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Currently UK annual production of biogas based on anaerobic digestion (AD) approaches 12 TWh, supplied by nearly 700 different plants, mostly for heat and power. The potential for biogas production has been estimated as 36 TWh based on current AD technology. This compares to UK natural gas annual demand of approximately 900 TWh.
While AD plays a key role in the agricultural, food and water industries and shows some promise for expansion, scaleup for gas applications is hindered by the diffuse availability of feedstocks, large reactor residence times and digestate volumes, and the economics of gas upgrading and injection. In order to significantly defossilise the natural gas grid, thermal processes offer larger scale feasible plant capacity and feedstock flexibility. Synthesis gas routes to renewable natural gas also offer the ability to achieve net negative CO2 emissions by use of CCS and/or green hydrogen.
Gasification of biomass and wastes presents challenges which can be addressed by careful selection of gasifier type. Commercial processes developed for methanation are also discussed along with overall plant configurations and advantages and disadvantages of different optimisation options. Demonstration projects and related processes currently in operation for thermal conversion of biomass to renewable natural gas are presented.