Biogas Production System as an "Upcycler" : Exergy Analysis and Economic Evaluation
Sustainable development is a growing concern for inhabitants of the planet earth. Consumption of fossil sources keeps up the depletion of nature’s capital and causes environmental impacts. One solution to have a sustainable society is to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels and substitute them by renewable energy sources. Among different types of renewable energy, biofuels have great potential for development and improvement. Though, the production of biofuels is criticized by many experts from the energy efficiency, environmental and economical points of view.
Biogas as one type of first generation biofuels is achieved from the wastes and by-products of other industries, and can be used as a transportation fuel in the form of biomethane. The use of by-products may give added value as inputs to the biogas production process, a process which may be called "upcycling." The aim of upcycling is to convert wastes into new materials with higher quality or higher environmental value in order to reduce the consumption of raw materials which results in decreasing of energy usage and environmental impacts
The aim of this thesis is to study the possibility of a biogas plant to act as an upcycler of wastes and by-products through anaerobic digestion process by the use of exergy analysis and economic evaluation. An imaginary biogas plant which uses a major by-product of brewing industry, i.e. Brewer’s Spent Grain (BSG), is considered to quantify the added value by biogas production process.
The results of the exergy analysis show that the exergy of the input BSG (78,320 MJ) is upgraded into two main products as biomethane (47,430 MJ) and biofertilizer (37,026 MJ) with a total exergy amount of 84,456 MJ.
On the other hand, the economic analysis of the studied biogas production process indicates that the biogas plant has the added value for the input material. In the economic analysis, the annual costs and benefits of the biogas production is calculated. The results show that the production of biomethane and biofertilizer from the by-product of brewing industry is profitable. However, the price of input BSG and also the variation price of the biofertilizer in different seasons, have great impact on the economy of a biogas plant.
The outcomes from exergy and economic analysis are indicated that the biogas production process is an "upcycling" process which has the added value for the inputs, from both economic and quality points of view. The exergy and economic evaluation may be used as indicators of the sustainable development, but only increasing the exergy and the economic value of a production process alone should not be considered as the sustainability of a system.
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