Make Your Own Biogas Generator

Basic Principles

What Is Biogas?
Biogas is actually a mixture of gases, usually carbon dioxide and methane. It is produced by a few kinds of microorganisms, usually when air or oxygen is absent. (The absence of oxygen is called “anaerobic conditions.”) Animals that eat a lot of plant material, particularly grazing animals such as cattle, produce large amounts of biogas. The biogas is produced not by the cow or elephant, but by billions of microorganisms living in its digestive system. Biogas also develops in bogs and at the bottom of lakes, where decaying organic matter builds up under wet and anaerobic conditions.

A microscope photo of the methane-producing bacteria.
(Photo courtesy of University of Florida,
Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department)

Besides being able to live without oxygen, methaneproducing microorganisms have another special feature: They are among the very few creatures that can digest cellulose, the main ingredient of plant fi bres. Another special feature of these organisms is that they are very sensitive to conditions in their environment, such as temperature, acidity, the amount of water, etc.

Plant-eating animals such as bison release large amounts
of biogas to the atmosphere.

Biogas is a Form of Renewable Energy
Flammable biogas can be collected using a simple tank, as shown here. Animal manure is stored in a closed tank where the gas accumulates. It makes an excellent fuel for cook stoves and furnaces, and can be used in place of regular natural gas, which is a fossil fuel.

Biogas is a form of renewable energy, because it is
produced with the help of growing plants.

Biogas is considered to be a source of renewable energy. This is because the production of biogas
depends on the supply of grass, which usually grows back each year. By comparison, the natural gas used in most of our homes is not considered a form of renewable energy. Natural gas formed from the fossilized remains of plants and animals-a process that took millions of years. These resources do not “grow back” in a time scale that is meaningful for humans.

Biogas is Not New
People have been using biogas for over 200 years. In the days before electricity, biogas was drawn from the underground sewer pipes in London and burned in street lamps, which were known as “gaslights.” In many parts of the world, biogas is used to heat and light homes, to cook, and even to fuel buses. It is collected from large-scale sources such as landfi lls and pig barns, and through small domestic or community systems in many villages.

Build It!

The apparatus you are going to build uses a discarded 18 litre water container as the “digester.” A mixture of water and animal manure will generate the methane, which you will collect in a plastic balloon. The 18 litre water container performs the same task as the stomach of a livestock animal by providing the warm, wet conditions favored by the bacteria that make the methane.

Safety Precautions
The main hazards in this activity are from sharp tools such as tubing cutters and scissors. Exercise caution while using any tool. There is no risk of explosion due to the leakage of methane because the gas develops so slowly that it dissipates long before it can reach fl ammable concentrations in room air. Exercise the normal precautions in the use of Bunsen burners: keep hair and clothing away from the burner while it is lit.

• Tubing cutter
• Scissors
• Adjustable wrench
• Rubber gloves
• Electric drill with ¼” bit, or cork borer
• Hot glue gun, with glue sticks
• Electrical or duct tape
• Sandpaper (metal fi le will also work)

• Used 18L clear plastic water bottle
• Large Mylar helium balloon Plastic water bottle cap (with the “no-spill” insert-see photo)
• Copper tubing (40 cm long, 6.5mm (1/4”) inside diameter)
• T-connector for plastic tubing (barbed, 6mm or ¼” long)
• 1 cork (tapered, 23mm long)
• Clear vinyl tubing (1.5 m long, 4mm or ¼-inch inside diameter)
• 2 barb fi ttings (¼” x ¼”)
• Ball valve (1/4”)
• 6-8L manure pellets (goat, sheep, llama, rabbit, or other ruminant)
• Rubber gloves
• Large plastic funnel (can be made from a 4L plastic milk jug with bottom removed)
• Wooden dowelling or stick (30 to 50 cm long, 2-3 cm thick)

The materials and tools you’ll need to build a
biogas generator.

Water bottle: Many hardware and grocery stores now sell purifi ed water that they bottle on site. They often collect containers that can no longer be refi lled because of dirt or damage to the bottle. These unrefi llable bottles are frequently available for free. Ask to speak to the clerk in charge of refi lling bottles. Ask for a used cap as well.

Mylar balloons: Check with any local fl orist or novelty store.
Tubing, valves, T-connectors, barb fi ttings: Check at your local hardware or plumbing supply store.
Manure: If you do not know someone who has domesticated rabbits, sheep, llamas or other similar pellet-producing animals, you can often purchase sheep or steer manure by the bag at your local garden center.

A. Prepare the biogas collection system
1. Cut a 20cm piece of copper tubing. Round off the sharp edges of the freshly cut tubing using sandpaper or a metal fi le.
2. The Mylar balloon has a sleeve-like valve that prevents helium from escaping once it is fi lled. This sleeve will help form a leak-proof seal around the rigid tubing. Push the tubing into the neck of the balloon, past the end of the sleeve, leaving about 2cm protruding from the neck of the balloon, as shown below.

Inserting copper tubing.

3. Test the tube to be sure air can enter and leave the balloon freely, by blowing a little in through the tube. The balloon should infl ate with little or no resistance, and the air should be able to escape easily through the tube.
4. Securely tape the neck of the balloon to the tube as shown in the illustration.

Taping the neck.

5. Using a drill or cork borer, make a small (4mm) hole in the center of the stopper. Add a few drops of hot glue around and inside the hole and insert the stem of the ¼-inch T-adapter into the cork.

Gluing cork.

6. Screw the two barb fi ttings into the body of the ball valve. Tighten with the adjustable wrench.

Installing the barb fi ttings on the ball valve.

7. Cut two sections of vinyl tubing, each 25cm long. Use them to connect the balloon to the T-adapter, and to connect the ball valve to the Bunsen burner. Assemble the rest of the gas collection system according to the diagram below.

Assembly of the biogas collection system.

B. Prepare the manure mixture
This is a job best done outside, with rubber gloves!

1. Cut the bottom off a 4L plastic milk jug to make a wide-mouthed funnel.
2. Place the funnel into the neck of the plastic water bottle and scoop in small amounts of manure.

Scooping manure.

3. Use a stick or piece of dowelling to push the manure through the neck of the bottle if it gets
4. Add enough water to bring the level close to the top of the water bottle.

Slurry level.

5. Use the stick to stir up the manure and water mixture, releasing any bubbles of air that might be trapped.
6. Clean up carefully. Use soap and wash hands thoroughly.

C. Final Set-up
1. Snap the cap onto the top of the manure-fi lled 18 litre water bottle.

Completed biogas generator.

2. Be sure the ball valve is closed, but that gas moving from the water bottle can pass freely
through the T-adapter to the balloon.
3. Set the biogas generator in a warm location, such as over a heat register or radiator or in a sunlit window. If the biogas generator is placed in a window, be sure to wrap the outside of the container in black plastic or construction paper, to discourage algae from growing inside the bottle.

Test It!

For the fi rst few weeks, your biogas generator will produce mainly carbon dioxide. When the aerobic bacteria use up all the oxygen inside the bottle, the anaerobic bacteria, which make methane, can take over. It can take up to a month for the generator to start making biogas with enough methane to be fl ammable. When gas begins to accumulate in the balloon, test it by attempting to light the Bunsen burner:

Use caution when testing the biogas.

1. First, open the clamp or valve so that biogas can fl ow back from the balloon to the Bunsen burner.
2. Have a friend squeeze the Mylar balloon gently while you attempt to light the Bunsen burner with a match or spark igniter.
3. If your Bunsen burner ignites, your biogas generator is a success!

[source : A Renewable Energy Project Kit - The Pembina Institute]

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