Optional Parts of Biogas Plants

Optional Parts of Biogas Plants

Heating systems

Normally, because of the rather high involved costs, small-scale biogas plants are built without heating systems. But even for small scale plants, it is of advantage for the biomethanation process to warm up the influent substrate to its proper process temperature before it is fed into the digester. If possible, cold zones in the digester should be avoided. In the following, a number of different ways to get the required amount of thermal energy into the substrate are described. In principle, one can differentiate between:

  • direct heating in the form of steam or hot water, and
  • indirect heating via heat exchanger, whereby the heating medium, usually hot water, imparts heat while not mixing with the substrate.

Direct heating

Direct heating with steam has the serious disadvantage of requiring an elaborate steamgenerating system (including desalination and ion exchange as water pretreatment) and can also cause local overheating. The high cost is only justifiable for large-scale sewage treatment facilities.

The injection of hot water raises the water content of the slurry and should only be practiced if such dilution is necessary.

Indirect heating

Indirect heating is accomplished with heat exchangers located either inside or outside of the digester, depending on the shape of the vessel, the type of substrate used, and the nature of the operating mode.

  1. Floor heating systems have not served well in the past, because the accumulation of sediment gradually hampers the transfer of heat.
  2. In-vessel heat exchangers are a good solution from the standpoint of heat transfer as long as they are able to withstand the mechanical stress caused by the mixer, circulating pump, etc. The larger the heat-exchange surface, the more uniformly heat distribution can be effected which is better for the biological process.
  3. On-vessel heat exchangers with the heat conductors located in or on the vessel walls are inferior to in-vessel-exchangers as far as heat-transfer efficiency is concerned, since too much heat is lost to the surroundings. On the other hand, practically the entire wall area of the vessel can be used as a heat-transfer surface, and there are no obstructions in the vessel to impede the flow of slurry.
  4. Ex-vessel heat exchangers offer the advantage of easy access for cleaning and maintenance.

While in Northern countries, often a substantial amount of the produced biogas is consumed to provide process energy, in countries with higher temperatures and longer sunshine hours, solar-heated water can be a cost-effective solution for heating. Exposing the site of the biogas plant to sunshine, e.g. by avoiding tree shade, is the simplest method of heating.


Pumps become necessary parts of a biogas unit, when the amounts of substrate require fast movement and when gravity cannot be used for reasons of topography or substrate characteristics. Pumps transport the substrate from the point of delivery through all the stages of fermentation. Therefore, several pumps and types of pumps may be needed. Pumps are usually found in large scale biogas units.

Types of pump

There are two predominant types of pump for fresh substrate: centrifugal pumps and positive-displacement pumps (reciprocating pumps). Centrifugal pumps operate on the principle of a rapidly rotating impeller located in the liquid flow. They provide high delivery rates and are very robust, i.e. the internals are exposed to little mechanical stress. They do, however, require a free-flowing intake arrangement, because they are not self-priming (regenerative).

Data of pumps

Practically all centrifugal pump characteristics are geared to water. They show the delivery rates for various heads, the achievable efficiency levels, and the power requirement for the pump motor. Consequently, such data cannot be directly applied to biogas systems, since the overall performance and efficiency level of a pump for re-circulating slurry may suffer a serious drop-off as compared to its standard “water” rating (roughly 5-10%).


Sometimes, namely when the substrate is excessively viscous, a centrifugal pump will no longer do the job, because the condition of the substrate surpasses the pump’s physical delivery capacity. In such cases, one must turn to a so-called positive-displacement or reciprocating type of pump in the form of a piston pump, gear pump or eccentric spiral pump, all of which operate on the principle of displacing action to provide positive delivery via one or more enclosed chambers.

Positive displacement pumps

Positive displacement pumps offer multiple advantages. Even for highly viscous substrate, they provide high delivery and high efficiency at a relatively low rate of power consumption. Their characteristics – once again for water – demonstrate how little the delivery rate depends on the delivery head. Consequently, most of the characteristics show the delivery rate as a function of pump speed.

The main disadvantage as compared to a centrifugal pump is the greater amount of wear and tear on the internal occasioned by the necessity of providing an effective seal between each two adjacent chambers.

Pump delivery lines

Pump delivery lines can be made of steel, PVC (rigid) or PE (rigid or flexible), as well as appropriate flexible pressure tubing made of reinforced plastic or rubber. Solid substrate, e.g. dung, can also be handled via conveyor belt, worm conveyor or sliding-bar system, though none of these could be used for liquid manure. When liquid manure is conducted through an open gutter, small weirs or barrages should be installed at intervals of 20-30 m as a means of breaking up the scum layer.

Each such barrier should cause the scum to fall at least 20-30 cm on the downstream side. All changes of direction should be executed at right angles (90°). Depending on the overall length, the cross gutter should be laid some 30-50 cm deeper than the main gutter. Transitions between a rectangular channel and a round pipe must be gradual. An inclination of about 14% yields optimum flow conditions. The channel bottom must be laid level, since any slope in the direction of flow would only cause the liquid manure to run off prematurely. All wall surfaces should be as smooth as possible.

Weak ring

Position of the weak ring

The weak/strong ring improves the gas-tightness of fixed-dome plants. It was first introduced in Tanzania and showed promising results. The weak ring separates the lower part of the hemispherical digester, (filled with digesting substrate), from the upper part (where the gas is stored). Vertical cracks, moving upwards from the bottom of the digester, are diverted in this ring of lean mortar into horizontal cracks. These cracks remain in the slurry area where they are of no harm to the gas-tightness. The strong ring is a reinforcement of the bottom of the gas-holder, it could also be seen as a foundation of the gas-holder. It is an additional device to prevent cracks from entering the gas-holder. Weak and strong ring have been successfully combined in the CAMARTEC design.


Materials and construction

The weak ring consists of mortar of a mixture of sand, lime and cement (15:3:1). The top of the weak ring restores the horizontal level. It is interrupted only by the inlet pipe passing through. The strong ring rests on the weak ring and is the first layer of the upper part of the hemispherical shell. It consists of a row of header bricks with a concrete package at the outside. In case of soft or uncertain ground soil one may place a ring reinforcement bar in the concrete of the strong ring. The brick of the strong ring should be about three times wider than the brickwork of the upper wall. A detailed description of the weak/strong ring construction can be found in Sasse, Kellner, Kimaro.


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