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Biogas Blossoming?

by on ‎09-10-2012 08:40 AM



Over this past summer, the team at Cat Electric Power, including myself, has had the opportunity to participate in many different events and conferences that have been billed as places to get the experts together to solve global energy problems. In my opinion, the solution to meeting the rising electric power demand of a growing global middle class has to be met not with a single magic bullet or technology but via a diversified power generation strategy that includes both traditional technologies along with new and renewable power generation technologies. Today, Caterpillar may be well known as a manufacturer of traditional engine and turbine power generation systems, but we've also been working hard to develop products and services tailored toward the renewable space – specifically biogas power generation.

Ask the average guy or gal on the street to name a renewable power technology and they would immediate think of wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal. I think public perception has a lot to do with visibility, marketing, and PR. Very few people would know that there is enough landfill biogas power generation already operating in the United States to power millions of homes. Even fewer are probably aware of the carbon reductions that are possible if every major farm in the world started funneling agricultural and animal waste into an anaerobic digester, which is an extremely mature technology, for the production of biogas. When you start to look at capacity factors (analogous to the percentage of time the energy is available over a year) of the different renewable technologies available, it’s evident that electricity production from biogas is probably the most consistent and reliable renewable energy type in the world. That being said, Caterpillar has an obvious vested interested in biogas production given that we produce small and large engines, turbines, and generator sets capable of using biogas as a fuel source... and we've been hard at work to get the message out there.

This summer, our own Ben Mathews became a board member of the American Biogas Council. Our own Dr. John Lee presented at the 2012 Biogas Asia Pacific Forum in Bangkok, Thailand. We'll also sponsor and attend the Green Expo in Mexico City this month, as well as the Biocycle Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. We recently hosted a webcast that covered the unique challenges of developing biogas projects, which you can find at https://www.catelectricpowerinfo.com/gas/webcasts.asp.

I'd also like to invite any financial analyst, project developer, farmer, consulting engineering firm, or other interested party to meet Jon Best of Cat Financial as he presents at an upcoming webcast sponsored by the American Biogas Council. You can register to participate at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/315003738.

I'm a firm believer in the economics and viability of renewable power generation for a variety of reasons. Again, I feel that all renewable technologies should have a seat at the global energy table. I'm also very interested to get your opinion.

- What is your experience with biogas power generation?
- What do you see as the largest barrier to realizing the world’s potential for biogas fuels or any renewable fuel?
- What would you propose for a sound global energy policy?

Please share your thoughts by posting below.

by ramoos on ‎09-12-2012 03:04 AM

Hi Nick,


I would be very brief on my first comment on Biogas Blossoming. Well I have had the opportunity in past to work with Jenbacher and MWM. Most of my business developement and marketing activities during the foundation days of these products in India between 1995-2004 were more on the biogas engines based CHP projects. Because natural gas was very less and concentrated in the Gujarat region. Now that natural gas prices and availability in India makes power generation non viable, it is more that we look to produce electricity from Biogas, CBM, producer gas etc. During the survey as you rightly say that street gays and gals are not familar with this gas power production, I found that even the Industrial guys were apprehensive on taking this path. I would say during the time the anaerobic digestor technology too was not advanced, with even less was the sulphur cleaning technology. Now slowly the whole Biogas generation and processing technology is getting advanced and people are looking up to this form of power generation. In India a huge possibility exist in Power generation from Biogas (Agriculture, animal, sugar factory, distilleries etc. waste). Possibly positioning this in the vast market can bring about a very very large business opportunity. The largest barrier to this happening could be Knowledge, Process technology, Waste collection methods, upfront high cost of project etc. I had the previlege of setting up atleast 4 biogas CHP plants mainly at the distelleries of total installed capacity of 8.6 MWel. The economics and viability of these projects were very attractive with a payback period of 2 - 2.5 Years. I totally agree with you that power generation from Biogas has a great potential to realize the world energy. My opinion on framing the global energy policy with respect to Biogas or renewable enery should be first tackled at the micro level that is to say at each states of a particular country and move towards defining the same in Continent perspectives. Since your aim is towards Biogas, I would propose taking over India as the prime focus country due availability of waste. How do we take forward this hurrican task which has very high business potential needs to be debated. Thanks for taking in my comments. Best wishes. 

by rdezek on ‎09-12-2012 10:01 AM

Our company, Sutton Stromart, manufactures remote radiators ideally suited to biogas applications.  Our units feature multiple small diameter fans with low HP fan motors to minimize parasitic load on the engine.  Heavy duty round individual fin-tube cores, direct drive fan motors (no fan belts or fan/idler bearings) and galvanized steel structure means these radiators operate virtually maintenance free.  We have over 15 years experience in this field cooling Cat and Jenbacher engines.  We also have special designs available for CHP plants.  Please see our website www.suttonstromart.com or contact me at rdezek@wi.rr.com for more info.

by Raja on ‎09-12-2012 10:08 AM

Hi Nick,

I agree with your views on biogas as an excellent renewable energy source for producing electric power and as commented by Ramoos India needs to explore this option seriously.  I am discussing with some of my colleagues about the importance for the country to adopt distributed generation as the way forward with biogas, solar, and wind playing a major role.  I would be happy to discuss the initiatives that I we could take with Ramoos and Caterpillar.  I would appreciate your comments

Best wishes and kind regards

by on ‎09-12-2012 12:10 PM

Ramoos and Raja,


Thanks for your comments.  I couldn't agree more with your assessment.  The economic benefits of renewable generation technologies, increasing exhaust emissions regulations, governmental focus on energy efficiency via combined heat and power, and the need for localized distributed generation resources in a constrained electricity distribution system are all stacking up to justify more investment in biogas technologies.   Just last week, the Obama administration here in the US issued an executive order designed to promote combined heat and power technologies in US industry.


Thanks for your ideas.  Hopefully you can join us at one of our future industry events. 



by pervin on ‎09-12-2012 03:39 PM

Hello Nick,

I have experince both in California and New Jersey with the Cat 3600 series and the 3500 series LFG ICE. Over 4 years I performed trending of engine peromance and developed tools (L.O. analysis and LFG analysis) to determine the real time maintenance requirements. We rebuilt both series and tried add on after market components with mixed results.


What we foiund was there was a lot of preconceived ideas with regard to lean burn engines versus conventional ICEs and how to operate and maintain them. I no longer manage those sites (2 on the West Coast and 2 on the East Coast), but I did develop those same tools for others if they have an interest. I wrote a paper title "Learning from my Mistakes" which if you or any one else is interested, I would love to share it.


Just contact me at pervin12000@yahoo.com.

by pwits on ‎09-13-2012 10:19 AM

Hello Paul Ervin,


I am interested in receiving a copy of your paper called "Learning from my Mistakes".


We are a synthetic lube oil manufacturer and have a lot of experience lubricating high power and efficiency gas engines, particularly the MWM TCG 2032 (now CAT CG260) models.


I am particularly interested in the lube oil analysis tools you developed.


Have you ever experienced lube oil issues with bio and landfill gas applications, like premature aging of the oil and knocking/pre-ignition etc.?




Patrick Wits



by pwits on ‎09-13-2012 11:09 AM

My address: patrick@wci-ltd.com


by Raja on ‎09-19-2012 10:05 PM

Hi Nick,


The Indian State has taken some Smart Grid initiatives including micro grid and distributed renewable energy.  I had discussions with one of my colleague who is the chairperson of the working group about organizing a seminar in India to further promote this concept.  Would Caterpillar consider supporting such an initiative in India if we decide to move forward?





by on ‎09-24-2012 10:29 AM

Hello Nick,


My experience with biogas is decent in dealing and managing customer applications in the southwest of the US.  I feel that the biggest issues are the ROI vs. application costs, footprint availability of the application and emissions needs.  First, is the site application work study a profitable endeavor for the investors and owners?  If not, the the capital infusion will be lacking or grossly underestimated for the costs associated with the project.  So, a careful work study is essential.  Footprint space is another issue as is there enough dedicated space to produce, hold, and supply the site.  Effluent, holding tanks, pipelines, etc., I have experienced customers miscalculating one or all of these aspects and then realizing a year down the road they do not have enough bio-gas production and then they attempt to go to another fuel supply such as dual fuel applications to off set costs.  Careful planning is key.  Also, the emissions regulations are highly situational.  Many markets have tight regulations, (ex. California) and the emissions technology markets are evolving and still are challenged by 100% uptime guarantees for site applications.  This is a huge delimma that will add tremendous liability exposure to sites that are not properly aware of the issues and challenges of their applications.  


Lastly, to comment on the global energy policy is somewhat a logical fallacy in my mind.  There is no one size fits all, instead there is one technology is more efficient than another.  A lot of false representations occur with renewable energy types due to lobbying and those in the decision making process must understand that the local issues are key before we or others are able to suggest a global solution.  Efficiency and cost should be evaluated first and foremost for any application and not just used as "buzz" words in the energy business.  What is popular may not be the best solution and vice versa, so the application is really where it starts in my mind.  Obviously, this topic can and will be debated for years. 


Caterpillar will do fine in this business and will continue to have solid support for its customers and dealers.  This is critical as looking at who is with you in the process from beginning to end is another key decision whether locally here in the US or globally.




Nick C.

by on ‎09-24-2012 11:09 AM



Contact our Territory Manager in India.  Deshpande_prasanna_s@cat.com


Nick..nice thought leadership.  I couldn't agree more.

by bjone35 on ‎04-18-2013 10:36 AM


I'm looking into biogas for electrical generation purposes from landfills etc.. 1) Regarding the statement about careful planning to insure a minimum gas flow is being provided to run a generator, what is the approximate lowest flow needed to reliably and consistently generate electricity from the biogas?   (before considering a dual fuel genset) Can you provide an example scenario with a recommended size kW machine?  2) And what issues have you encountered when hydrogen sulfide is part of the gas mix?  How is that usually handled in a way that meets environmental regulations?  3) Can you point me to contacts, links or information on this? I appreciate it.


by mhildebrandt on ‎04-30-2013 08:14 AM

Great perspectives from Nick regarding global power sources. Most agree we need a diverse mix of sources, which can be termed an "electrical energy portfolio". The debate usually occurs on discussions of the relative sizes of the slices of the pie for each energy source. The single greatest driver is economics. The best "green" solution is the one that yields the most economic return (coincidence that the color green is the color most associated with money?). Liquid transportation fuels and total costs to transport and process or store wastes are also key elements that impact the economics driver. Technologies that promote local or "site of operations" consumption that use waste or co-products to generate power eliminate the need to "haul off and dispose" waste/co-products, thus eliminating the transport costs to do so. Our industrial services company has installed many "landfill gas to energy" systems comprised of both gen-set installations and power conditioning equipment. For existing landfills that currently produce the methane used as fuel at such sites, this is an excellent way to harness those BTU's. It may be helpful to think about power production in terms of BTU's. Fossil fuels, renewable fuels, and any technology that converts natural resources or waste materials into usable energy ultimately are measured in terms of BTU (or joules) availability. If every stream of material is considered terms of both BTU's available and degrees of difficulty to convert available BTU's into a form that can be safely used to generate power, then the economics driver can be quantified to provide a basis to make the best energy/power decisions. The relatively low and stable cost of Natural Gas (NG) we currently enjoy has and will continue to contribute to clean and affordable electrical power. We need to use this time wisely. The private sector and academia are actively engaged to develop new "slices of the energy pie" through research and development/applied research so new technologies replace or supplement some of the traditional sectors of the energy pie. These are exciting times!

by on ‎02-13-2014 12:04 PM



Caterpillar and others provide generators as small as 60kW that can operate on biogas fuels.  With as little as 35 cfm  of biogas production, you could generate 100kW of electricity with a Cat biogas generator set.  To do a project this small in the US can be difficult as the capital investment in fuel systems and electrical systems to get the green energy onto the grid where it is most valued can sometimes make financing or payback a challenge.  Most landfill gas projects in highly regulated countries don't start to pencil until you get into the 600-800kW range where fuel consumption is around 300cfm.


For answers to some of your other questions, I'd direct you to our recent biogas white paper @ https://emc.cat.com/pubdirect.ashx?media_string_id=LEXE0595-




All good points.  Thanks for sharing.

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