The final report for Duke University’s groundbreaking biogas research project has been released.
It reveals the development of a pioneering economic analysis modeling platform that incorporates all aspects of a statewide biogas-to-electricity infrastructure.
Duke’s announcement, Study Evaluates Strategies for Generating Electricity From Hog Waste, says that the economics can work out good for a scaled-up biogas infrastructure in North Carolina. It has just never been done before.
“The intent of this report was to remove a lot of the guesswork from where and how to best pursue swine-waste-to-energy,” said Tatjana Vujic, director of the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative and report co-author. Duke’s announcement says the research helps create an informed strategy to increase swine gas energy production in the state.
The system, OptimaBIOGAS, designs infrastructure with optimal economics to harvest, condition, transport, and then use biogas as renewable energy.
OptimaBIOGAS represents an important step toward wide scale deployment of waste-to-energy technology. It performs economic analysis to help system designers understand the costs associated with alternative infrastructure architectures, various design features, and local terrain considerations.
Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Duke’s Carbon Offsets Initiative carried out this research assignment which helps North Carolina achieve its bold renewable energy targets. It is trailblazing work that pushes forward the economic feasibility of renewable energy systems.
Dr. Darmawan Prasodjo led the Duke team to design and build OptimaBIOGAS and is first author of the report. The system has spatial intelligence, a more-robust computing platform, and mathematic expertise built in. As system architect, he tailored it to North Carolina’s hog farm industry.
The modeling system considers factors like farm location, livestock counts, covered lagoon vs. mixed digester biogas harvesting plants, and pipeline networks. It factors in local potentials and difficulties such as right-of-ways, waterways, urban areas, and rough terrain.
The goal is to gain the economies of scale that are inherent to an optimized system, giving better overall long-term economic performance of the larger system.
A statewide biogas-to-electricity infrastructure involves important design decisions. These include whether to condition gas and generate electricity at local farms or central stations, and the arrangement of hubs and injection sites that feed biogas into existing natural gas trunklines that serve power generation utility companies.
Once the biogas is into the main supply lines, it is also used by residential customers to cook and heat homes, and it could possibly serve as fuel for natural gas vehicles.
At some farms, biogas-fired microturbines are set up to supply electricity to the grid. OptimaBIOGAS identifies scenarios where this architecture is advantageous, and other scenarios where centralization works better due to location, farm specifics, and other variables.
OptimaBIOGAS uses levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) to more accurately compare all costs over system lifetime for each alternative infrastructure configuration. LCOE considers the total cost to install and operate a renewable energy system, and the total kWh output over its lifetime. Therefore, comparing LCOE is important to get the best long-term value.
The OptimaBIOGAS modeling platform is being considered for deployment in California, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin to help those states evaluate biogas strategies.
Dr. Prasodjo says, “It’s revolutionary. This Duke team has built the best modeling system in the world for getting biogas to market over a regional area. OptimaBIOGAS configures the infrastructure to give optimal economic performance of the overall biogas system, and it considers many more specific factors during analysis so that results are accurate and give better insight to system planners.”
Dr. Prasodjo is currently in Jakarta where he is bringing these ideas and techniques to Indonesia, a country with great need for renewable energy solutions for people who live without electricity. “Help is on the way,” he says.
He aims to apply these economic analysis techniques to the discovery of solutions for challenges such as deforestation from agriculture and other land uses, a compressed natural gas infrastructure for Java, and better-performing contracts for petroleum exploration.
In his role as chief economist for the Millennium Challenge Account – Indonesia, Dr. Prasodjo advises on project economics to ensure they give the greatest possible benefits to Indonesians as the organization oversees its US$600 million portfolio of work.