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Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of

the requirement for the
Bachelor of Engineering (Hons)

MARCH 2017

Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS

Bandar Seri Iskandar
31750 Tronoh
Perak Darul Ridzuan

Biogas is one of a well-known renewable energy sources which is not only

useful as alternative fuels but also gives positive environmental benefits. A total
amount of 70 m biogas released for each ton of crude palm oil (CPO) production from
palm oil mill effluent (POME) will only be a waste of potential energy and revenue
source as well as endangering the environment due to significant global warming effect
of releasing methane if not being managed efficiently. Rapid development and biogas
utilization is taking place all over the world, especially for the largest producer of palm
oil, Malaysia. Consequently, the utilization of biogas is facing significant challenges
in terms of purification and upgrading to meet the quality requirement for various end
usage. In order to utilize biogas in energy efficient systems and for power generation,
it has to be purified and have highest methane content and lowest impurities content
as possible. From gas quality perspective, water vapour is the one of the most common
impurity that exists in raw biogas mixtures. The techniques for water removal can be
categorized as (1) physical drying methods (condensation) and (2) chemical drying
method (adsorption and absorption). Cyclone separator is one of physical drying
method which separate water droplets by centrifugal forces. Mechanical approach for
gas liquid separation has been widely applied for liquefied natural gas and has
provided various benefits such as being more compact and require less maintenance.
Studies has been conducted on the Compact Wet-Gas Separator prototype in UTP Gas
Separation Research Centre on its performance of separating water from natural gas.
This project is a feasibility study of POME-derived biogas quality enhancement by a
mechanical separation solution. The gas-water separation will be implemented in
ANSYS Fluent simulation anticipating the outcome in terms of water removal
performance by controlling the design parameters. In addition, the corresponding
requirements on gas quality are investigated in depth. Based on the results of
comparisons between the technical features of upgrading technologies, the specific
requirements for different gas utilizations and recommendations are made regarding
appropriate technology.


1.1 Background Study 1
1.2 Problem statement 2
1.3 Objective s 3
1.4 Scope of study 3


2.1 Feasibility study 4
2.2 Biogas 6
2.3 Separation technologies 10
2.4 CFD simulation of supersonic separators 16


3.1 Project Planning 19

3.2 Project Flowchart 20
3.2.1 Overall project flowchart 20
3.2.2 CFD simulation flowchart 21
3.3 Gantt Chart and Milestones 21
3.3.1 Project Gantt chart 24
3.3.2 Project Key Milestone 25


4.1 Expected Result 26


References 28

FIGURE 1. Project Flowchart 20

FIGURE 2. Project Gantt Chart 24


TABLE 1. Biogas composition based on different feedstock 7

TABLE 2. Requirements to remove gaseous components from biogas. 10

TABLE 3. Requirement on biogas quality and technological 13

recommendations for biogas utilizations

TABLE 4. Advantages and disadvantages of techniques for removal 14

of water

TABLE 5. Project Key Milestones 25



1.1 Background study

The main constituents of biogas are methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide
(CO2) along with some traces of gases such as water vapour, hydrogen
sulphide (H2S), nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen (Deublein & Steinhauser,
2010). Biogas is simply being flared due to its undesirable low calorific value
for conventional combustion purpose and causes a waste of potential
renewable energy source. Palm oil mills has started to employ mechanisms to
capture the methane emitted from their treatment ponds and utilize it as one of
energy source for combustion in their boilers and gas generators. Developed
countries all over the world has been utilizing their biogas produced from many
sources such as energy crops, animal waste and municipal solid waste for a
higher end uses such as vehicle fuels and injecting into natural gas grids to
generate electricity. Impurities and traces gases must be removed because the
hydrogen sulphide gas is corrosive and water vapour may cause corrosion
when combined with H2S on metal surfaces including pipelines, reduces the
heating value and causes maintenance problems (Kadam & Panwar, 2017). It
is important to remove the water before using the biogas as slugs of water can
damage gas compressors for example and it can also reduce the efficiency of
CHP engines. In order to function well with energy efficient systems like the
way compressed natural gas (CNG) has been utilized, various upgrading and
cleaning methods need to be applied in order for the biogas to work efficiently
and compatibly with the energy efficient systems. Many separation
technologies has been applied mostly by the means of water scrubbing, and
chemical absorptions which might consume a lot of energy especially when the
chemicals are required to be heated or the equipment are consuming electricity
to operate. This project tries to investigate the feasibility to upgrade or purify
the biogas produced from selected plants.

Focus will be put on physical method of removing water from raw biogas
by using a supersonic centrifugal separator which has been used widely in
oilfield application to separate water from natural gas.

1.2 Problem Statement

Various separation technologies has been utilized to remove HS, CO and

other impurities from biogas. Cyclones is one of the physical drying methods to
separate water from gas other than chemical drying solutions. It has been used
widely in the natural gas drying process and many studies has been conducted to
improve its performance. A type of supersonic separator has been developed and
tested in the Gas Separation Research Centre, UTP. As observed, most of the
studies regarding cyclonic separator uses natural gas composition as medium for
testing. Raw POME-derived biogas which has different gas composition as
compared to natural gas could possibly benefit from this separation technology for
better use as fuel in energy conversion systems.

One of the obstacles faced by biogas plants is the impurities and water
content in the biogas which could lead to problems such as corrosion of equipment,
lowering the heating value, ice-clogging and accumulation of condensate in the
gas line. Thus the problem statement is summarised as:

i) To date, the reports on the experimental study for the technology

mainly focus mainly on gas separation process of high-pressure
natural gas flow
ii) The industrial demand for impurities removal from biogas for
utilization as vehicle fuel and other high-end uses.
iii) Overcome the disadvantages of the alternative dehydration process
including adsorption, absorption, refrigeration and membrane
permeation methods.

1.3 Objectives

The objective of this project is to:

i) To evaluate the feasibility of utilizing Gas Separation Research

Centre (GSRC) wet-gas separator for removal of water from
ii) To produce the corresponding performance chart of the wet-gas

1.4 Scope of Study

The scope of study for this project involves gas-water separation

technology, specifically the supersonic compact wet-gas separator from the
Gas Seperation Research Centre of Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS
(UTP). The centrifugal separator prototype has been successfully tested for
water removal from natural gas. Simulations are implemented by using
ANSYS Fluent software to observe the capability of the separator device
to separate water from biogas. The biogas sample specification will be
obtained from a few delegated biogas plants which are known to utilize
their product for various uses such as boiler fuel and gas engine for
electricity generation. The biogas that will be used in the simulation is
composed of methane, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and water

Based on these factors, the results obtained will be analysed to evaluate

the possibility to remove water from biogas composition and the
parameters that influence the performance of the separation process. The
need for removal of water content from biogas produced from the selected
palm oil mill, and the gas quality requirement to be utilized with gas
engines or for any higher end-use in the selected biogas plant also will be



2.1 Feasibility study

Conducting a feasibility study is one of the key activities within a project

initiation phase. Feasibility studies aim to point out chances and risks of projects which
are planned or already in process (Bause et al., 2014). Bause also stated that the
common meaning of a feasibility study can be described as evaluating whether an
idea is realizable under certain circumstances. The study could justify the project
mainly in terms of technical feasibility, business viability and cost-effectiveness thus
determines the possibility to successfully conduct a larger study. An effective
feasibility studies may consist of 6 parts, (1) the project scope, (2) current analysis, (3)
requirements, (4) approach, (5) evaluation, and (6) review. In the project scope, a
business problem or opportunity to be addressed is defined. It has been stated in the
case of this project in the problem statement and scope of study section. Current
analysis is used to define and understand the current method of implementation, such
as a system or a product where the Compact Wet Gas Separator developed by UTP
Gas Separation Research Centre is the technology of interest in this project. In the
requirement section, its definition depends on the object of the project attention for
example the requirement for input gas composition and other parameters for the
separator to work well. In here, the criteria for a successful trial, which includes the
best selection of models and operational parameters is described. The approach
section represents the recommended solution or course of action to satisfy the
requirements. Here, the software used and various alternatives regarding the computer
simulation setup and approaches are considered along with an explanation as to why
the preferred solution was selected. In evaluation section of a feasibility study, usually
the cost effectiveness of the approach selected is examined, however since this project
is focused on technical feasibility, it begins with an analysis of the expected results
based on previous studies made regarding supersonic separators performance and

Review of the preceding elements are then assembled into a Feasibility Study
which serves two purposes: to substantiate the thoroughness and accuracy of the
Feasibility Study, and to make a project decision; either approve it, reject it, or ask that
it be revised before making a final decision. In this project, the best approach and sets
of parameters in order to produce the expected or desired separation performance chart
will be determined. If the Feasibility Study is rejected, the reasons for its rejection
should be explained.

Feasibility studies focus on five subjects: technical, economic, legal,

operational and scheduling feasibility studies. While in economy science the term
feasibility study is clearly defined, in technical sense the term is used in very
different ways. (Bause et al., 2014) has analysed the role and proceeding of feasibility
study based on three aspects: literature research and definition of terms, analyses of
selected documented examples of technical feasibility studies and matching of the
classifications concerning the role of technical feasibility study in a product
development. The most common field for feasibility studies is in economic sense and
a standard called DIN69901-2 has been established for evaluation of feasibility in
project management however no consistent definition for technical feasibility studies
is found. On the other hand, technical feasibility study (TFS) is similar to the process
of design itself. Results can be various ideas or concepts to solve a technical problem.
In the case of this project, the approach for conducting feasibility study in this project
will be determined by comparing and studying the relevant methodological approach
from other feasibility studies with aim to reach the expected results of the water
removal process from raw biogas.

The methods or research layout mentioned above is applied widely in

conducting feasibility studies. A few feasibility studies has been referred in order to
find the best method to apply in this current project. (Holopainen et al., 2016) has done
the technical feasibility by examining the proven technology level, potential technical
risks in the building renovation or with respect to the energy performance and
assessment of the overall technical feasibility for individual Nearly Zero- Energy
Building renovation. This is similar to the procedure which outlined by Bauer where
in this project, the current technology or the wet gas separator is examined before the
technical limitations and constant variables are identified.

In another study, a novel design methodology for the feasibility and technical
evaluation of reactive distillation (RD) is presented where a framework for the
feasibility evaluation which leads to the determination of boundary conditions,
integrated process limitations is proposed (Shah et al., 2012). An overview of the state-
of-the-art methods are available in the literature for the feasibility analysis and design
of reactive distillation processes where the synthesis design method is used to conclude
the feasibility of applying the technology and the process limitation is identified
therefore the model that could fit the simulation study can be chosen (Thery et al.,
2005). A feasibility study could be proven by experimental method or by carrying
simulations. Therefore in this project, the boundary conditions for the simulation
process is introduced and the process limitations are identified as it is one of the most
significant information required for evaluating design parameters in a feasibility study.

2.2 Biogas

Biogas is a product that is a result of various biorefinery concepts. CH4 and

CO2 are the two main components in raw biogas, accompanied by many other
unfavourable impurities such as N2, O2, H2, H2S and NH3.

The impurities could cause problems such as corrosion, toxicity and reduction
of heating value if not treated or refined. The refining process could be classified into
two categories, primary refining describes the treatments of the raw material, whereas
secondary refining includes processes and treatments for upgrading the biogas for
application onto energy efficient systems. In order to utilize the biogas for high end
use such as injection into natural gas grid or as vehicle fuel, two major steps are
performed: (1) cleaning process to remove trace components and (2) upgrading
process to adjust the calorific value (Ryckebosch et al., 2011). Generally, biogas bio
refineries consist of three main units: The substrate reception including pre treatment
and feeding equipment, the digestion unit including one or more gas tight and heated
anaerobic tanks connected by a biogas collection system and lastly the digestate
storage and possibly post treatment units (Lindorfer & Frauz, 2015).

According to statistics Malaysia produces around 42.3% of worldwide palm
oil. In a survey made in 2012, there are 426 palm oil mills throughout Malaysia
however only 12.9% have a complete biogas plant integrated in their mills while 3.8%
is under construction while a majority of 35.2% is still under planning. This indicates
that only about half palm oil mills in Malaysia utilized the potential of their palm oil
mill effluent as source of renewable energy while the remaining half chose the
conventional ponding system and open tank digestion system where the methane gas
is simply released into the atmosphere (Abdullah & Sulaim, 2013). The growth of
biogas installation in palm oil mills is relative slow due to high investment risk and
long payback period.

All types of biomass can be used as substrates as long as they contain

carbohydrates, proteins, fats, cellulose and hemicellulose as main components. Major
sources of biogas include municipal wastewater treatment plants, industrial waste
treatment facilities, landfills, and agricultural sources such as manure and energy
crops. Content of organic substance, nutritional value hence potential to generate gas,
usability of fermentation residue such as for fertilizing purpose and low harmful
substances is taken into account when choosing the feedstock (Deublein &
Steinhauser, 2010). One of the most common and favourable feedstocks comes from
processing wastes, lignocellulosic biomass, and animal manure due to their availability
at low cost.

Most agricultural biogas plants ferment liquid manure and even combine them
with co-substrates to enhance biogas yield. The choice of feedstock also contributes
for composition of biogas and methane yield. The table below describes the typical
biogas composition based on different feedstock.

Table 1: Biogas composition based on different feedstock (NV, 2001).

Table 1
Component Unit POME Sewage Landfill
biogas plant
CH4 vol% 6070 5565 4555
CO2 vol% 3040 3545 3040
N2 vol% <1 <1 515
H2S ppm 102000 1040 50300

(Basri et al., 2009) stated that since palm oil is one of the most common agricultural
industry contributor in Malaysia, palm oil mill effluent (POME) is chosen as the main
feedstock to generate biogas rather than other biomass and crop waste sources and
landfills which utilized in other countries. For European countries like Denmark, their
main biogas resources is manure due to their high animal production (Bruni et al.,

POME is a combination of wastes, which are produced and discharged from

the three principal sources such as clarification wastewater (60%), sterilizer
condensate (36%) and hydrocyclone wastewater (4%). For each ton of fresh fruit
bunch processed for its oil, 0.50.75 ton of POME produced. (Yacob et al., 2006).
From calculation made by (Harsono, Grundmann, & Soebronto, 2014) around 28m of
biogas is generated from 1m of POME from the treatment plant.

Since the main emphasize in this project is to study the performance of water
separation from biogas, it is important to know the quality of biogas targeted for each
utilization and application. Raw biogas composition is primarily methane (CH4, 40-
75%) and carbon dioxide (CO2, 15-60%). Trace amounts of other components such as
water (H2O, 5-10%), hydrogen sulphide (H2S, 0.005-2%), siloxanes (0-0.02%),
halogenated hydrocarbons (VOC, < 0.6%), ammonia (NH3, <1%), oxygen (O2,0-1%),
carbon monoxide (CO, <0.6%) and nitrogen (N2, 0-2%) can be present (Wellinger &
Lindberg, 2005). Weiland also mentioned that biogas is saturated with water and need
to be dried and desulphurizated to prevent damage to the gas utilization unit. The
general purpose of modifying, purifying or cleaning the raw biogas is to increase the
calorific value and reduce unwanted components, e.g. CO2 and H2S, which are harmful
to utilisation systems (Tippayawong & Thanompongchart, 2010). Upgraded biogas
which contains more than 90% methane has approximately the same quality as natural
gas and can be injected to gas grid, applied as a fuel in CHP generation or utilized as
vehicle fuel (Taleghani & Shabani Kia, 2005).

Currently, biogas is mainly used for: (1) burning biogas in a combined heat
and power (CHP) unit to generate heat and electricity; (2) upgrading biogas for natural
gas pipeline injection; and (3) converting purified biogas to compressed biogas (CBG)
or liquid biogas (LBG) for variety of fuel applications (Yang et al., 2014).

A survey carried on Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) registered palm oil mills
in Malaysia, so far the biogas produced is only utilized in boiler and gas engines with
majority of the plants choosing to simply flare the bioenergy source due to relatively
low emission of methane in covered ponds (Chin et al., 2013). High gas quality is not
required for boilers and combined heat and power (CHP) generation and biogas can
be applied directly in these technologies (Hosseini & Wahid, 2015) although H2S level
must be lower than 250ppm to prevent excessive corrosion in the equipment (Weiland,
2010). Only vapour and H2S removal is needed to be used for heat and electricity
production however, a relatively higher concentration of CH4 and removal of most
impurities is necessary for biogas to be applied as vehicle fuel and pipeline injection
applications, instead of only to be injected into natural gas grids (N., 2008).

For application of biogas into energy efficient systems such as vehicle engines
it is mandatory to upgrade it up to compressed natural gas (CNG) quality. The methane
content must be more than 97%, CO2 less than 3% by volume,H2S less than 10 ppmv
and water content should be less than 32mg/Nm (Najafpour et al., 2006). (Wellinger
& Lindberg, 2005) has indicated the gas quality requirement for France, Switzerland
and Sweden where for vehicle fuel utilization, water content must be less than
100mg/nm, 5mg/nm and 32mg/nm respectively. A company called Novaviro Sdn
Bhd provides technology for biogas plants implementation claimed that their
dimensioned plants is able to meet the gas specification requirement stated earlier.

A BioCNG plant located at the Felda Palm Oil Mill Sg. Tengi, Kuala Kubu
Bahru, in the state of Selangor is upgrading raw biogas from composition of 60% CH4,
35% CO2 and 3000 ppm H2S to BioCNG or Renewable Natural Gas of > 94% CH4
content. The BioCNG is then compressed to 250 bar and dispensed into CNG trailers
to be sent to factories. According to U.S. pipeline specifications, natural gas pipeline
injection requires purified biogas that contains CO2, water,and H2S at less than 3%,
112mg/m3, and 4ppm, respectively (Graf, 1987). Bio-CNG conversion requires
purified biogas with higher than 97% CH4. For liquefied biomethane
production,biogas has to be purified to contain less than 25ppm, 4ppm, and 1ppm of
CO2, H2S, and H2O, respectively, to prevent dry ice formation and corrosion (Brown,
Shi, & Li, 2012). (Persson, 2003) stipulated that the most common technology for
water removal is adsorption on the surface of a drying agent such as hygroscopic salts,
zeolites, silica gel or aluminium oxide.

From the data tabulated by (Ryckebosch et al., 2011) the concentration of CH4
has to be increased to almost 100% in order to replace natural gas in domestic stoves
without any retrofit. Another study mentioned that upgraded biogas which contains
more than 90% methane is interchangeable with natural gas and can be applied to gas
grid, as a fuel in CHP generation or utilized as vehicle fuel (Taleghani & Shabani Kia,
2005) whereas to be used as alternative fuel, the raw biogas must be upgraded to more
than 95% methane content (Navaratnasamy, 2008).

In a nutshell, biogas can be used as fuel for domestic stoves, boilers, internal
engines, gas turbines, vehicles and fuel cells, or injected into natural gas grids to
replace gaseous fuel. Not all utilizations require biogas to be purified into biomethane
quality. The table below describes the requirements for impurities removal for few
applications. This gives an idea that the biogas water removal is only required for
vehicle fuel and natural gas grid injection application therefore based on the water
separation performance obtained, it can be concluded whether the water content
reduction by using supersonic centrifuge would be beneficial or not.

Table 2: Requirements to remove gaseous components from biogas.

Application H2S CO2 H2O

Gas Heater (Boiler) <1000ppm No No
Kitchen Stove Yes No No
Stationary engine <1000ppm No No, condensation
Vehicle Yes Yes Yes
Natural Gas Grid Yes Yes Yes

2.3 Separation technologies

Biogas has to be improved prior to utilization in many areas. The main

parameter that may require removal in an upgrading systems are H2S, water, CO2 and
halogenated compounds. There are two types of biogas treatment method which are
physical drying method such as supersonic centrifuges and chemical drying method.

Most biogas cleaning methods are derived from conventional gas separation
technologies and many of them have been success- fully applied for natural gas
purification (Makaruk et al., 2010). It was found that chemical absorption is the best
suited biogas-upgrading technology due to high requirement of methane purity and
energy efficiency for example when to be used with domestic stoves. Technology such
as water scrubbing, physical adsorption, pressure swing adsorption and membrane
technology are more suited when the methane purity requirement is lower. Iron oxide
or iron hydroxide is used to remove H2S to less than 1ppm while biological
desulphurization will remove H2S to less than 50ppm for combined heat and power
(CHP) use such as boilers (Hosseini & Wahid, 2015).

In water scrubbing technology, water is being used as a solvent taking

advantage from higher solubility of CO2 than CH4. Due to solubility of H2S in water
is even higher than CO2, it will be removed together in the process. Dissolved H2S will
form sulphuric acid which can cause corrosion problems therefore pre separation of
H2S is needed (Sun et al., 2015). Water scrubbing can achieve CH4 purity of 80 99%
depending on volume of condensable gases. Although the advantage of this process is
no need for chemicals and the ability for the water to be regenerated, it requires high
water demand. Physical absorption process uses the same principle as water scrubbing
but replacing water with organic solvents such as methanol to absorb CO2. (Sun et al.,

Another similar process is called chemical absorption where the difference is

the absorption take place by chemical reaction eliminating only unwanted element
such as CO2 by the reaction process thus having advantage of being highly selective
and at the same time corrosion problems are reduced. Amines are the most used
chemical solvent with the advantage of no methane losses due to selective reaction
process. The cleaned biogas product will have a very high purity of CH4 (96-98%)
(Wellinger & Lindberg, 2005). The main barrier for application of amine-based biogas
cleaning method is its high demand for energy and chemical solvent due to the high
temperature requirement for desorption and the relatively high price of the solvents.

Membrane permeation design principle is based on permeability of gases

which the higher one (small molecular size) can be transported through the membrane
while retaining the ones with lower permeability.

Impurities such as CO2, O2 and H2O passes the membrane as permeate while low
permeable CH4 is retained and collected. This method is known for its safety, scale-up
capability, simple operation and maintenance and no involvement of harmful
chemicals. The methane purity yielded from this process ranging from 90% to 96.5%
with average of 90.3% from most membrane separation plants, and this number is
lower than that yielded from pressurised water scrubbing, pressure swing absorption
and chemical absorption (Yang et al., 2014). Membranes also could be used for
removal of other impurities such as water vapour since they are highly water-
permeable (Ohlrogge & Brinkmann, 2003) however there is no specific details or study
made on the effectiveness of water removal by this technique.

Cryogenic separation is a method of upgrading by taking advantage the

difference in condensing temperature of CO2 and CH4 by gradually cooling down the
mixture and thereby liquefying the carbon dioxide. Water need to be pre-seperated to
avoid freezing and other problems in the process. Although cryogenic separation
consumes a large amount of energy, its the most superior in producing high-purity
biomethane up to 98% with minimal methane losses (Sun et al., 2015). Other
compounds with higher condensation temperature than methane such as water and
hydrogen sulphide are removed simultaneously where water will be condensed first,
followed by carbon dioxide.

Pressure swing adsorption (PSA) works by specifically capturing preferred

gases like CO2, O2 and N2 by using the adsorbents differences in gas adsorption rates.
This is done at a high pressure for better gas absorption followed by releasing of the
adsorbates at low pressure for regeneration at subsequent cycle. Most common
adsorbents used are zeolite, carbon molecular sieve, silica gel and activated carbon due
to their low cost, large specific area and pore volume, and great thermal stability
(Siriwardane et al., 2003). Selectivity of adsorption is achieved by designing
adsorbents with specific pore size thus molecules that are smaller than the designed
pore size can go through or by applying different gas pressures where the compounds
extracted from the biogas are desorbed when the pressure are released. Water and H2S
need to be pre-seperated before PSA process takes place.

It is important to remove water and control its amount at a low level to reduce
the risk of wet compression and condensation of flue gas when used in turbines. Main
purpose for removal of water is to prevent accumulation of condensate in the gas line,
and formation of corrosive solution when H2S is dissolved and to achieve low dew
points when biogas is stored under elevated pressures to avoid condensation and
freezing. It is also advised to condense the water vapour in the raw gas as water vapour
can cause problems in the gas nozzles. Removal of water will also remove a large
proportion of the H2S, reducing the corrosion and stack gas dew point problems
(Wellinger & Lindberg, 2005).

Requirement on biogas quality and technological recommendations for biogas

utilizations has been discussed by (Sun et al., 2015) as in table 3. Most of the
requirements emphasizes on methane purity, H2S content and CO2 content whereas
no specific discussion has been made about the water vapour content and its minimum
requirement for its respective utilizations.

Table 3: Requirement on biogas quality and technological recommendations for biogas utilizations

Utilization CH4 (%mol) CO2 (%mol) Impurities Technology

Domestic stoves Heating value - H2S < 10ppm CO2: chemical
comparable to natural absorption
gas H2S: iron
hydroxide or
Boiler - - H2S < 250ppm CO2: no need
H2S: biological
Internal combustion >30 - H2S: 545 1742ppm CO2: no need
engine Siloxanes: 9 44ppm H2S: biological
Halides: 60 491ppm desulphurization
Moisture: pressurised
dew point -6.7C
lower than gas temp.
Stirling engine >35 - H2S: 2800ppm CO2: no need
Siloxanes: 0.42ppm H2S: biological
Halides: 232ppm desulphurization
Moisture: pressurised
dew point -6.7C
lower than gas temp.
Gas - - H2S: 10000ppm CO2: no need
turbine/microturbin Siloxanes: 0.087ppm H2S: biological
e (0.005 for micro- desulphurization
Moisture: pressurised
dew point -6.7C
lower than gas temp.

Natural gas grid 70 98 1.0 - 8.0 H2S: 2 15mg/m CO2: PSA and
injection O2: 0.001-3% (mol) membrane if O2
N2: 2 10% (mol) and N2 removal
H2: 0.1 4% (mol) needed; chemical
absorption and
PSA if high CH4
purity needed
H2S: impregnated
activated carbon
and iron

Vehicle fuel >96 <3 H2S: 5mg/m CO2: chemical

absorption or
H2S: impregnated
activated carbon
and iron
hydroxide/ oxide
Fuel cell MCFC: no MCFC: <35 H2S: 1 5ppm H2S: impregnated
specification SOFC: as little (MCFC) and 1ppm activated carbon
SOFC: as much as as possible (SOFC); siloxanes: and iron
possible few ppm hydroxide/ oxide

(Ryckebosch et al., 2011) has reviewed the techniques for removal of water
from biogas which can be categorised as physical drying and chemical drying methods
which can be summarised as below:

Table 4: Advantages and disadvantages of techniques for removal of water

Method Advantages Disadvantages

Condensation method Higher HCs dust and oil are Atmospheric pressure: dew
Demister removed point minimum 1 C
Cyclone Simple techniques Gas at higher pressure to reach
Moister trap Often used as pretreatment lower dew point (minimal 18
Water taps before other techniques C) but freezing can occur

Adsorption dryer Silica High removal: dew point 10 More expensive investment :
Aluminum till 20 C pressure 610 bar
Low operational cost Dust and oil need to be
Regeneration possible removed in advance
Absorption with glycol High removal: dew point 5 till More expensive investment:
15 C high pressure and 200 C for
Higher HCs and dust are regeneration
removed Higher gas volumes (>500
Not toxic or dangerous m3/h) to be economical

Absorption with hygroscopic High removal efficiency No regeneration done

salts Not toxic or dangerous

As shown in the table, cyclones is known as one of methods that is suitable for removal
of water from biogas. The concept of cyclones was introduced to the oil and gas
industry and used as one of methods for dehydrating natural gas in 1990s. These
separators were known as reliable devices due to no rotating parts, required no
chemicals and were capable of unmanned operation. Typically the device removes
water vapour to control the dew point of the gas. The following is a brief review of the
achievements of these studies.

The first group known to conduct studies on supersonic separators from

Netherlands and is affiliated with Twister BV. Their study of supersonic separators is
tracked back to 1997 and their first full scale test unit became operational in 1998
(Brouwer et al., 2004) The first commercial gas conditioning technology using the
supersonic separator in the offshore applications was started up in December 2003.
Their proposed design consisted of a supersonic nozzle that incorporated a small blade
(supersonic wing) in the supersonic region to create the swirling motion of the gas and
hence benefit from the centrifugal separation of the heavier particles (Brouwer et al.,
2004). This design was later improved to include a swirl generator or a ring wing
upstream of the nozzle and in the subsonic region (Schinkelshoek & Epsom, 2006).

Another group consisting of Russian specialists is known for their extensive

work on the supersonic separators which called their separator 3-S. This group joined
Translang Technologies Ltd., Calgary. 3-S separators performances have been studied
and tested since 1996 in which separation characteristics of the supersonic separator
compared to the Joule-Thomson valve and turbo-expander for natural gas (Alfyorov
et al., 2005). Later another pilot plant for greater natural gas flow rate was built in
Calgary but none of these facilities was capable of very high pressures. The first
industrial 3-S separator became operational in Western Siberia (Alfyorov et al., 2005).
The design of the 3-S separator was similar to the improved Twister design,
incorporating a swirl generator upstream of the nozzle. A Chinese group has also
performed studies on supersonic separators by building a pilot scale test which used
wet gas as process fluid (Hengwei et al., 2005). It was capable of attaining a dewpoint
depression of about 20C. Their design adopt a cyclonic swirl generator in the
supersonic region.

A supersonic separator mainly consists of four parts, known as the swirling
device, a Laval nozzle, a cyclonic separation section and a diffuser. The swirl device
transforms part of the axial velocity to angular velocity and generate swirls. The Laval
nozzle accelerates the natural gas flows until sonic speed is obtained at the nozzle
throat. In the divergent part, the natural gas is further expanded to supersonic velocity
resulting in a low pressure and temperature, which this condition encourages the
condensation of water vapour. The cyclonic separation section is located at the
extension of the Laval nozzle. It provides enough space and time conditions for the
separation processing in supersonic velocities. In the diffuser, the supersonic velocity
is reduced to subsonic when the natural gas flow meets the shock wave.

Hence, the diffuser transforms the remaining kinetic energy to pressure for energy
saving (Wen et al., 2015). Since the gas mixture is flowing at supersonic velocities,
residence time is extremely low in this type of separators and hydrate has no time to
deposit along the device thus eliminates the need for inhibitor injection. The unit is
considerably more compact than conventional dehydration units and therefore suitable
for offshore applications (Brouwer et al., 2004). Moreover, the nozzle has no moving
parts and is simple to operate which makes it a very good candidate for unmanned
operations (Brouwer et al., 2004 and Schinkelshoek, 2006) for subsea application. It
is also important to note that the gas temperature is reduced based on gas expansion
principles and requires no external refrigerant. This brings another major advantage
over conventional dehydration units in that intensive water dew points, down to -60C,
can be achieved without any use of external cooling (Karimi & Abdi, 2009).

2.4 CFD simulation of supersonic separators

Malyshkina (Malyshkina, 2008) obtained the distribution of gas dynamic

parameters of natural gas through a supersonic separator with a computational method,
and a procedure is developed to predict the separation capability of water vapor and
higher hydrocarbons from natural gas using a supersonic separator determined by the
initial parameters.

He determined the compositions of gasliquid mixtures are determined as a function
of the initial parameters (composition of gas, temperature, pressure, and Mach
number). This method where the results are given in the form of temperature, pressure,
and Mach number dependences of the composition of the liquid phase of gasliquid
mixture could be applied in this project in order to investigate the separation efficiency
of biogas and water composition hence determines the feasibility of using the biogas
with the separator. Qingfen, Depang, and other colleagues (Qingfen et al., 2009)
investigated the performance of supersonic separators incorporating a method of
particle enlargement to reduce the length of the device where air-ethanol is used as
their medium and water droplets as nucleation centers.

Another study carried by a group in Newfoundland, Canada performed CFD

based predictions of the flow characteristics inside a converging-diverging nozzle and
showed that the method is a valid tool for this type of study by comparing their results
with similar published experimental data (Jassim et al., 2008b). The influences of
vorticity on the performance of the nozzles and shock wave positions were studied and
it is found that a reasonably strong shock wave was beneficial to the particles
separation. On top of that, they developed a software that linked to a process simulator
(HYSYS), was capable of predicting the performance of a supersonic separator under
certain operating conditions with much less computational resources than a CFD
package. Influences of the gas dynamic parameters on the natural gas flow in the
supersonic nozzle, such as the inlet pressure, the inlet temperature, and so on was
analyzed (Karimi & Abdi, 2009).

High pressure natural gas flow characteristics in supersonic centrifugal

separators was studied by using computer fluid dynamics (CFD) where the effect of
separator geometry and effect of real gas on the flow has been observed. It has been
proven that when the gas is assumed to be ideal, the gas properties estimation and
location of shockwave vary significantly as compared to real gas model. (Jassim et al.,
2008a). However, in the second part of Jassim and his colleagues paper, he also
claimed that their FLUENT model could not predict phase change thus assuming that
there is no gas condensation occuring in the nozzle. Since the supersonic flow of multi-
component gas mixture is being studied, it is important to take into account the correct
prediction for the thermodynamic properties of the fluid.

(Arina, 2004) tested three state equations which are Van Der Walls, Carnahan-
Starling-De Santis (CSD) and Redlich Kwong (RK) and found that real gas model is
more in-line with prediction of the theoretical model. Therefore a type of real gas
model will be adopted during the simulation in this project to provide a more realistic

Based on the brief review of the achievements above, it can be noticed that
supersonic separators has been widely studied and utilized mainly for purification of
natural gas. However, there are no detailed studies or tests conducted on the
performance and capability of cyclonic seperation devices in dehyrating biogas which
has a significant difference in gas composition compared to that of natural gas.
Therefore it is important to study and evaluate the feasibility of seperating water from
biogas and the possible changes in input parameters in order to make it works.



3.1 Project planning

The main target of this research is to explore the performance and the outcome
of using a centrifugal separator developed by UTP Gas Separation Research Centre to
remove water from palm oil mill effluent-derived biogas. It is important understand
the existing processes and technologies for separating water from hydrocarbon gas,
especially cyclone type separator which originate from separation techniques done in
the oilfield industries. The sample biogas specification will be studied from visits made
to biogas plants. However if the permission for the industrial visit is not approachable,
the biogas specification will be chosen based on the literature review and past
researches. Stages of biogas purification usually start with H2S removal followed by
water removal depending on the requirements. The effect of different biogas
composition on the separation performance along with other operational parameters
will be explored.

The assessment on separation efficiency of the supersonic centrifuge with the

biogas specification sample will be constructed into a dynamic simulation by using
ANSYS Fluent. Before the simulation process started, several information regarding
the wet gas separator need to be determined. Among the information are; prototype
parameters and geometry, type or composition of process fluid, operating condition
such as inlet temperature and pressure, types of flow pattern and governing equation
to be used to solve the numerical problems. Later, the model will be imported from
existing native CAD files. The type of flow model and the approaches in terms of
boundary conditions and operation parameters will be selected accordingly. Once the
working conditions such as correct shockwave position and strength were found, the
performance of the separator in cleaning the biogas from water will be calculated and

3.2 Project flowchart
3.2.1 Overall project flowchart

The project will be conducted according to the process flow chart below:

Perform preliminary research on biogas,

supersonic separation systems, and quality
requirements for utilizations

Industrial visit and identify sample

composition from biogas plants

Simulation preparation by identifying suitable flow

model, boundary condition & operating parameters
and running the simulation

Evaluation of separation efficiency

Good condition for

biogas dehydration

Collect data and analyse results

Draw conclusion and recommendations

Figure 1: Project flowchart

3.2.2 CFD simulation flowchart

The flows, in the supersonic swirling separator, are very complicated,

including swirling flow and supersonic velocity. FLUENT software is a CFD
(Computational Fluid Dynamics) solver of choice for simulating the fluid movement
and separation process within the separator. The commercially available FLUENT
code was utilized here for the investigation.

Design methodology which adapted from Pahl and Beitz could be divided into
5 phases namely the Design Specification Development, Design Concept
Development, CAD Model Development, CFD Simulation and Optimization and
Technical Drawing. In this project, phase 1 until 3 of the design methodology and
the pre-processing step for the simulation is covered by importing the supersonic
separator 3D model and design parameters from the existing prototype model
developed by UTP Gas Separation Research Centre. Currently the prototype has been
successfully tested for natural gas dehydration. Phase 4 of the design methodology is
shown in the flowchart below where is the CFD simulation and optimization will be
covered in this project.

Import CAD Apply Meshing Insert EoS & Set Simulation

Model in Boundary
ANSYS Design Condition

Supersonic Flow Character-Supersonic
Compact Wet- Diverge
Gas Separator Nozzle Angle vs Fluid Flow
Variation Pressure Vs Temp. compact Wet-Gas
Separator Converge
Water Separation Performance

Figure 2: Design methodology flowchart (Pahl & Beitz, 2013).

Defining a system involves identifying the equations that describe that system,
such as mass and momentum conservation equations, as well as physical properties of
the fluids at different conditions. Solving these equations simultaneously and closing
them with the appropriate boundary conditions is usually referred to as the processing
stage. In the processing step of the simulation, the geometry will be introduced into
the numerical solver where the equation of state, turbulence model, solution algorithm
and convergence criteria, boundary condition, material properties and simulation
parameterization will be done.

The fluid that is to be modelled is the POME-derived biogas, which consist of

methane, carbon dioxide and other trace amount of impurities including water.
Therefore methane, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and water was expressed as
mass fractions and used as the process fluid in the simulation. This is done by selecting
multiphase mixture model in the simulation setup where the material is chosen from
the internal material library.

An equation of state must be developed to calculate the physical property of

fluids in supersonic flows. In this simulation, the ideal gas law and Redlich-Kwong
real gas equation of state model were employed to predict gas dynamics parameters.
The RedlichKwong equation of state is an equation that is derived from the van der
Waals equation (Redlich, Kwong, 1949). It is generally more accurate than the van der
Waals equation and the ideal gas equation. When a real gas model is used, significantly
different results are obtained as compared to the ideal gas model (Jassim et al., 2008b).
The thermodynamic model would impact not only the thermal processes but also the
composition of multiphase mixture thus would affect the outlet mass fraction of the
gas composition.

Three main methodologies in the CFD modelling research can be highlighted

(Carvero & Satta, 2000): (1) flexible and robust schemes for steady or unsteady flows
for all fluid velocities, (2) turbulence modeling (k-, k-, Reynolds stress), and (3)
fluid properties modeling (two phase, real gas, and cryogenics). Detailed model which
will be used incorporate k-epsilon turbulence models to create more accurate results.
k- model was chosen as it is the most widely accepted model to represent such flows
in the industry and it is the recommended choice of turbulence model considering the
high velocity and swirl of the flow as instructed by the Fluent user guide.

The finite volume method will be used for mathematical calculation, and the
second-order upwind scheme and wall function will be integrated along wall while for
the pressure and velocity coupling, semi implicit method or SIMPLE algorithm will
be selected in the in the solution methods menu in Fluent (Patankar, 1980). The
scheme will solve the momentum equations by predicting the pressure gradient and
getting a convergence.

Boundary conditions are used to define the known limits of the system. In the
systems studied here, three regions have to be defined are the nozzle inlet, nozzle outlet
and nozzle walls. The inlet will be defined as a Pressure inlet, which uses the pressure
and temperature of the gas at the inlet as a constant and adjusts other parameters such
as velocity and flow rate accordingly.

Mass flow inlet was also used in some simulations to evaluate the effects of
flow rate variations. This condition assumes the mass flow rate and temperature as a
constant and adjusts the other parameters such as pressure and velocity
correspondingly. The outlet is always modelled as a Pressure outlet where the pressure
and temperature of the gas are defined at the outlet. The walls are always modelled as
a smooth and insulated surface where no flow of energy takes place. This is consistent
with the theoretical assumption of an adiabatic expansion of the gas.

The post-processing section explains the techniques and properties that were
used to analyse and compare the solutions obtained from the CFD simulations. The
properties that were used to evaluate the performance of the separator design include:
maximum velocity achieved in the device, centrifugal acceleration, position of the
shockwave, pressure loss, mass flow rate, residence time, and separation length. All
the above mentioned properties will be reported in form of tables, graphs, contours, or
vector plots as suited by the nature of the property and analysis methods.

Details of Activity and Key Milestone
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Perform preliminary research
Research and literature review of project
Study the biogas production process and upgrading technology
Industrial visit and identify sample composition
3.3.1 Gantt Chart

First industrial visit at Felcra Nasarudin Palm Oil Mill

Visiting Gas Seperation Centre
Obtaining permission for industrial visits
Obtaining biogas specification from literature review
Analysing and compiling information and gas specification obtained
Simulation preparation
Identifying suitable flow model, boundary condition & operating parameters
Running the simulation
3.3 Gantt Chart and Key Milestones

Evaluation of separation efficiency

Catia modelling
Ansys Fluent simulation
Collection of data and analysing results
Collecting results from simulation
Analysing the results
Drawing conclusions and recommendations
Identifying the significant parameters
Concluding and final compilation
The proposed Gantt Chart for this project is shown in the figure below.

Figure 3: Project flowchart

3.3.2 Project Key Milestones

The overall project key milestone is shown in the table below which describes
significant achievements that are expected from this final year project.

Project Key Milestones

Key Milestone/ Activities Date
Selection of topic 31st January 2017
Proposal defense presentation 15th March 2017
Completion of simulation preparation 13 April 2017
Completion of results ; evaluation of separation 1st June 2017
Completion of results ; collecting data and analyzing 3rd July 2017
Final result analysis and conclusion 13th July 2017
Completion of data analysis documentation an VIVA 24th July 2017
Table 5: Project key milestones



4.1 Expected Result

The biogas flow field will be simulated in the compact wet-gas separator based
on the numerical methods as mentioned in the methodology. Variables such as static
temperature and tangential velocity of cross section and mach number at the nozzle
will be analyzed along the axis. In the compact wet-gas separator, the fluid which is
biogas expands in the Laval nozzle to supersonic velocities with the Joule Thomson
effect thus lowering the temperatures. The static temperature diminishes gradually in
the convergent segment of the nozzle, while expansion of gas initiates a fast decrease
in the divergent part. The results expected from this experiment will be in the form of
resulting mass fraction composition obtained from the outlet of the separator. As
mentioned earlier, the inlet working fluid for the raw biogas will be simulated in form
of methane, carbon dioxide, water and hydrogen sulphide which takes 64%, 30%, 5%
and 1% of mass fraction respectively. The water separation efficiency could be
calculated by comparing the difference in mass fraction of liquid particles passing
through the liquid outlet slit located at the nozzle of the separator and the mass fraction
of liquid particles passing through the dry gas outlet. The velocity, pressure and
temperature contour could also be extracted from the simulation and the data will be
analysed accordingly until the best working condition and separation efficiency is



Based on the expected results explained earlier, the project has been progress
according to the timeline that has been suggested in the Gantt-chart. The
familiarization stage with the Fluent software has been done allowing the
understanding of how the results could be represented hence concluding that water
separation from biogas is feasible. Since this project is mainly on investigation of
possibility of utilizing the currently available Compact Wet Gas Separator prototype,
variables such as the dimensions of the model such ratio of the length of the cyclone
separation section to the diameter of the wall at throat is fixed. Therefore the variables
that could be altered in order to achieve the best working condition of the medium
fluid inside the separator is the velocity, temperature, pressure and mass fraction of the
composition of the working fluid.

After the results had been obtained, the project can be continued and focused
on repeating the simulation with different inlet boundary conditions until the best
separation efficiency possible is obtained.