Biogas- principle and process

Biogas- principle and process

Principle of biogas production

Biogas is generated when bacteria degrade biological material in the absence of oxygen, in a process known as anaerobic digestion. Since biogas is a mixture of methane (also known as marsh gas or natural gas, CH4) and carbon dioxide it is a renewable fuel produced from waste treatment.

Anaerobic digestion is basically a simple process carried out in a number of steps that can use almost any organic material as a substrate – it occurs in digestive systems, marshes, rubbish dumps, septic tanks and the Arctic Tundra.  Humans tend to make the process as complicated as possible by trying to improve on nature in complex machines but a simple approach is still possible, as I hope you see in this website.  Conventional anaerobic digestion has been a “liquid” process, where waste is mixed with water to facilitate digestion, but a “solid” process is also possible, as occurs in landfil sites.

As methane is very hard to compress I see its best use as for stationary fuel, rather than mobile fuel. It takes a lot of energy to compress the gas (this energy is usually just wasted), plus you have the hazard of high pressure. A variable volume storage (flexible bag or floating drum are the two main variants) is much easier and cheaper to arrange than high pressure cylinders, regulators and compressors.

Process of biogas production

Anaerobic Fermentation

Knowledge of the fundamental processes involved in methane fermentation is necessary for planning, building and operating biogas plants. Anaerobic fermentation involves the activities of three different bacterial communities. The process of biogas-production depends on various parameters. For example, changes in ambient temperature can have a negative effect on bacterial activity.  Biogas microbes consist of a large group of complex and differently acting microbe species, notably the methane-producing bacteria. The whole biogas-process can be divided into three steps: hydrolysis, acidification, and methane formation. Three types of bacteria are involved.


In the first step (hydrolysis), the organic matter is enzymolyzed externally by extracellular enzymes (cellulase, amylase, protease and lipase) of microorganisms. Bacteria decompose the long chains of the complex carbohydrates, proteins and lipids into shorter parts. For example, polysaccharides are converted into monosaccharides. Proteins are split into peptides and amino acids.


Acid-producing bacteria, involved in the second step, convert the intermediates of fermenting bacteria into acetic acid (CH3COOH), hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). These bacteria are facultatively anaerobic and can grow under acid conditions. To produce acetic acid, they need oxygen and carbon. For this, they use the oxygen solved in the solution or bounded-oxygen. Hereby, the acid-producing bacteria create an anaerobic condition which is essential for the methane producing microorganisms. Moreover, they reduce the compounds with a low molecular weight into alcohols, organic acids, amino acids, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and traces of methane. From a chemical standpoint, this process is partially endergonic (i.e. only possible with energy input), since bacteria alone are not capable of sustaining that type of reaction.



Methane-producing bacteria, involved in the third step, decompose compounds with a low molecular weight. For example, they utilize hydrogen, carbon dioxide and acetic acid to form methane and carbon dioxide. Under natural conditions, methane producing microorganisms occur to the extent that anaerobic conditions are provided, e.g. under water (for example in marine sediments), in ruminant stomachs and in marshes. They are obligatory anaerobic and very sensitive to environmental changes. In contrast to the acidogenic and acetogenic bacteria, the methanogenic bacteria belong to the archaebacter genus, i.e. to a group of bacteria with a very heterogeneous morphology and a number of common biochemical and molecular-biological properties that distinguish them from all other bacterial general. The main difference lies in the makeup of the bacteria’s cell walls.

Symbiosis of Bacteria

Methane and acid-producing bacteria act in a symbiotic way. On the one hand, acid-producing bacteria create an atmosphere with ideal parameters for methane-producing bacteria (anaerobic conditions, compounds with a low molecular weight). On the other hand, methane-producing microorganisms use the intermediates of the acid-producing bacteria. Without consuming them, toxic conditions for the acid-producing microorganisms would develop.  In practical fermentation processes the metabolic actions of various bacteria all act in concert. No single bacteria is able to produce fermentation products alone.

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