-farm needs.
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7.8.2	Boilers and Furnaces
Biogas also can be used in place of conventional fossil fuels to heat hot water (in a boiler)
or air (in a furnace). Because biogas has a lower heat value, burners designed for natural
gas or liquefied petroleum gas must be replaced to burn biogas. For boilers and furnaces
designed to burn fuel oils, more extensive modification or possibly replacement is
Biogas composition must be carefully considered in the planning and design of a biogas-
fueled boiler system. Biogas moisture content, as well as its H2S and possible siloxane
content, can cause problems in the boiler's internal workings. A biogas-fueled boiler may
also be subject to a more stringent air pollutant emission monitoring and control
It is possible to replace the burners on other direct-fired unit process equipment, such as
kilns and dryers, with burners designed for biogas. The burner and fuel delivery systems
should be sized to provide the unit's required heat rating according to the equipment
manufacturer's instructions. In this case, the biogas composition should also be carefully
considered to properly account for H2S, siloxane, and moisture content.
Variation in onsite demand is also a problem when biogas is used directly as fuel. A
solution to this problem can be biogas compression and storage in a repurposed liquefied
petroleum gas storage tank.
7.8.3	RNG
For farms with access to a natural gas pipeline, upgrading biogas to produce RNG can be a
financially attractive option. However, the economic feasibility of this depends largely on
the availability of renewable energy subsidies for which the project qualifies.
7.9 Biogas Processing
7.9.1 Processing for Onsite Combustion
The principal components of biogas are CH4 and CO2, with lesser amounts of water vapor,
H2S, and NH3. During combustion, H2S reacts with water vapor to form highly corrosive
sulfuric acid. This acid atmosphere creates corrosive conditions that can quickly degrade
combustion and emission control equipment. Therefore, removing or at least substantially
reducing H2S and water vapor concentrations in biogas is a prerequisite for biogas use in a
combustion device. The degree of biogas processing that is necessary depends on its
planned use.
Using biogas to fuel an IC engine or microturbine requires removal of most of the H2S and
ideally the water vapor to prevent corrosion of internal parts. Removal of H2S is also
necessary when biogas is used as a boiler or furnace fuel. Using ceramic burners designed
for burning biogas also is advisable.
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H2S can be removed via adsorption into solid media, a biological scrubbing system, or a
chemical scrubbing system. A small amount of air can be injected into the digester vessel
headspace to support the formation of sulfur-reducing bacteria, which can provide a
simple biological scrubbing system and contribute to H2S removal inside the digester
The most appropriate method of H2S
removal depends on the biogas fiow rate,
H2S concentration, and downstream
processes being used. Generally, solid
media adsorption is used for projects
with lower biogas flow rates and H2S
concentrations. Biological or chemical
scrubbing systems are used for projects
with higher biogas flow rates and H2S
Adsorption into solid media involves
passing biogas through a bed of
woodchips impregnated with hydrated
iron oxide. The H2S reacts with the iron
oxide to form iron sulfide and water. Bed
regeneration is performed by exposure
to air, which converts the sulfide to oxide
and liberates elemental sulfur (see
Figure 7-4).
Because biogas is saturated with water
vapor when it leaves a digester, some natural cooling results in at least partial
condensation of the water vapor present. This condensed water vapor is easily removed
using a series of one or more automatically dumping water vapor separators or traps. The
quantity of water vapor removed depends on the difference between the biogas
temperature and the ambient air temperature. Biogas produced in heated digesters
contains more water vapor than gas produced in an unheated digester such as a covered
Additional moisture removal can be achieved by cooling the biogas in a heat exchanger to
condense the water vapor or through water adsorption into solid media. The most
appropriate method for removing moisture depends on the biogas end use and its flow
Contaminated	*
gas in	um
11 Scrubbing
liquid in
. Packed bed
1 Scrubbing
liquid out
Figure 7-4. Cross-section of a packed
tower scrubber for an H2S removal
system. '9
Image source: CR Clean Air Group, LLC., https://www.crcleanair.com/products/the-let-verituri-scrubber/.
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rate. Performance monitoring of any moisture removal system must be done to prevent
downstream equipment O&M issues.
Silicon-based compounds, generally referred to as siloxanes, can also be present,
particularly with the co-digestion of municipal or industrial wastewater treatment residuals.
When burned, siloxanes precipitate out as a solid material similar to glass or sand. These
precipitants can coat equipment surfaces, causing severe O&M problems. If siloxanes are
present, they must be removed prior to burning the biogas.
As noted earlier, it is necessary to limit biogas pressure in a digester to avoid structural
damage. However, some biogas compression is necessary during processing to ensure
adequate fuel pressure and flow to the engine-generator set.
7.9.2 Upgrading to RNG
Selling biogas as RNG usually requires injection
into a natural gas pipeline. Prior to injection, the
biogas must be processed to satisfy natural gas
industry standards, which include maximum
allowable concentrations of CO2, H2S, and water
vapor. The same standards generally apply when
compressed RNG is sold locally as a vehicle fuel or
liquefied for transport. Several options are
available for moisture, H2S, siloxane, and CO2
removal (see "Biogas Cleanup Technologies" text
As noted in the Text Box 7, CO2 can be removed
using a pressure swing adsorption (PSA) process,
membrane separation, chemical (amine)
scrubbing, or a spray tower.
In a PSA process, CO2 removal occurs in large,
medium-pressure vessels containing solid media
that have an affinity for CO2 at moderate to high
pressures. As biogas is passed through the vessel,
the adsorption media capture the CO2. When the
adsorption media become fully saturated with
C02,they are regenerated in place, and the C02is
liberated by lowering the vessel pressure. The low-
pressure waste CO2 is then vented. Figure 7-5
presents a typical adsorber bed.
Text Box 7
Biogas Cleanup Technologies
The following are technology
options for biogas conditioning
and upgrading.
Moisture Removal:
•	Refrigerated drying
•	Media adsorption
H2S Removal:
•	Media adsorption
•	Biological scrubbing
•	Chemical scrubbing
Siloxane Removal:
•	Media adsorption
C02 Removal:
•	Membrane separation
•	Chemical scrubbing
•	Spray Tower
•	Chopper pumps grind solids
before pumping.
•	Positive displacement pumps
are for substances with high
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Flow Direction
Large (eramk Bolls
Small (eramk Balls
Buffet Gel
large Molecular Sieve Beads
Small Molecular Sieve Scads
Small (eramk Balls
large (eramk Balls

Prelection Layer
to prevent the sdsotbeot being blewi about by turbulence of
incoming gas nnd improve inlet Hew distribution
lo protect lb adsorbent bed if ihe-r-e is ink of liquid carry ever
whidi otherwise may da-mage Hie molecular sieve
Molecular Sieve Bed
The indetuln sieve bed (in consist ol only Me type of Bielecutor
sieve or different types Molecular sieve of Afferent structural/
(hemfcd no tore con optimize the removol of multiple components
A combination of large and sntol beads.« used lo mimmire preisuic
drop while returning optimum odsoipiion kinetics.
} ^
distribute regeaerotkirt gas and prevent
molecular vievt Minding Hippo<1 Mreen
Figure 7-5. Cross-section of a typical adsorber bed.20
20 Image source: GRACE Davison, https://grace.com/general-industrial/en-
us/Documents/svlobead br E 2010 f100222 web.pdf.
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The membrane filtration process, illustrated
in Figure 7-6, uses physical separation that
selectively separates the biogas based on the
specific characteristics of its components.
Amine scrubbers use the process of
adsorption where a chemical solution, mono
di-ethanol amine, is sent through the
scrubber. Amine scrubbers are
recommended for HhS levels less than 300
ppm. The CO2 is adsorbed by the solution and
is removed with the solution. The CO2 is separated from the solution in a heated tower and
can be recovered. The amine solution is recycled to the amine tower.
A spray tower or wash system can remove
both CO2 and H2S (Figure 7-7). The biogas
is sent through the tower with a
countercurrent stream of water particles.
The soluble gas, CO2, dissolves in the
water and exits with the liquid. A send
vessel releases the CO2, and the solution
is recycled. The system also removes H2S,
so water must be added to maintain the
pH level to avoid creating acidic
conditions in the vessels.
Bulk moisture is removed earlier in the
process, but even more water vapor
must be removed to produce pipeline-quality RNG. Maximum water content for most
natural gas pipelines is either 105 ppm or 147 ppm, depending on the location. This
dehydration level is usually achieved with a PSA system using a desiccant material. This is a
system just like the CO2 removal system, except that a different adsorption material is
If the biogas is being upgraded to RNG, extra compression is required to boost it to a high
enough pressure to be introduced into a natural gas pipeline. Reciprocating or screw-type
positive displacement compressors are frequently used to boost RNG to pipeline
21	Image source: Ohio State University Extension, https://ohioline.osu.edU/factsheet/AEX-653.1 -14.
22	Image source: EPA Landfill Methane Outreach Program, https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-
11/documents/pdh full.pdf.
CO, O, ] LO
Figure 7-6. Schematic diagram of a
membrane permeation. 21
Gas Drier
Flash tank
Raw Biogas
to gas grid or
vehicle fuel
Figure 7-7. Water scrubbing unit flow
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pressures. These compressors generate a lot of heat during the compression process. This
usually causes the discharge gas temperature to become very hot, and a discharge cooler
may be required. Oil is used as a compressor lubricant, but it also functions as both a
sealant and a coolant within the compressor.
Activated carbon is often used as a polishing step to remove any volatile organic
compounds that were not removed during the previous biogas conditioning. The activated
carbon adsorbs these contaminants.
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8.0	System Inspection and Maintenance
Successfully producing biogas depends largely on the ability to prevent the failure of any
AD/biogas system components. Operators should follow site-specific O&M plans, standard
operating procedures, and maintenance schedules provided by vendors. Operators should
also document and keep records of maintenance. Documentation of routine maintenance
is helpful not only to the operation of the project but also in demonstrating effective
management of equipment to regulators or community officials. Regulators may require
records of maintenance and logs of operating parameters.
8.1	General Maintenance Requirements
Consistent and active O&M is the key to maximizing an AD/biogas system's uptime and
ultimately project profitability. Operational prospects are enhanced when the basic process
conditions remain at steady state and equipment operates properly. Equipment running
poorly can cause process upsets or even digester shutdowns due to erratic swings in the
process conditions. These swings negatively impact an operation's ability to make product-
grade specifications and thus reduce profitability.
8.1.1	Routine Versus Major Maintenance
Performing routine maintenance on a regular schedule helps avoid unplanned equipment
outages and possible process upsets. It may also help reduce the complexity and duration
of scheduled major maintenance tasks. Operators should refer to their site-specific O&M
plans for maintenance schedules and ensure that vendors are scheduled for routine
maintenance. Comprehensive O&M plans include standard operating procedures.
8.1.2	Impact of Process Conditions on Frequency
Process conditions can affect equipment O&M schedules. The presence of H2S in biogas
that is used as boiler or engine fuel can have profound schedule impacts and can increase
the complexity of equipment O&M. Sediments and debris in the piping can foul inlet
strainers and filters, and if these issues are not monitored and dealt with in a timely
manner, they can cause equipment damage or failure.
8.1.3	Monitoring Changes in Process Conditions
A typical indication of O&M issues is a change in process conditions with no other obvious
related cause. An increased pressure drop across a heat exchanger, a different pitch to a
pump's whine, or an increased temperature on a compressor's oil outlet are all early
indicators of potential problems. Pay extra attention to these small signs of potential
trouble, and schedule O&M as soon as possible—a small O&M job done early may prevent
a much larger O&M job later. An excellent operator monitors process conditions and uses
critical thinking to recognize and evaluate any process changes, such as unusual pump
noises or abnormal trends in monitoring output, and identify potential problems these
changes may indicate.
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8.1.4	Insulation and Freeze Protection
In hard freeze-prone areas, any piping, valves, or instruments that regularly contain even
small amounts of water should be heat-traced and insulated. Systems requiring the
removal and then reinstallation of heat trace and insulation can make even the easiest
O&M task more difficult. When properly installed, an electrical self-limiting-type heat trace
and wrap-and-tie-type insulation for valves and instruments can make maintenance easier.
Some equipment, such as pumps and the lower portion of vessels that contain water, may
require insulation as a minimum and possibly heat tracing as well. Be diligent about
reinstalling heat trace and insulation following inspection or repair of piping and
equipment systems. Consider installing equipment, piping, valves, or instruments
containing water that are difficult or impossible to heat-trace and insulate in a heated
enclosure or building.
8.1.5	Housekeeping
It is important to keep the work areas around the AD/biogas system free of clutter and dirt.
This will help to prevent trip hazards, keep pests at bay, and keep equipment running
A dusty environment can be hard on equipment, especially equipment requiring
combustion air such as boilers and IC engines. In dusty areas, increase the frequency of
inlet air filter changes for boilers and IC engines. Aerial coolers used for waste heat
dissipation on an IC engine or CHP system also require more frequent inspection and
cleaning. Lastly, dust buildup on motor exteriors can decrease a motor's cooling efficiency
and lead to premature failure.
Keeping up with painting is a never-ending job, but it is important to maximizing the
longevity of the system. Remember to not paint over the equipment, valve, and instrument
tags and labels; these contain vital information that will need to be read sooner or later.
8.1.6	Buildings/Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
Portions of some systems are simply better off when located in a building. This is not just
for freeze protection or better climate control but to make O&M easier. For example,
locating a CHP engine-generator set in a building allows for the permanent installation of
building cranes required for larger O&M tasks. Also, it is significantly easier to perform
some O&M tasks in a climate-controlled building with cover from snow, rain, and wind.
Some equipment, such as the generator and electrical gear, must be installed in a climate-
controlled building or enclosure regardless. An HVAC system for the building housing the
engine and generator helps warm winter restarts and keeps the equipment from
overheating in the summer.
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8.1.7	Site safety
Sites that include AD/biogas systems may use safety measures such as lighting, cameras,
keypad locks, or alarms. These items should be periodically checked to ensure they are
operating as expected.
8.1.8	Third-Party Expertise
Several O&M tasks require advanced expertise or specialized equipment to perform safely
and properly. For these tasks, an operator may want to hire a third-party contractor with
the experience, trained personnel, and specialized tools. In some cases, hiring a contractor
may be required to comply with equipment warranty standards. Examples of specialized
tasks are IC engine overhaul, compressor overhaul, H2S scrubber material change-out, CO2
removal material change-out, water dehydration material (desiccant) change-out, and
corrosion monitoring. Hiring a third-party contractor to perform more involved and difficult
O&M tasks can free up operating personnel to keep the system's process running
8.1.9	Warranty
Documenting that both routine and major O&M has been performed on schedule may be
required to maintain equipment warranties. In some cases, the warranty may require
having an equipment manufacturer's representative perform, or at least supervise, major
O&M tasks.
8.1.10	Digester Tanks and Vessels
Digester tanks are typically made of concrete or steel, and they should be checked
periodically for leaks, cracks, or other evidence of structural problems. If hot water coils are
used to heat the digester, then the surface of the coils should be checked for any slurry
caking. Caking reduces heating coil efficiency, and a drop in the digester's operating
temperature is an indication that caking is occurring. The depth of grit, sand, and other
non-volatile solids accumulating in the bottom of the digester should be monitored. The
buildup rate should be monitored to determine if and when a digester clean-out is needed.
Check seams and joints between the digester and cover for biogas leaks.
8.1.11	PRVs
PRVs help prevent over-pressure and damage to digesters from thermal expansion, fires,
or equipment failure. These PRVs are critical safety equipment. Because they must operate
when needed, PRVs that are seldom or never used should be periodically checked and
operated to verify that they are not "stuck" due to corrosion or deposits. They should be
inspected at least annually and tested or replaced every three to five years, depending on
service conditions.
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8.1.12	Drains and Vents
High-point vents on liquid lines and low-point gas line drains should be briefly opened and
checked as a routine O&M task, especially around pumps and compressors. Exercise
caution when performing this task if CH4 or H2S is known or suspected to be present in the
8.1.13	Leaks
Checking the piping and equipment for leaks daily is one of the easiest—yet most
important—O&M actions an operator can perform. This is especially important following
repairs and reassembly of piping and after a hard freeze. See Section 7.2 for more details
about leak testing related to biogas handling and conveyance.
8.1.14	Corrosion Monitoring
Mild steel corrosion is inevitable anytime H2S, CO2, or water is present. Corrosion rates are
generally worse when H2S and CO2 are together or at higher digester operating
temperatures. Any mild steel portions of the system containing H2S and water, CO2 and
water, or both should be routinely monitored for internal corrosion. This is best done with
a small device that uses an ultrasonic frequency to measure the thickness of pipe or vessel
walls. The device is very accurate when used properly. Insulation and paint should be
removed prior to taking a reading, and the location should be marked so that subsequent
readings can be taken at exactly the same spot. Readings should be taken frequently at
first, until a normal corrosion rate can be established for that location. Third parties
specializing in corrosion protection and monitoring frequently perform this O&M task.
8.1.15	Fresh/Waste Oil Storage Tanks
Fresh oil make-up storage tanks and waste oil storage tanks require very little O&M. After
emptying the waste oil storage tank, the bottom of the tank should be checked for sludge
and cleaned out if any is present. If either tank is below-grade and has secondary
containment, then the interstitial space should be checked periodically for the presence of
8.2 AD Mechanical System Maintenance
8.2.1 Pumps
A pump can be easily damaged if something goes wrong that is not corrected quickly.
Pumps can handle varying particle sizes and TS concentrations. A minimum fluid flow
through the pump is required to remove the buildup of heat in the pump head. Ideally,
there should be a pressure gauge on each side of the pump so that pump clogging or
piping can be easily identified. A blocked discharge can damage a pump due to lack of fluid
Positive displacement pumps, such as gear pumps, can damage the discharge piping,
instrumentation, or the pump itself if a valve in the discharge line is closed while the pump
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is operating. Monitoring the suction and discharge pressures across a pump on a regular
basis is the best way to check pump health. If possible, it is also always good to check the
pump's flow rates. A damaged pump can appear to be operating normally while producing
less-than-normal flow rates. Reduced pump flow generally indicates wear on the pumping
components, such as the stator of a progressive cavity pump, the lobes of a rotary lobe
pump, or the impeller of a centrifugal pump.
A pump seal is located at the intersection of two moving parts, and as a result, the seal will
eventually fail. Worn or damaged seals usually cause pump vibration or leakage, so pumps
should be routinely checked for excessive vibration or leaking. Misalignment between the
pump shaft and the motor shaft, as well as excessive impeller wear, can also cause
excessive vibration. Unusual or excessive noise is a typical indicator that something is going
wrong. Some pumps use drive belts between the motor and the pump, and in that case,
the drive belt's tension and condition should also be checked. Seal and drive belt
replacements are required more frequently than impeller/piston/plunger replacements or
pump overhauls.
Submersible pumps particularly need performance monitoring, as the material being
pumped can be abrasive and cause the pump components and seals to wear prematurely.
8.2.2 Mixers
Mechanical mixers should be frequently checked for excessive vibration. Vibration usually
indicates that something is amiss at the mixer's working end. This could be from a buildup
of scale or cake on the blades or from missing or loose blades. Excess fiber, loose plastic,
or similar materials introduced into the digester can foul the blades, and the blades will
need to be cleared.
Fouled blades on slow-speed mixers are less likely to experience vibrations and instead
usually require more power to rotate the shaft. This could be indicated by the motor
running at an excessively high temperature or tripping off from an overload. Some
mechanical mixers use a drive belt, and the drive belt's tension and condition must also be
checked. Bubble-type mixers should be checked for adequate bubble flow and for uniform
distribution. Problems could be caused by a compressor malfunction or partial plugging of
the vapor line or distribution piping.
Jet mixers operate by removing liquid from the anaerobic digester and returning it in a
piping system with a series of nozzles that are designed to mix the vessel. The system relies
on a pump that is subject to the issues discussed in 8.2.1 above. Jet mixing systems are
usually used for dilute material, as excess solids can clog the nozzles. For this reason, the
pump should be installed with a pressure switch that would stop the pumping when the
outlet pressure reaches a preset value. All piping that is external to the digester should be
routinely checked for leaks.
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8.2.3 Heat Exchangers
Heat exchangers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and configurations, and they are
generally designed for specific applications. An exchanger transfers heat from a hot fluid
on one side of a metal interface to a cold fluid on the other side of the interface. There is
fluid movement on each side of the metal interface, and the greater the temperature
difference between the two fluids, the greater the amount of heat transfer. If there is no
fluid movement or no temperature difference, there is little to no heat transfer.
Most of the heat exchangers used in AD/biogas systems are simple pipe coils. Plate and
frame heat exchangers are preferred for efficiency in applications requiring maximum heat
transfer in a small size. They can be easily fabricated from corrosion-resistant materials. A
big advantage of plate and frame heat exchangers is that they can be readily disassembled
for inspection and cleaning, and spare plates and gaskets can be kept on hand if any
replacement is needed. The main disadvantage is that the exchangers' fluid passageways
are small and easily fouled or plugged. For this reason, most plate and frame heat
exchangers are used to transfer heat from a CHP to hot water loops.
It is important to have a pressure gauge on the inlet and outlet of both sides of the heat
exchanger. A higher-than-normal pressure drop across either side of the exchanger
indicates either a higher flow rate or potential fouling. If the flow rate has not changed, the
inlet strainer has been checked and cleaned, and the pressure drop continues to increase
over time, then the exchanger is likely fouled, and a cleaning should be scheduled. Many
external heat exchangers use a spiral heat exchanger or a tube-in-shell or tube-in-tube
exchanger. These exchanger types are susceptible to fouling and clogging. Therefore, the
pressure across them must be monitored for their sustained operation.
8.3 Biogas System Maintenance
Biogas system maintenance varies depending on the biogas use and type of equipment in
operation. There are essentially three basic levels of biogas processing, based on the type
and quantity of gas contaminants.
The lowest level of processing requires the removal of free water from the biogas and the
slight pressurization of the biogas using a blower so that it will flow into a boiler or IC
engine. Biogas processed to this level still contains H2S, water vapor, and CO2. The biogas
will burn, but the H2S and water vapor can cause safety and equipment reliability issues.
System maintenance involves checking the effectiveness of the water separation and
maintaining the blower.
The next level requires more equipment and processing to remove the H2S and the
majority of the water vapor. At this level, the biogas still contains a significant amount of
CO2 and a small amount of H2S and water vapor, but it is much safer to handle and
provides a cleaner fuel source that should not harm a boiler or IC engine. Many scrubbers
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are designed to reduce H2S to a predetermined level. Either the engine manufacturer or air
permitting requirements determine the H2S removal level.
Upgrading to the last level, requiring still more equipment and processing, involves
removing nearly all the CO2, H2S, water vapor, and other contaminants followed by
compressing the gas to pipeline pressure or higher. At this point, the gas has been
converted from biogas to RNG and is suitable for injection into the local natural gas utility
pipeline system or for use as a localized compressed natural gas replacement.
This section and the following section describe the general maintenance requirements for
AD/biogas systems.
8.3.1	Blowers and Compressors
Blowers and compressors have many of the same O&M issues as pumps and are checked
in a similar fashion. Leaks and excessive vibration indicate problems with seals or
mechanical interference or misalignment in other areas. Leaks in biogas blowers or
compressors can be hazardous, so gas-monitoring devices should be permanently installed
near the compressor or operators should wear personal monitoring devices when working
around the biogas compressor. Drive belts should be checked for tension and condition.
Compressors, unlike pumps, produce a lot of heat during the compression process. This
usually results in the discharge gas temperature being very hot, and a discharge cooler
may be required. Oil is used as a compressor lubricant, but it also functions as both a
sealant and a coolant within the compressor. A high oil temperature indicates a problem.
Inlet and outlet gas temperatures and pressures should be monitored, as well as inlet and
outlet oil temperatures. As is the case with all mechanical equipment, excessive or unusual
noise typically indicates that something is wrong.
Larger compressors often have several subsystems. Subsystem examples are jacket water
heating and cooling with a jacket water pump, lube oil heating and cooling with a lube oil
pump, a pre-lube/post-lube pump, and starter. As the complexity and number of
subsystems grows, so does the likelihood of something going wrong and requiring
maintenance. The importance and frequency of preventive O&M increases dramatically
with compressor size and complexity. The compressor's operating manual should be
consulted for specific O&M requirements and frequencies.
8.3.2	Heat Exchangers
Heat exchangers have been described in Section 8.2 above. Please see that section for
maintenance requirements for biogas heat exchangers.
8.3.3	Particulate Filters
Particulate filter O&M involves checking the differential pressure gauge to ensure it is
functioning properly, and then scheduling a filter change when the differential pressure
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reaches a predetermined set point. It is important to keep the spare filter cartridges and
also to have an extra O-ring or two for the lid/cover. Use caution in disposing of old filter
cartridges, as some amount of iron sulfide has likely collected on the filter material. This
can heat up and catch fire when exposed to air if the filter cartridge is allowed to dry out.
8.3.4 Coalescing Filter/Separator
Much like the particle filters, coalescing filter O&M primarily involves checking the
differential pressure and changing the coalescing filter cartridges when the differential
pressure reaches the predetermined set point. Coalescing filters remove small liquid
aerosol droplets, which are drawn off as a liquid and do not permanently collect in the filter
cartridges. Because of this, coalescing filter cartridges are designed for a much longer life
cycle than normal filter cartridges. The level indicator and level control valve also require
checking and maintenance. Because these filters usually maintain some liquid in them, the
drain piping and lower portion should be heat-traced and insulated to prevent freezing in
colder climates. Heat tracing should be checked occasionally to verify that it is working as
8.4 Power and Heat Generation O&M
8.4.1	IC Engine
IC engines and gas turbine engines can generate power with biogas. IC engines are more
commonly used than gas turbine engines, primarily because an IC engine has a lower
capital cost, higher conversion efficiency, and wider operating range than a gas turbine
engine. Even though the O&M costs are higher for an IC engine, overall operating costs are
generally lower for IC engines used in smaller-scale biogas applications.
IC engines have several subsystems. These include fuel gas compression, conditioning and
regulation, jacket water circulation, heating and cooling, lube oil circulation, jacket water
supply and drain, lube oil supply and drain, starting power from batteries, inlet combustion
air with a filter and regulator, and an exhaust system with a muffler, among others. The
fuel gas, lube oil, and jacket water subsystems require the most attention and
The manufacturer's recommended O&M requirements and schedule should be followed to
maintain engine warranty and extend the equipment's useful life. Keeping up with the
recommended routine O&M and major overhaul schedule can be difficult, but doing so
maximizes engine runtime and system profitability.
8.4.2	Routine
As is the case with most IC engines, lube oil/filter, inlet air filter, fuel gas filter, and spark
plug changes are the most common routine O&M items. In addition, if the biogas contains
H2S, then inlet fuel gas system parts will require flushing, cleaning, lubrication, or change-
out on a frequent basis to avoid corrosion or deposit accumulation.
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8.4.3	Oil Changes
Oil and oil filter changes are two of the most critical routine O&M items. Establishing a
regular routine contributes greatly to the longevity of the IC engine. If there is H2S in the
biogas, then the importance and frequency of oil/filter changes are greater. H2S will cause
the oil to become acidic over time, increasing engine component wear and decreasing
engine life expectancy. Using a buffered lube oil with frequent change-outs can help
mitigate the problem.
8.4.4	Monitoring
Monitoring flow rates, temperatures, and pressures is an excellent way to identify
performance trends, and changes in these trends indicate the need for O&M. Additionally,
an oil analysis program that samples the used oil and monitors for contaminants is
recommended. This analysis is used to predict potential wear problems and identify the
need and timing for upcoming O&M.
8.4.5	Overhauls
An engine overhaul should be performed at intervals recommended by the manufacturer
and is generally based on the engine's cumulative operating hours. If the engine-generator
set operates on a continuous basis, then overhauls will likely be required every one to two
years. The used oil sampling and analysis program may indicate a need for more frequent
8.4.6	Heat Exchangers and Pumps
Additional heat exchangers, pumps, expansion tanks, and associated controls make the
CHP system somewhat more complicated, but they do not add significantly to the overall
O&M requirements. Most CHP systems use radiators to dissipate heat that is produced in
excess of the system's heating needs.
8.4.7	Boilers
A boiler uses a direct flame to heat water flowing through adjacent tubes or pipe coils. In
the case of a biogas-fueled boiler, a low-British thermal unit gas is burned in a boiler to
heat water. In principle, this is no different than using a fossil-fueled hot water heater. The
hot water can then be pumped to provide digester heating, building space heat, and hot
water for other operations. The only real moving part is the water pump, which requires
periodic inspection and O&M similar to any other pump. The boiler's fuel gas controls
include several safety-related items to keep the boiler running safely and efficiently. These
include automated shutdown valves on the main fuel gas line, pressure regulators on the
main and pilot gas lines, blower controls and/or purge timers, and flame and high-
temperature detectors. Because these are safety-related items, they should be routinely
checked and verified for proper operation.
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Boilers sometimes use biogas containing H2S. When H2S is burned, it produces exhaust
fumes that are acidic and very corrosive when condensed. If the boiler is operated using a
low duty cycle, starting and stopping frequently and allowed to cool off, excessive corrosion
will occur on the water coils or tubes and also on the heater's cover panels. Corrosion can
also happen when the boiler is operated at too low a temperature.
Due to the relatively cooler temperature of the water inside the coils/tubes, corrosion will
be most evident on the outside of the coils/tubes, and these coils/tubes should be
inspected regularly to determine their condition and rate of corrosion. The boiler stack
should be monitored for corrosion as well.
8.4.8 Chillers
A chiller is essentially a mechanical refrigeration system that uses a refrigerant, much like
an air conditioning system. Most standard chiller systems use a motor-driven compressor.
Chillers sometimes use an intermediate fluid, such as a glycol-water solution, in
combination with a pump and heat exchanger to better control biogas temperature and
avoid over-cooling the biogas. Routine O&M on an electrical motor-driven chiller system is
minimal. Monitoring the inlet and outlet biogas temperature is the best way to check
whether the system is functioning properly. Operators should occasionally check the glycol-
water solution level and the condition and tension of drive belts where used.
Similar to the standard chiller, a gas-fueled refrigeration system uses an IC engine to drive
the compressor. Gas-fueled systems typically use a refrigerant to cool air for refrigerated
storage or building climate control, and they generally do not use an intermediate fluid.
Because of the IC engine, both routine and major O&M on a gas-fueled refrigeration
system are more involved than for a motor-driven chiller system. The maintenance
becomes even more complicated if the biogas contains H2S. The IC engine must be
specifically designed to use biogas, and if H2S is present, then certain engine components
will require upgrading to bhS-resistant metals. Even with material upgrades, H2S will cause
the engine oil to become acidic over time. This acidity can be somewhat mitigated by using
buffered oil and performing frequent oil changes, but ultimately it will result in accelerated
engine wear and reduced equipment life expectancy. As with an engine-driven CHP, it is
best to scrub H2S out of the biogas before using it in an IC engine.
8.5 Biogas Upgrading System Maintenance
There are many different biogas upgrading technologies and systems, as discussed in
Section 7.9. This section provides a general overview of their maintenance considerations.
It does not address any one system, nor provide a comparison of systems. It is highly
recommended that the system manufacturer be consulted to establish an adequate O&M
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8.5.1	H2S Removal
H2S removal systems are discussed in further detail in Section 7.9.1. Under normal
circumstances, the O&M requirements for H2S removal systems are minimal. Regular tasks
involve checking for leaks, verifying proper calibration and operation of the
instrumentation and biogas analyzers, and evaluating the reactive media's condition to
determine the schedule for the next media change-out.
Media change-out of the H2S scrubber vessels can be difficult. The process involves
significant media handling, safety, and disposal problems. Change-out is best performed by
a third party with the trained personnel, skills, experience, and equipment.
For example, if an iron sponge is used as the H2S removal media, then the spent media
must be properly handled or it will catch fire. A third party usually hauls away the spent
media for reconditioning or disposal. During media bed change-out, there is also a
possibility of exposing operators to high concentrations of H2S vapors.
Other than periodic change-out of the bed media, the H2S removal tanks should not
require regular O&M. Instrumentation that monitors the process conditions in the vessel
(temperature, pressure drop) and biogas H2S concentrations should be checked to confirm
that the removal system is operating within specifications. By monitoring the temperature,
pressure drop, and biogas H2S concentrations, an operator can evaluate how well the H2S
removal beds are performing and predict how soon the media will need to be changed.
Solid media adsorption requires that the media be replaced at regular intervals, and the
spent media must be disposed of as solid waste. Biological scrubbing systems require heat,
fresh water, and electricity to maintain a microbial population that removes biogas
contaminants. Biological scrubbing systems generate a wastewater stream that must be
disposed of. Chemical scrubbing systems require replacement of the chemicals that are
consumed in removing the biogas contaminants, electricity to circulate the chemical
solution, and a system to manage a byproduct sludge stream that must be disposed of as
solid waste.
8.5.2	Bulk Moisture Removal
Bulk water vapor removal is usually done after the H2S is removed. A chiller system is used
to lower the temperature of the biogas so that most of the water vapor condenses. The
condensed water is then removed by gravity in a separator. The cooled biogas is then
warmed prior to further use or processing.
As noted in Section 8.4, routine O&M on an electric motor-driven chiller system is minimal.
Inlet and outlet biogas temperature is the best indicator of proper system function.
Additional checks of coolant temperature, glycol-water solution level, and drive belts
should be made periodically as applicable.
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An increase in cooling temperature can indicate a problem with the chiller. The separator
will not operate at its designed efficiency with elevated chiller fluid temperatures. In
addition, there will likely be heat trace and insulation installed if the unit is in a cold climate,
and the operability of the heat trace should be verified periodically.
8.5.3	C02 Removal
As noted in Section 7.9, CO2 can be removed using a membrane filtration process, amine
scrubbing, a spray tower, or a PSA process.
O&M on membrane filtration process systems is relatively inexpensive, except for
occasionally replacing the membrane filter cartridges. The membrane filtration process
usually requires additional compression and therefore incurs high capital cost and
The PSA process generally requires little O&M. Because the adsorption media can be
regenerated in place, they can be used for a long time without requiring a total change-out.
Even so, eventually the adsorption media wear, degrade, and lose efficiency and must be
replaced. Monitoring outlet biogas CO2 content is an effective way to predict when a
change-out will be needed. Media change-out is the only major O&M required. Unlike the
H2S scrubber material change-out, this media replacement does not present any real safety
issues. Even so, there are challenges with media handling and disposal, so this may also be
a good task for a third party.
Dust or fines from the adsorption material are produced over time due to normal wear and
can cause fouling in downstream equipment, so it is important to change the dust filter
cartridges. Routine O&M involves checking the pressure drop across the vessels to make
sure the adsorption material has not shifted or plugged.
8.5.4	Dehydration
As discussed in Section 7.9.2, a PSA system using a different adsorption material is used to
remove the additional water vapor required to produce pipeline-quality RNG. Media
regeneration, material change-outs, and routine O&M are essentially the same as for the
CO2 removal system.
8.5.5	Compression
If the biogas is being upgraded to RNG, extra compression is required to boost it to a high
enough pressure to be introduced into a natural gas pipeline. If the compressor uses an IC
engine, then the O&M requirements will be similar to those for the IC engine described in
Sections 7.8.1 and 8.4.1. The main difference is that the frequency of oil changes and
overhauls will be lower because all of the H2S has been removed. If the compressor driver
is an electric motor, then the O&M will be limited to checking the shaft alignment, vibration
detectors, bearing temperatures, and winding temperatures.
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Compressor O&M requirements can vary considerably, depending on the compressor's
type and size. Routine O&M on either reciprocating or screw-type compressors involves oil
and oil filter change-outs. On reciprocating compressors, piston rings and cylinder valves
require routine replacement. On screw-type compressors, there typically is an oil
coalescing filter on the gas outlet, and the filter cartridges need to be replaced periodically.
Reciprocating or screw-type positive displacement compressors may require a discharge
cooler if the heat generated from these compressors causes the discharge gas
temperatures to increase too much. Inlet and outlet gas temperatures and pressures, as
well as inlet and outlet oil temperatures, should be monitored. Oil is used as a compressor
lubricant, but it also functions as both a sealant and a coolant within the compressor. High
oil temperatures indicate a problem. As is the case with all mechanical equipment,
excessive or unusual noise typically indicates that something is wrong.
8.5.6 Activated Carbon and Other Media
Activated carbon adsorbs volatile organic compounds that were not removed during the
previous biogas conditioning. Breakthrough occurs when the media is saturated, so the
media must be replaced with new activated carbon periodically to maintain operations.
8.6 Flare Maintenance
The flare is a key piece of safety and environmental protection equipment because it
effectively disposes of biogas during periods when production exceeds use, during system
O&M, and during emergency situations.
Always remember that biogas is explosive when mixed with air. Biogas can also be fatally
toxic when inhaled and can be an asphyxiant when it displaces breathable air. Also, a flare
is essentially an open flame, so it is important to keep any combustible materials away
from the flare.
Biogas is flammable, so it is important to keep the pilot light burning at the top of the flare.
The pilot light gas can be a source other than the biogas, such as natural gas or liquified
petroleum gas. Once the pilot light gas controls and safety features are set up, they should
require minimal O&M going forward.
The primary O&M for flares is to verify that the pilot is lit, check filters to verify that the
pilot gas is clean, and check the pressure gauge to verify the gas is provided in a sufficient
quantity. Some flares use spark ignition, and proper operation must be periodically
verified. A flame or detonation arrestor may be installed on the inlet line to the flare and
requires periodic inspection and cleaning.
The flare can only work if its piping is unobstructed. If the digester or any of the biogas
processing equipment is over-pressured, the best way to deal with the excess biogas
pressure is to create a clear path to the flare. Check for closed valves upstream or
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downstream of relief valves or pressure control valves that control the flow of biogas to the
flare. Check for the accumulation of liquids in low points of the flare piping system, and, in
the winter, make sure the liquids do not accumulate and freeze.
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9.0	Odors and Odor Control
9.1	What Are Odors?
Odors are distinct smells, most commonly unpleasant ones, caused by malodorous
chemical molecules entrained in the air we breathe. These malodorous molecules become
entrained in the air when, for example, a breeze blows across a manure pile or overloaded
storage lagoon, or when a lagoon is agitated in preparation for load-out. These malodorous
sources may provide effective feedstocks for the digester, but unmanaged odors are
frequently a source of problems for the operator.
9.2	How Can Odors Impact the Viability of an AD Operation?
Odors can impact the operational viability of an AD/biogas system if they become a
continuing nuisance to neighboring residents and businesses, potentially causing
complaints, notices of violation, regulatory fines, or even shutdown orders. Uncontrolled
strong odors may also negatively impact the health and welfare of the AD/biogas system
employees. This could cause safety concerns, reduced productivity, and higher overhead
costs for the operation.
9.2.1	Potential Odor Sources
At any AD operation, malodorous molecules can be released into the air from the following
•	Feedstock receiving areas and equipment
•	Feedstock preprocessing equipment
•	Feedstock tank headspace vents
•	Feedstock pits, piles, or bunkers
•	Digester reactor vents or PRVs
•	Digestate transfer, aeration, separation, or processing equipment
•	Digestate storage tanks, pits, lagoons, piles, or bunkers
•	Biogas processing and treatment rain
•	Biogas utilization equipment
9.2.2	What Do Unusual Odors Mean?
The presence of a new or unusual odor at an AD/biogas system can signify a problem with
the biological or mechanical systems. This should immediately prompt the operator to
investigate the odor's source. For example, a biological system upset from an OLR overload
event can cause a rapid change in digestate odor. A leak in the biogas handling system can
cause the presence of a distinct odor at the facility; if this occurs, the operator should take
precautions and attempt to find the source of the leak.
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Factors including barometric pressure, ambient air temperature and humidity, and wind
speed and direction can affect the nature and severity of odors present at an AD/biogas
system. These factors should be considered in the planning, implementation, and
evaluation of odor control or masking systems.
9.2.3	Odor Control
Odor control is the process of directing and collecting malodorous air to be treated before
being released into the atmosphere. Odor control systems can be separate from or
combined with HVAC systems, and they can include ductwork, blowers, biofilters, and
scrubbers. There are two distinct methods of odor control applicable to AD/biogas systems:
building control and source control, both described below.
9.2.4	Building Control
Building control involves the collection and direction of air within a building to a treatment
and discharge system. Building control is achieved by drawing slightly more air into the
odor control system than is discharged back into the building. Operating the system under
a negative pressure prevents malodorous air from escaping the building through openings
such as doors, vents, and windows.
A building control system consists of fresh air inlets, collection points, ductwork, and fans
or blowers. The fans or blowers draw odor-contaminated air into the ductwork from the
collection points, and fresh air enters the building through the fresh air inlets.
Building control systems should be set up so that the air flows inside the building from the
least malodorous areas to the most malodorous areas. This reduces odors being spread
throughout the building and reduces the risk of malodorous air escaping the building.
In a high-odor environment, such as the feedstock receiving or solids separation areas,
odor control systems are typically designed to provide 10 to 20 air exchanges per hour.
This means that 10 to 20 times the volume of air the room contains is drawn in from
outside the building every hour.
The odor control system ducting and equipment are sized to provide a certain air flow rate,
which can be converted to the number of air exchanges per hour the system provides. For
example, if a room is 100 feet long by 100 feet wide with a 30-foot ceiling height, the room
volume is:
For an odor control system to provide 10 air exchanges per hour in this room, the system
would need to be sized for:
100 ft X 100 ft X 30 ft = 300,000 ft3
300,000ft3 X 10
air exchanges
= 3,000,000 r	
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While this high air flow rate would be required when malodorous materials are present, in
some cases, it may be beneficial to plan for a variable flow rate system that can be turned
down when malodorous materials and operators are not present to reduce operating
9.2.5	Source Control
Source control can be applied at specific locations inside a building or when malodorous
materials are present outdoors. Source control systems collect odor-contaminated air from
locations very close to the malodorous materials and direct the air to a treatment process.
These systems generally process less air volume than building control systems.
Odor source control systems can include fume hoods directly above an odor source,
flexible ductwork positioned near an odor source, partial enclosures around odor sources,
or odor control systems directly connected to a tank headspace.
Proper housekeeping is also an odor source control method. Frequently cleaning and
removing organic material from corners, ledges, recesses, and equipment areas can
significantly reduce odors at an AD/biogas system.
9.2.6	Odor Treatment
Odor treatment includes the processing of odor-contaminated air to remove or neutralize
malodorous molecules prior to releasing the air into the atmosphere. Odor treatment
methods commonly used at AD/biogas systems are biofiltration, chemical scrubbing, and
adsorption. The details of these methods are discussed below.
9.2.7	Biofiltration
Biofiltration is a common odor treatment method for many industrial processes. Biofilters
typically use a fixed bed of porous media, such as woodchips or volcanic rock, through
which the exhaust air is directed. Naturally occurring microorganisms grow in the porous
media and react with the malodorous compounds in the air. Biofiltration typically requires
a humid environment, which is achieved by either humidifying the air prior to biofiltering or
directly irrigating the biofilter media with water.
9.2.8	Chemical Scrubbing
Chemical scrubbing can also remove malodorous molecules. This treatment method places
the odor-contaminated air in contact with a flowing liquid stream that reacts with the
malodorous compounds. Typically, chemical scrubbing reactors are tall cylindrical vessels
and use water or chemicals for scrubbing. The treatment liquid flows down from the top of
the vessel, and the odor-contaminated air flows from the bottom up. Chemical scrubbing
processes can be tailored to remove a wide variety of odors and generally take up less
space than a biofilter. However, they require the addition of chemicals and disposal of the
residual liquid.
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9.2.9	Adsorption
Adsorption is an odor treatment method that typically uses a fixed bed containing
adsorbent media, such as activated carbon, through which the odor-contaminated air is
directed. The adsorbent media captures and retains the malodorous compounds. Once the
media are saturated with malodorous molecules, they are either regenerated through a
thermodynamic process or replaced. Adsorption odor treatment systems are generally
robust, can be tailored to remove a wide variety of odors, and generally take up less space
than a biofilter. However, they require replacing the media and disposing of the spent
media. There are many types and manufacturers of adsorbent odor treatment media with
various properties and life cycle costs.
9.2.10	Odor Masking
Odor masking typically involves in-place treatment of odor-contaminated air by mixing the
air with a water or chemical mist. This can be a cost-effective solution for temporary or
seasonal odor sources, such as those generated during tank cleaning, lagoon solids
removal, or outdoor pickup or delivery of malodorous materials.
Odor masking systems can be point systems (i.e., a single mist generator) or linear systems
consisting of mist nozzles surrounding an area or along a fence line. Masking systems can
use chemicals that present a more appealing odor (i.e., "perfumes"). However, this method
should be approached cautiously, as the perfumes may create a more unpleasant odor
than the original material.
Proper implementation of odor masking systems requires a careful evaluation of air
movement in the vicinity of the odor source and the corresponding masking system
placement and sizing.
9.2.11	Minimizing Odors During Operation
Proper operational practices can play a large part in reducing or eliminating odors at an
AD/biogas system. Operators can reduce the number of times doors are opened per day
and the duration that each door is open. Operators can schedule pickup and delivery of
malodorous materials at times when neighboring facilities are unoccupied. Operators can
also set up and maintain strict cleaning and sanitation schedules to minimize the buildup
of malodorous materials.
Various digester feedstocks and their end products can produce odors that change
depending on the specific feedstock mixture each AD/biogas system uses. It is important
for operators to understand the fundamentals of odor control and treatment, which allow
them to quickly optimize and adapt their odor control plan to changes in feedstock and
end products as necessary.
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10.0	Safety
Accident prevention is an important responsibility of owners and operators of AD/biogas
facilities. Preventing accidents, injury, or other negative health impacts requires minimizing
the risks associated with:
•	Fire and explosion
•	Confined space entry
•	Inadequate ventilation
•	Slips, trips, and falls
•	Electric shock
•	Electrical fire
•	Entanglement
•	High pressure
•	Extreme temperature
•	Noise
•	Drowning
•	Pests
10.1	Biogas Safety Considerations
Biogas is primarily composed of ChU and CO2, as well as small amounts of H2S and NH3.
Each of these gases can be dangerous or lethal to humans in sufficient concentrations.
Some of these gases are flammable/explosive, some are toxic, some are asphyxiants, and
some are a combination of all these attributes. Biogas safety requires respect and caution
in biogas handling.
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Figure 10-1. Safety signage on AD feed system.2s
10.1.1 Flammafoility and Explosion
CH,i must be between 5 percent and 15 percent concentration by volume in the air to be
flammable/explosive, This means that any ChU concentration in the air of less than 5
percent simply will not ignite. This is called the LEL, Similarly, any CH,i concentration in the
air that is greater than 15 percent will not ignite. This is called the DEL.
Biogas CH4 concentrations usually range from 50 percent to 75 percent, so the biogas
contained inside the digester or system piping is well above CH/s UEL Explosion danger
occurs when biogas leaks outside of its containment area and mixes with the outside air or
when air leaks into the digester or piping. CH4 is lighter than air but accumulates in
confined spaces lacking adequate ventilation. This is where the risk of fire or especially
explosion is the greatest. An explosive atmosphere is formed when the CH4 concentration
23 Image source: "Cayuga County manure digester virtual tour," extension Farm Energy, https://farm-
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reaches the UEL (15 percent CbUin air). At this point, any ignition source in the immediate
area will produce an explosion.
H2S has an LEL of 4.3 percent and a UEL of 46 percent. Because it is heavier than air, it is
most likely to be found at flammable/explosive concentrations in poorly ventilated
confined spaces.
Because of the potential for fire or explosion, the following prevention practices should be
•	Prohibition of smoking and vaping at the project site.
•	Prohibition of open flames and sparks.
•	A regularly scheduled biogas leak detection inspection program.
•	A permanent CH4 detection monitor and adequate ventilation in any enclosed structure
where CH4 is processed or used as a fuel.
•	Restricted site access by appropriate fencing.
•	Appropriate signage.
If gas or arc welding is necessary for plant or equipment repair, the area should be checked
for the presence of CH4 before and during the repair. This also applies to any repairs
involving the generation of sparks. In summary, eliminating potential ignition sources is the
best way to avoid a biogas-fueled fire or explosion.
Note that neither PVC nor copper should be used for biogas piping. Black steel is
recommended with the caveat that there is the risk of corrosion leaks due to biogas water
vapor and H2S reacting to form sulfuric acid.
10.1.2 Explosive Gas Hazard Zones
Hazard zones are areas where an explosive CH4 air concentration could possibly exist.
These hazard zones are typically around the seams and joints between the digester tank
and the biogas containment (cover) and the area immediately surrounding any PRV that
discharges biogas to the atmosphere. Buildings, enclosures, pits, or vaults that house
biogas processing equipment without adequate ventilation are also hazard zones.
The National Electrical Code defines three levels of hazard zones for explosive gases. A
Class I, Division 1 area is an area that has an explosive mixture during normal operation or
may have frequent potential for an explosion due to maintenance, leaks, or equipment or
process breakdown. This area has the most stringent ignition source restrictions.
A Class I, Division 2 area is an area that would only have explosive mixtures caused by a
containment breach, accidental rupture, or abnormal equipment operation or an area that
immediately surrounds a Division 1 area. Division 2 areas have lesser restrictions on
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ignition sources. With the addition of adequate ventilation, a Division 1 area can sometimes
be reclassified as a Division 2 area.
An Unclassified area is an area for which there is no reasonable expectation of having an
explosive mixture.
Many items can serve as ignition sources. Obvious examples are cigarettes, lighters, pilot
flames, welders, light switches, electrical outlets when devices are being plugged in or
unplugged, and any arcing or sparking electrical fixtures. Less obvious ignition source
examples are radios, cell phones, cameras, and computers. The National Electrical Code
requires that industrial electrical equipment, fixtures, and devices be individually rated for
service in Class I, Division 1; Class I, Division 2; or Unclassified areas.
While operators cannot always prevent the presence of explosive mixtures of biogas at an
AD/biogas system, they can control the presence of an ignition source. After all, it takes
both explosive mixtures and an ignition source for an explosion to occur.
10.1.3 Toxic Gases
Gases can potentially become Immediately
Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) when
concentrated within facility areas. At high enough
concentrations, some of these gases can be lethal
within seconds. The Occupational Safety and Health=
Administration (OSHA) defines an IDLH to be the
concentration of toxic, asphyxiant, or corrosive
substances posing an immediate threat to life,
causing irreversible or delayed adverse health
effects, or interfering with a person's ability to
escape from a dangerous atmosphere. An
asphyxiant is a substance that replaces O2 or inhibits
the body's ability to use O2.
H2S is a highly toxic gas. It is colorless, heavier than	Figure 10-2. Explosion
air, and has an IDLH of 100 ppm. It can quickly	potential sign. 24
cause dizziness, unconsciousness, and death. At low
concentrations, H2S smells like rotten eggs. However, smell alone cannot always be used to
detect the presence of H2S because when the gas is at higher concentrations, a person's
sensitivity to its smell decreases rapidly.
24 Image source: U.S. EPA AgSTAR, https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-
12/documerits/safetv practices.pdf.
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NH3 is an irritant and asphyxiant at low concentrations but can become toxic at higher
concentrations. NH3 has a pungent smell, is colorless, is lighter than air, and has an IDLH of
300 ppm.
CO2 is an asphyxiant that can cause unconsciousness and death. It is odorless, is colorless,
is heavier than air, and has an IDLH of 40,000 ppm (4 percent). CO2 can become toxic
beginning at concentrations of 5 percent.
CH4 is a simple asphyxiant, and there are no specific exposure limits if O2 levels remain
greater than 19.5 percent. The primary concern for CH4 is its ability to cause an explosion.
CH4 is odorless, colorless, and lighter than air.
10.1.4	Personal Detection Device
Small personal gas detectors are pocket-sized analyzers that measure the gas
concentration levels in the surrounding environment. They provide an audible and visual
alarm when a measured concentration exceeds a preset threshold limit. These detectors
are made in various configurations and are typically designed to detect and alert for one to
four different gases. Gas detectors are intended for workers to wear in their breathing
spaces (attached to clothing somewhere in the upper chest area) when they are working in
potentially hazardous areas. The detectors are highly effective, are reasonably priced, and
save lives. It is important to note that the detectors must be checked and recalibrated
periodically. A slightly larger handheld version of these gas detectors is made to be used
with extension tubing to check the environment around equipment, around suspected leak
points, or inside a confined space before and during an entry.
10.1.5	Permanent Gas Detection
In confined areas where biogas is likely to be present, permanent gas detectors with a
visible alarm function should be installed to prevent an accidental entry into a hazard zone.
Areas of concern include enclosed post-digestion solids separation buildings, entrances to
high solids AD vessels, confined space areas, and rooms attached to digesters such as
pump rooms.
10.1.6	Toxicity Hazard Zones
Like flammability/explosion hazard zones, toxicity hazard zones are typically around the
seams and joints between the digester tank and the biogas containment (cover) and the
area immediately surrounding any PRV that discharges biogas to the atmosphere.
Buildings, enclosures, pits, or vaults that house biogas processing equipment without
adequate ventilation are also toxicity hazard zones. In addition, any O&M that results in the
reactor being opened or any equipment or piping that causes biogas to be discharged or
vented will cause that area to become a toxicity hazard zone.
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10.2 General Safety Considerations
10.2.1	Material Handling
Material handling can include activities such as the periodic clean-out of the digester basin
and the operation of excavation equipment. Material handling operations can also include
bed material change-outs for the H2S and CO2 scrubbers, change-outs for the dehydration
vessels, and the hoisting/lifting/moving of large or heavy process equipment. Injuries could
result from standing under a suspended load; failing to stay within eyesight of a heavy
equipment operator or signal person; overreaching from or being knocked off a ladder or
elevated platform while attempting to handle and direct material; or being pinched or
crushed between a moving object and fixed equipment. O&M personnel training and
maintaining continuous situational awareness can minimize these hazards.
10.2.2	Confined Space
Personnel entry into any confined space requires specialized training and certification,
using well-established procedures and proper equipment. Otherwise, there is a significant
risk of severe injury or death. Examples of a confined space are any tank, vessel, pit, silo,
bin, or underground vault. By OSHA rules, these are considered confined spaces if they are
large enough for a person to enter and perform tasks in but have a limited/restricted
means of entry and exit and are not designed for continuous occupancy. Three primary
precautions must be taken for someone to enter a confined space:
1.	The atmosphere inside the confined space must be checked before and during entry to
confirm that it is not hazardous. O2 levels must be at least 19.5 percent (normal air is
approximately 21 percent). To avoid having an explosive mixture, CH4 levels must be
below 5 percent. Levels of H2S must be below 20 ppm. If any of these three
atmospheric concentration requirements are not met, it may still be possible to enter
the confined space by using forced and continuous fresh air ventilation. If the CH4
content is 5 percent or higher, then all electrical equipment (including the ventilation
blower motor) should be rated as explosion-proof. Furthermore, all ignition sources
(e.g., cigarettes, cell phones, and non-explosion-proof radios) must be kept well away
from the confined space while the operation is underway. Using a self-contained
breathing apparatus or a supplied-air respirator is also an option. However, these
measures require additional training and specialized equipment and should be
reserved for exceptional or emergency situations only.
2.	The person entering the confined space must wear a safety harness with a lifeline
connected to a hoist, winch, or pulley that is located outside of the confined space. This
ensures the person can be safely and readily removed from the confined space without
the need for another person to go inside to attempt a rescue.
3.	There must be at least one other person located outside the confined space whose sole
responsibility is to monitor the atmosphere inside the confined space, monitor the
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condition and health of the person inside the confined space, and if needed, call for
help and operate the mechanical rescue equipment to safely remove the person from
the confined space. Frequent verbal or radio communication with the person inside the
confined space is an effective way to monitor their health and condition.
Improper entry into a confined space is one of the more common causes of accidental
death in agriculture and the wastewater industry. Consult OSHA's website (www.osha.gov)
for more complete information.
10.2.3	Ventilation
Providing adequate ventilation is an important way to reduce the likelihood of
flammable/explosive or 02-displacing vapors accumulating and to reduce toxic vapor
inhalation. If the equipment or process being serviced is located outside of a building or
enclosure, then adequate ventilation is usually not a problem. However, low-lying and
bermed areas, including open pits, ponds, and sumps, may not receive enough natural
ventilation and should be considered potentially non-ventilated areas. Even if outdoors
with adequate natural ventilation, some specific areas should be treated with caution.
Examples include areas immediately surrounding a digester system or areas surrounding a
PRV discharging any biogas to the atmosphere.
The airspace inside a building or enclosure housing the engine-generator set or any biogas
processing equipment is capable of accumulating flammable/explosive, 02-displacing, or
toxic vapors. Without adequate ventilation, it has to be presumed that a leak or other
malfunction will eventually lead to a dangerous accumulation of undesirable vapors.
Building ventilation with frequent air changes does more than prevent hazardous vapors
from accumulating; it also helps cool the engine-generator equipment and maintain a
comfortable temperature for personnel working inside the building.
In some areas, such as an enclosure for small equipment, it may not be practical to provide
adequate ventilation. This type of situation normally requires the use of explosion-proof
equipment and electrical devices within the enclosure, as well as gas detection and warning
devices to alert operations personnel of any unsafe working conditions.
10.2.4	Slips, Trips, and Falls
Manure and other organic wastes are slippery. The keys to preventing slips, trips, and falls
are employee awareness, good housekeeping, and proper equipment layout and design.
Work surfaces and walkways should be kept clean and cords, tools, and supplies picked up.
To the extent possible, all valves, instruments, and equipment should be operable and
maintainable from ground level. Where this is not possible, consider using stairs with
handrails, ladders with cages, and elevated platforms with handrails for routine work, and
consider using a safety harness for non-routine work. Walkways should be designed with
or covered with a non-slip surface. A good design allows for an adequate amount of clear
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area around equipment for O&M activities. This is especially important around electrical
10.2.5	Electric Shock
Unexpected contact with electrical sources can be serious and sometimes fatal. Probably
the greatest risk of electric shock occurs during routine maintenance, repair, or
replacement of the various components of the electrical system, such as motors,
disconnect switches, and motor controllers. This risk usually occurs during O&M or repair
activities when protective guards have been removed, equipment is partially disassembled,
electrical panel doors are left open, wiring is left exposed, or the equipment or process is
otherwise falsely assumed to be in a safe condition.
Accidents are frequently caused by one person inadvertently energizing or turning on a
piece of equipment or opening a valve, while another person is working on the equipment
or process line. The risk of shock can easily be avoided by rigorously practicing
"lockout/tagout" procedures. These involve the use of energy-isolating devices, such as
circuit breakers or disconnect switches, and the locking or tagging of these devices to
prevent accidentally re-energizing the item being maintained, repaired, or replaced.
10.2.6	Electrical Fire
There are many possible sources of electrical fires. One is increasing the electrical load on a
circuit beyond its design capacity. Examples of this are replacing a pump with one of a
higher horsepower or a circuit breaker with one of a higher amperage capacity. Another
example is not replacing a disconnect switch or motor controller with one of the same
voltage, amperage, or enclosure rating.
Only individuals with the necessary skills and training should be allowed to maintain and
repair AD/biogas projects'electrical systems. Otherwise, a licensed electrician should be
10.2.7	Entanglement
Entanglement in rotating equipment is an all-too-common safety problem. Typical areas of
concern are unprotected blades, drive shafts, couplings, belts, and sheaves on augers,
pumps, blowers, compressors, and impeller-type mixers. Safety guards should always
remain in place unless inspection or O&M requires otherwise. For inspection or O&M while
the equipment is operating, personnel should tie back long hair and beards and refrain
from wearing jewelry or loose-fitting clothing.
10.2.8	High Pressure
Less common but just as dangerous accidents can happen when pressure-retaining
devices, heavy objects, or springs held in place by bolts are released by removing the bolts
without first relieving the pressure or tension. Training and strict adherence to a robust
lockout/tagout program can mitigate these types of safety issues.
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10.2.9	Extreme Temperature
Some parts of the AD/biogas system operate at very high temperatures. Equipment and
piping associated with the boiler, IC engine jacket water and exhaust, CHP system heat
exchangers and pumps, and possibly the compressor discharge piping can operate at
temperatures well above 140 °F. Simply touching or accidentally leaning against a hot pipe
or piece of equipment can produce a serious burn. Hot piping and equipment should be
labeled as burn hazards. Insulation or expanded-metal screens should be installed around
hot piping that is 140 °F or hotter and is less than 8 feet above grade or decking.
10.2.10	Noise
Excessively loud or chronically high noise is an insidious safety hazard. High noise levels
can cause temporary pain, short-term hearing loss, and in extreme cases, permanent
hearing loss. The IC engine-generator set is likely to be the equipment producing the most
noise. Compressors and blowers can also produce a lot of noise. Hearing protection should
be provided for all personnel working in noisy areas, and the noisy areas should be
properly identified with warning signs.
10.2.11	Drowning
Ponds and tanks used for liquid storage are locations for drowning risk. Covered anaerobic
lagoon digesters and liquid manure storage areas are especially dangerous because of H2S
toxicity and elevated levels of the asphyxiants CO2 and CH4. The presence of these gases
can quickly cause a person to lose consciousness and fall into the liquid. Equipment repair
in these areas is usually the activity with the highest drowning risk. Access to these areas
should be controlled and limited to personnel with appropriate training. In addition, ring
buoys (with ropes attached) and ladders (if appropriate) should be provided in these areas
to facilitate rescue.
10.2.12	Pests
Flies, birds, rodents, and other vermin usually inhabit the area surrounding an AD/biogas
system and are naturally attracted to digester operations because of the availability of
food, water, and shelter. These pests can transmit diseases, disturb the surrounding
community, and cause building and equipment damage, and an infestation can negatively
affect digester operations. Preventing an infestation is the primary goal of a pest control
The first step in a pest control program is good housekeeping. This limits the availability of
food, water, and shelter, and doing so makes additional control measures more effective.
Good housekeeping includes removing clutter from within and around buildings, cleaning
dumpsters, and removing trash in a timely manner. Limiting food, water, and shelter also
includes removing food waste; dead and decaying organic matter; puddles and items
containing standing water; stacks of pallets, wood, and similar items; and tall weeds and
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grasses. Common pests and specific control measures used to address them are listed
•	Flies carry diseases and can be a significant issue for both humans and animals.
Effective fly control usually requires spraying approved insecticides in the general
infestation area. Be careful when selecting and applying insecticides so that spraying
does not adversely affect the microorganisms necessary for the AD process. Fly control
also requires regular cleaning of and larvicide application to piles of wet or moist
organic material, unattended manure piles, and the moist edges of silage and feedstock
•	Birds can bring diseases into the facility, can transfer diseases from one location to
another within the facility, and are very difficult to control. The best way to control birds
is to minimize the attractiveness of the facility as a habitat, which means reducing cover
and available food sources. Where allowed, approved and regulated poisons can also
be used to control birds.
•	Rats and mice carry diseases and can also cause equipment and building damage by
gnawing on wiring and other building materials. Rodent control is best done by
minimizing their food sources and habitat. Poisons are also effective, but they are more
effective when combined with a reduction of food sources and habitat so that the
poisons can be strategically located.
•	Eliminating food sources and restricting entry where possible can control other vermin.
Hunting and/or trapping may also be an effective means of controlling vermin
10.3 Safety Conclusions
Biogas contains components that can be harmful or deadly to plant operators. Precautions
and training should be implemented to focus on the safe operation of the AD/Biogas
system, and proper care must be used to avoid injuries due to moving equipment
associated with the system.
Safe operation of an AD/Biogas system is essential for the continued and beneficial use of
the AD/Biogas system to protect this investment, facilitate the reliability of revenue from
the system, and ensure that the operation is an asset to the community.
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