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Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

Omid Razbani, Nima Mirzamohammad, Mohsen Assadi

Theoretical and Experimental investigation of biogas fueled technologies: Literature review
and road map for internal combustion engines
pages nn-mm

Omid Razbani:, +4751875682
Literature review and road map for using biogas in
internal combustion engines
Authors (Omid Razbani, Nima Mirzamohammad, Mohsen Assadi)
Authors affiliation (University of Stavanger, Department of Mechanical and Structural Engineering and
Materials Science)
Mailing address (University of Stavanger N-4036 Stavanger, Norway)

Using biogas in internal combustion engines started from 1940s and till now a lot of progress
has been made to cope with biogas specifications. Here through detailed literature review, the
challenges such as lower flame speed (compared to natural gas) and biogas impurities are
studied; combustion characteristics of biogas in reciprocating engines are investigated.
Solutions and lessons learnt such as advancing spark timing, increasing compression ratio,
changing the bearing and piston materials and pre-chamber ignition systems are presented.
Some ideas on further research work, such as simplification of controller systems, data driven
model development and component and performance degradation survey are presented at

Key words: Biogas, internal combustion engines, combustion, CHP

Biogas found its way from developing countries to developed countries. In 2008 the biogas
production in Europe exceeded 7.5 million tonnes of oil equivalent. Germany is, in this respect,
a leading country in Europe with 4500 biogas plants and 1650 MW installed electric power in
2009 and is expanding for more capacity [1]. Norway started lately but has a growing trend in
biogas production. Table 1, shows biogas production history for Norway.
Utilizing biogas in the engines (when compared to fossil fuels) avoids any additional
greenhouse gas emission. Due to organic nature of the components of biogas, burning it in a
gas engine for power generation emits the same amount of CO
into the atmosphere as was
originally absorbed during the process of photosynthesis in the natural CO
cycle [2].
To illuminate technological as well as techno-economical concerns regarding the best way of
power generation from biogas, a research project funded by the Research Council of Norway
has been established to address the todays challenges of the different technologies. In this
project internal combustion engines, gas turbines and fuel cells will be studied theoretically and
experimentally to identify existing limitations and investigate possible solutions. The energy
conversion technologies used in this study are developed for natural gas, but during the project
they will be operated by both natural gas and biogas. Experiments will be carried out to
generate data to develop and train an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) model for monitoring
purposes and at the same time to validate the theoretical results.
Availability and economical viability of three conversion technologies will be investigated at a
comparative basis. Performance and component degradations also will be considered and
maintenance cost and lifetime will be established for each technology.
In this first paper it is tried to investigate previous works on using biogas in internal
combustion engines and find the road map for further development.
Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

Table 1 - biogas production trend in Norway [3]

The origin of biogas is traced back to the Persians. They discovered that organic matter such as
rotting vegetables gave of a flammable gas that could be used for other purposes. Marco Polo
has mentioned the use of covered sewage tanks in China. This is believed to go back to 2,000
3,000 years ago in ancient China. In modern times, the first sewage plant was built in Bombay
in 1859; an idea that was brought to the UK in 1895, when produced wood gas from wood and
later coal was used to light street lamps.
The use of biogas in internal combustion engines dated back to Second World War when
thousands of vehicles ran by sewage gas in Europe. In 1942-44, garbage collection trucks with
diesel engines were operated using purified and compressed sewer gas in Zurich,
Switzerland [1]. Around 1955 the importance of biogas was significantly reduced, as biogas
was not profitable any longer due to an excess of oil. The price of fuel oil was very low and
almost all biogas plants were shut down [4]. In 1980s after energy crisis biogas became
important again in internal combustion engines to produce electricity.
In 1981 an effort has been made to use biogas in a converted diesel engine to SI engine by D. J .
Hickson [5]. He experienced 35% less power compared to diesel and 40% less compared to
gasoline fuel. In that year another research was done by S. Neyeloff and W. W. Cunkel. They
used a CFR engine and ran it with simulated biogas in different compression ratios. They
reached to compression ratio of 15:1 for optimal solution [6]. The lower heating value,
corrosive composition and difficulties in transportation of the fuel were main challenges for
biogas. In 1983, R.H. Thring concluded that biogas would be attractive just where it is close to
production site and he suggested converting gaseous fuels like biogas or natural gas to liquid
fuels such as methanol or gasoline [5].
J ENBACHER WERKE AG introduced a total energy plant which was able to burn lean gas to
produce electricity and heat in 1985 [7]. They were able to control the air fuel ratio to put more
fuel into the cylinder but they needed to modify the cylinder head for bigger inlet valve. A.G.
Wunsche did not define the gas composition but they experienced lower methane number for
the gas they used to fuel the engine. Then to prevent knocking they used knock detection sensor
and retarded the ignition when it detects knock. The lower power output was still an unsolved
Caterpillar another big engine manufacturer tried to operate a spark ignition engine with
landfill gas in 1987 [8]. They developed the engine on site to tackle the biogas problems.
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

Biogas production
Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

Afterwards the engine was run on a real landfill site. N. C. Macari reported excessive wear
after 400 hours and as a result shorter lubricating oil life.
One study on Volkswagen cars has been done in Brazil to compare the performance of biogas
fueled with Alcohol fueled cars in 1992. Ignition timing, mixture distribution and emissions
were studied and different vehicle parameters such as maximum vehicle speed, acceleration
and maximum engine speed are presented in tables [9].
While it was easier to convert SI engines to biogas, dual fuel engines showed some benefits.
After 1990s diesel engines were converted to dual fuel biogas engines [10] [11].
V. Deri and G. Mancini converted a diesel engine to dual fuel and experienced more stable
combustion in lean mixture because of using diesel pilot to ignite the mixture. However the
control strategy for separate control of the air-gas mixture and pilot fuel became too
complex [10].
Growing interest for using biogas in internal combustion engines demanded more detail
investigation of the combustion process. In 1992 G. A. Karim and I. Wierzba from university
of Calgary carried out a valuable research on thermodynamic and kinetic characteristics of
methane-air combustion in presence of carbon dioxide [12]. G. A. Karim continued to publish
more papers regarding the biogas combustion phenomenon in internal combustion engines [13]
[14]. To improve combustion limitations of biogas such as lower flame speed and flammability
limit, K. Tanoue et al investigated hydrogen addition to lean methane mixture [15]. The idea of
hydrogen addition to natural gas was studied before to enhance natural gas combustion in
internal combustion engines [13].
After detail studies and clarifying biogas combustion in internal combustion engines by
scientists, it was engineers task to find a solution to extend the limits. G. P. Mueller reported
that in Caterpillar Inc., they were successfully developed a SI engine for landfill gas application
without any power loss using pre-chamber combustion concept [16]. Table 1 shows that they
were able to reach to the same power but bsfc (brake specific fuel consumption) was increased
around 4%. Prechamber concept to improve biogas combustion in SI engines is studied in
detail by A. Roubaud and D. Favrat in 2005 [17]. They showed that it is possible to reach to
higher output and efficiency with biogas fuel comparing to natural gas engines while the
emission remains at low levels.

Table 2- G3606 engine performance results [16]
Landfill gas
Natural Gas
Lower Heating Value (MJ /m3) 18.26 34.46
Power (bkW) 1185 1185
Speed (rpm) 900 900
Bmep (kPa) 1240 1240
Bsfc (MJ /bkW-h) 9.79 9.39
Exhaust port Temp (C) 561 510
Air/Fuel (vol. /vol.) 8.9 21.0
Excess Air Ratio () 1.73 2.18
Ignition Timing (btdc) 15.5 19.0
Exhaust Emission (g/bhp-hr)
NOx 0.78 0.75
CO 1.62 1.45
THC 3.2 4.0

Apart from J ohn K. S. Wong who studied the effect of biogas on engine emission [18] no other
important work was carried out until 1998 when J . Huang and R. J . Crookes established a set
up and measured emissions for different biogas composition on a research engine [19].
Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

Further research is done which was focused on different biogas composition effects on engine
application [20] and [21].

Anaerobic biogas is result of decomposition of organic material by microorganisms in a humid
environment and in the absence of oxygen. It mainly consists of methane and carbon dioxide
but it also contains other elements. Table 2 shows the typical composition of biogas. This
composition can vary in different plants and even can change in a certain plant regarding the
condition of the digester. Amount of long hydrocarbon chain materials in the digester, exposure
time, substrate, liquid content, temperature, pressure and more parameters can affect the
bioreactor processes and change the methane content of resulting biogas.
Hydrogen sulfide content depends on the process and waste type. Without any reduction
measure, the concentration can easily exceed 0.2% by volume. Variation of H
S content in the
biogas in the course of the day is unexplainable (see Figure 1).
With special types of waste such as poultry or when a high amount of co-substrate is used,
ammonia concentration may exceed 1mg/m
. Concentrations up to 150 mg/m
have been
reported [4].
Siloxanes are used in cosmetics, detergents and building materials and then they can enter to
biogas reactors and carried over into the biogas. These compounds can form SiO
which is an
abrasive material.

Table 3 - biogas composition and qualities [4]
Gas composites/
Formula Units Biogas
Sewage gas Agricultural gas Landfill gas
Methane CH
% by vol. 65-75 45-75 45-55
Carbon dioxide CO
% by vol. 20-35 25-55 25-30
Carbon monoxide CO % by vol. <0.2 <0.2 <0.2
Nitrogen N
% by vol. 3.4 0.01-5.00 10-25
Oxygen O
% by vol. 0.5 0.01-2.00 1-5
Hydrogen H
% by vol. trace 0.5 0.00
Hydrogen sulfide H
S mg/Nm
<8000 10-30 <8000
Ammonium NH
trace 0.01-2.5 trace
Siloxanes mg/Nm
<0.1-5.0 trace <0.1-5.0
Benzene, Toluene,
<0.1-5.0 0.0 <0.1-5.0
CFC mg/Nm
0 20-1000 n.a.
Net Calorific Value kWh/Nm
6.0-7.5 5.0-7.5 4.5-5.5
Normal Density Kg/m
1.16 1.16 1.27
Wobbe Index kWh/Nm
Methane number - 134 124-150 136

Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

Figure 1- Daily variation of the H2S content in biogas [4]

Impacts of biogas contaminants to the internal combustion engine
High hydrogen sulfide content is the common problem for IC engines. During combustion, H
will react and forms SO
and H
then reacts with H
O to form H
(sulphurous acid).
can also react with O
to form SO
and then with H
O to H
. These acids lead to
engine parts corrosion. Very rapid oil degradation and engine wear is reported due to acid
formation [8]. For CHP packages acidic exhaust gas can block heat exchanger with deposits
from corrosion and then cause high exhaust back pressure [22]. Poisoning catalyst system (if
exist) is another effect of hydrogen sulfide.
Siloxanes can form thick silicate deposit in engines combustion chamber, exhaust manifolds,
exhaust turbochargers and exhaust stacks. Excessive valve and valve seat wear is reported
when oil analysis showed increased amount of silica particles [16]. Presence of Siloxanes or
in lubricating oil causes high wear rates in contact surfaces such as bearings or liners.
Ammonia is another corrosive component in the biogas. NH
reacts with H
O to form NH
which will corrode certain metals such as aluminum and copper. Thus bearings are susceptible
to corrosion from ammonia.

Presence of high amount of diluents in biogas causes lower heating value and then smaller
Wobbe index compared with natural gas. The combustion heat is shared with diluents and this
causes lower flame temperature which is the reason for low speed flame propagation. Carbon
dioxide has a high heating value and it even increases with temperature [13]. That means in high
combustion temperatures lots of heat is absorbed by CO
and thus reducing the flame
temperature significantly (see Figure 2). However preheating the mixture will increase the
flame temperature but then carbon dioxide will dissociate and more CO will be emitted via the
In spark ignition engines we need to advance the spark timing to give sufficient time for slower
biogas flame to have higher bmep. Figure 3 shows an example of effect of spark timing on
engine power output in comparison with natural gas. It can be seen that for maximum power
spark timing should be advanced [16] [12].

Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

Figure 2- CO
dilution effect on flame temperature [12]
Biogas has narrower flammability limits than natural gas or methane. In Figure 4, it can be seen
that the bigger CO
share results in narrower flammability limits. It is also obvious that the lean
limit improves for biogas, which is good news for lean burn engines. Flammability limits are
also dependent to stream velocity. Karim showed that increasing Reynolds number will narrow
flammable limits. In his experiments it was not possible to ignite the mixture at Reynolds
number above 12000.

Figure 3- spark timing effect on engine power for methane and biogas [23]

Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

Figure 4 flammability limits for different CH
and CO
compositions [12]
Because of high amount of CO
in biogas, this fuel has higher methane number (See Table 3).
It means that it is possible to increase compression ratio without fear of knocking. However
slow burning speed of biogas especially in a turbocharged engine can still lead to knock at high
loads. Previous experiments showed that compression ratio can increase up to 16:1. Increasing
the compression ratio will improve engine efficiency and also will cause better energy
conversion in the combustion chamber resulting less thermal stresses. Electrical efficiencies of
40 percent and even more can be expected for a higher compression ratio and optimized biogas
engine [2]. Figure 5 shows significant power improvement due to increased compression ratio
especially for rich and lean limits.

Figure 5 effect of CR on indicated power for different equivalence ratios [20]
Regarding emission, biogas engines have lower NOx emission because of the lower
combustion temperature. A research has revealed that burnt gas temperature was found to be
lowered by about 130 K compared to methane and that was sufficient to halve the NO level in
Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

the exhaust [24]. CO emission for biogas fuel needs more research and studies. CO

dissociation, combustion temperature, air to fuel ratio and other parameters could have contrary
effects on final CO fraction. CO emission could be low for lean mixtures and not sensitive to
fraction of biogas.

Engine optimization for biogas
According to what is said about biogas characteristics and its interactions with internal
combustion engines as a promising fuel, special measures have to be taken for economical use
of this fuel in engines. Looking to the current good market for biogas engine with different
engine types and brands proves that biogas engines are progressing quite well. Here it is tried to
summarize and collect some advancements and solutions which were taken up to know.
Considering low flame speed and higher methane number, increasing the compression ratio and
advancing spark timing is a proven way to best use of biogas potentials. To get the maximum
benefit, going close to the knocking border is necessary. Therefore a sophisticated knock
detection system is necessary.
Changing of biogas quality needs better air/fuel ratio control to avoid misfire due to very lean
mixtures. Also we need adaptable mixers for large calorific values [25].
Biogas cleaning is not welcomed economically, therefore actions should be taken to increase
engine tolerance against the impurities and extend the engine life and time between overhaul
- Using cutting rings insert at the top of cylinder walls prevents deposit forming.
- Use of more corrosion resistance materials for bearings. More dense surface structure
will help a lot in a corrosive environment. This also improve the load acceptance of
engine bearing therefore higher engine load could be reached.
- Increasing the TBN of oil has limitation due to high ash content. Therefore for avoiding
acid formation and increasing oil lifetime, the strategy could be keeping the lubricating
oil temperature at high level to avoid water condensation.
- For some engines valve recession might be a problem due to abrasive silica particles.
Reducing the valve temperature by using cooled valves or reducing the valve speed
during the seat and valve contact (by changing cam profile) will decrease valve
- Phenolic resins could prevent copper heat exchangers corrosion and provide good heat
conduction at the same time. If that was insufficient in a very corrosive environment
copper could be replaced with stainless steel.
- Forged steel pistons are preferred rather than aluminum and then liner should be
designed from scratch [26].
With development of pre-chamber combustion and then pre-chamber spark plugs, flame speed
increases and engines become more resistance to composition fluctuations and work smoothly
without cyclic variations.
Fuel system sizing is another issue which should be considered very carefully. Smaller Wobbe
index indicates that more volume of fuel is needed for certain amount of power. Then inlet
valve area and or cylinder head may need modification to allow more flow into the
cylinder [27].

Reciprocating engines are the most popular technology for producing energy from manmade
source of methane gas. Gaseous fueled reciprocating engine is matured technology and big
global manufacturers supply and support efficient infrastructure. This technology is more
tolerant for biogas impurities. Biogas engines have reached to 64000 working hours before
Third International Conference on Applied Energy - 16-18 May 2011 - Perugia, Italy

major overhaul [26]. There are some other technologies such as Stirling cycle engines, fuel cells
and organic Rankin cycle, which are also, operate at comparable efficiency and are tolerant to
biogas contaminants but they have been limited to experimental sites because of high initial
Despite of biogas engines success in todays energy market the number of published papers
are not large. Today there are numerous biogas fueled CHP plants installed with internal
combustion engine that have been in operation for several years, providing opportunity to
investigate reliability issues, engine component degradation and failures after real field
operation. Also theoretical and experimental work is needed to understand the exact
combustion mechanisms considering real biogas composition, not only simplified CH
and CO

Developing dynamic models for biogas engine is also needed for development of better engine
control. As stated in the paper, biogas engines need more sophisticated controller. An attempt
to develop a simple, but yet precise biogas engine model would reduce the controller cost.
Some biogas plants can have access to natural gas pipeline. Therefore controlled mixing of
biogas with natural gas (for less cost and optimized performance) will minimize the engine
Data driven models can contribute to reduction the investment and operational costs and
strengthen biogas fueled engines in the market, hence one of the objects of current project is to
develop data driven models using artificial neural network. This tool will provide a simple and
cost effective monitoring and controlling of a biogas CHP plant. It could monitor the engine as
well as whole plant and for example modify the spark timing, air-fuel ratio, biogas composition
(by adding controlled amount of natural gas to biogas) or even heat and electricity loads on
engine when it is necessary.

The authors wish to appreciate the Research Council of Norway (NFR) and Lyse Energi AS for
financial support. Mr. Peter Breuhaus is acknowledged for his valuable comments.

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