Case Study

Biohydrogen and Biomethane production

The LCRI’s Hydrogen team conducts internationally leading research and development into hydrogen as an energy source, and as a form of energy storage for excess renewable energy production.

Hydrogen is a clean and sustainable energy carrier that can be stored in highly concentrated form and moved around utilising a number of conventional distribution technologies. Hydrogen energy can be used directly for efficient electricity generation in fuel cells for various uses, including vehicles, with no emissions except for water.

Biohydrogen and biomethane production is one of the key aspects of research carried out by the team. This examines the potential for hydrogen being produced from local biomass resources, the technologies required for gas clean up and utilisation, the development of supply chains, and optimised reactor operation and management. This research has been targeted at using biomasss sources that are not directly used in the food chain, e.g. high sugar grasses, wheat straw, whole crop maize, wheat feed, as well as food waste and sewage waste.

One way in which LCRI’s Hydrogen team has been trying to improve biogas production is by looking at the monitoring techniques to analyse the reactor performance. These include artificial intelligence approaches using FT-Near Infra Red sensor data to study reactor performance. Other techniques used to improve the understanding of the process include the development of molecular biology techniques, such as Q-PCR (which identifies and measures specific microbial species) and pyro-sequencing (which can be used to analyse the metabolism of the hydrogen and methane producing populations).

By integrating a biohydrogen production reactor with a conventional methanogenic reactor fed wheat feed (a co-product of the flour milling industry), the team was able to increase the overall energy yield by 37%. When they used fodder grass, they saw an increase of 18% in energy yield.

As a result of this research, the team was able to develop an integrated anaerobic bioprocess, which is significantly more efficient than a conventional biogas system. This work also identified that the quality of biogas can be improved by producing a hydrogen enriched biogas, a process with improved waste stabilisation and a higher throughput production process. This novel process has recently been trade marked as “BioHyGas”.

Alan Guwy, the Project Manager for LCRI Hydrogen said “This work has showed that by integrating anaerobic treatment processes, we are able to convert biomasses more efficiently into biofuels. We are very pleased with the progress we have made, as this has brought us a step closer to developing a hydrogen based industry in Wales. In the future, we hope take the laboratory based study to pilot scale an demonstrated the process works on a number of biomasses sources such as sewage sludge.”