Biogas Flowmeter

Background

Cavendish Farms operates one of Canada’s largest bio digesters, located on Prince Edward Island it processes potato waste from the nearby French fry facilities. The biogas created by the plant contains about 55% methane, which is then burnt in the French fry plant to create energy for the potato processing operation. Since biogas is saturated with water vapor specialty measurement techniques are required. These special requirements were not considered in the initial build of the plant, and therefore inappropriate measurement devices were installed. Measurement error became an issue when the accounting department required reports on biogas used by the French fry plant. 

Goals

The goal of this project was to ensure proper measurement and accounting of biogas used by the French fry plant. Specifically desirable was improved accuracy of the measurement of energy produced by the biogas facility.

Tools and Technologies

•    Microsoft Project
•    Microsoft Excel


Solution and Process

My introduction to the project was a meeting with my mentor on the project management team, Guillaume. He explained the stakeholders and what mattered to them; he mentioned the company executives who valued system integration and cost effectiveness, the accountants who saw accuracy as a critical component, and the plant operators who wanted a device that was easy to maintain.

The project began by analyzing data produced by the current measurement device and discussing results with the plant operators. The operators had noticed anomalies in the measurement output, but could not pinpoint the issue. They spoke about specific behavior of the output variables, and the issues were confirmed by further data analysis; however, the cause of the issue was unknown at this point. Discussions with the engineers who designed the plant and technical representatives from the supplier of the measurement device revealed that moisture in the gas was causing measurement issues.

Alternative suppliers for industrial process measurement equipment were known to peers on the engineering team, and these connections were leveraged in order to obtain quotes for devices which would correctly measure biogas flow rates. Using the computational decision matrix method each solution was ranked based on factors deemed important by stakeholders in the project. These factors included: cost of implementation, accuracy of measurement and ease of maintenance. The winner of the matrix was an ultrasonic flowmeter from Endress and Hauser.

With supervision from Guillaume an Endress and Hauser engineer was brought in for consultation on the project. The consultant pointed out flaws in our current plan, and made technical suggestions for implementation. These suggestions were documented and would be adhered to during the build phase.

The planning phase of the project involved obtaining quotes from contractors for work to be completed, discussing timelines with plant managers, obtaining quotes for equipment and verifying lead times. Finally, since the installation was constrained to an eight-hour shutdown during scheduled maintenance, Microsoft Project was used to map out dependencies and schedule specific tasks for the installation process. 

In order to obtain management approval for the project a detailed proposal was written, as dictated by company rules for capital projects. This included quotes from suppliers and contractors, project details as well as expected timelines. The proposal was accepted after a delay of a few weeks. At this point I had approximately four weeks of internship remaining, and the expected lead time of the device was 5 weeks. I would not oversee the installation phase of the project. 

Knowing that my mentor Guillaume was knowledgeable in the field and would complete the the project I compiled all documents and knowledge into a shared folder and discussed the plan with him.

After I left Guillaume installed the flowmeter and reported that the equipment operates as expected and does in fact give more accurate readings of gas flow.

Reflections

Although the project was ultimately successful I am disappointed that I was not able to oversee the physical installation of the device. The most important lesson learned from this experience was to always be advocating for my projects in order to move them forward. This is important with any project in any organization, but was exacerbated by the bureaucratic nature of the Irving organization, where a collection of signatures had the power to delay a project for weeks. 

More information about the biogas facility can be found at biomassmagazine.com.