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Making chemicals from biogas instead of burning it
15 November 2011
Combustible gases generated by organic matter in landfill sites or from biomass are commonly burned to generate electricity. However, a Finnish team, writing in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Sustainable Economy, suggest that such biogas might be more usefully used as an alternative feedstock for the chemical industry. They explain that using biogas in this way would reduce our dependency on oil and gas-derived products and is commercially and technically viable.
Jouko Arvola of the University of Oulu and colleagues there and at Oulu University of Applied Sciences point out that environmental pressure has turned our focus to reducing carbon emissions by the employment of renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels. Biomass can be readily converted to usable energy mostly in the form of methane through anaerobic fermentation, they point out. Rather than simply burning this biogas, the team suggests that at the local level it would be beneficial in terms of resources and pollution to utilise this valuable carbon source as an industrial feedstock. They have now examined the viability of such an approach to industrial sites in Finland and demonstrated, in theory at least, that this is a serious alternative to natural gas or oil-derived resources.
To initiate such a switch to biogas from landfill and other sources, there may have to be subsidies akin to those implemented in food production. However, as the price of raw fossil materials - oil and gas - continues to rise, biogas will become a more competitive alternative feedstock and government support could gradually be reduced. "The use of biogas can be promoted by identifying existing industrial sites currently using fossil-based gas as raw material and by analysing whether they can utilise biogas," the team says. "By constructing biogas producing unit at industrial sites potentially enables development of other biogas applications. Building pipelines to other biogas users, or vehicle uses, are potential options," they add.