Control Systems for Bioenergy – Supporting an Important Emerging Industry

Photo courtesy Bioenergy Devco (BDC)

Photo courtesy Bioenergy Devco (BDC)

Bioenergy facilities are revolutionizing the treatment of organic waste and food waste (biodegradable material that comes from either plants or animals). Previously relegated to landfills, that same waste can now be processed to create renewable fuel and fertilizer. That means it no longer decomposes on dumpsites producing 15.1% of US methane gas emissions (according to the Environmental Protection Agency). It also means that it enriches soil and contributes to a true circular economy.

The following statistics (reported by Save On Energy) put into perspective how the bioenergy industry could support environmental goals.

  • A single person in North America wastes an average of 231 pounds of food every year. If converted into energy, that’s enough to power a 100-watt lightbulb for two weeks.
  • A town of 10,000 people wastes about 2.3 million pounds of food in a year. If converted into energy, that’s enough to power a desktop computer for 800 years.
  • A city of 163,000 people wastes about 954 million pounds of food in a year. If converted into energy, that’s enough to power 417 million washing machines for an hour.
  • A country with 319 million people wastes about 74 billion pounds of food in a year. If converted into energy, that’s enough to power 5.5 billion electric heaters for an hour.

To create biogas/methane suitable for use as energy, biodegradable feedstock (often wood pellets, crops, manure and food waste) is processed in anaerobic digestion tanks that ferment it to produce Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). These raw materials are also referred to as biomass, which is the oldest fuel type known to humankind. The resulting RNG can then be burned to produce electricity and heat (cogeneration).

As the capabilities and potential of bioenergy facilities have increased, so has their need for sophisticated automation support. Cybertech has worked with numerous companies to design, install and commission:

  • PLC/SCADA systems (can be used to analyze biogas parameters like calorific value and density prior to it being fed into larger natural gas networks)
  • Pressure/level sensors (to carefully monitor fermentation processes)
  • Screw conveyor systems (for relaying digestate leftover from RNG production)
  • Centrifuge systems (to remove remaining moisture and produce solid fertilizer materials)

It is important that the biogas fermentation process runs smoothly – regulating the heat, amounts of biomaterial and proper levels of methane. If the bacteria in the fermenter are not “fed” for six hours, methane production drops significantly. After only a few more hours, fermenter contents can no longer be regenerated and must be removed in an elaborate, time-consuming and costly process.

As today’s plants are typically operated with minimum personnel (with entire processes managed by a single operator – sometimes remotely), it’s critical to ensure that equipment is running properly and serviceable from a central location. As in the power market, bioenergy is transitioning toward smaller, distributed plant footprints.

With industry trends increasingly relying on control systems to streamline and monitor production, choosing an automation partner with Cybertech’s experience is important. With decades of experience in oil and gas, pipeline, manufacturing, food/beverage, wastewater and more, Cybertech brings best practices from multiple disciplines to bioenergy facilities.

We’re proud to provide top-tier support to an industry that is addressing critical issues like:

  • Food waste (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates $680 billion is lost to food waste annually)
  • Greenhouse gas emissions (landfill methane has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide).
  • Fertilizer production (natural processes take more than 500 years to form just 2 cm of topsoil.)

Get in contact with Cybertech for a discussion that could increase the difference you’re already making to the environment. If you’re planning a new facility, we can work with your team to design and build your control systems from the ground up – applying our decades of best practice experience to ensure that your project is a success.

Designs and implements
new control systems
Replaces or upgrades
obsolete equipment
Works with various
PLC/DCS/SIS platforms
Designs and upgrades
control networks
Consolidates data and
supports production reporting
Designs and fabricates
control panels
commissioning support
Supports your drafting
and CAD needs

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