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Safety aspects associated with the large-scale production of biogas. Exploratory study of third-party risk

Veiligheid grootschalige productie van biogas. Verkennend onderzoek risico's externe veiligheid


The large-scale production of biogas from a mixture of manure and organic materials can be considered to represent a potential safety hazard for both those working with the biogas installations and local residents. It is a well-known fact that biogas, which is a mixture of gases, has flammable properties due to the presence of methane. Less well known, however, is that biogas has toxic properties when it contains a high content of hydrogen sulfide.
The production of biogas (co-fermentation) from manure is steadily increasing in the Netherlands. The co-fermentation reaction takes place in fermentors, which are often located on or near agricultural enterprises, and other organic materials are generally added to the manure to increase biogas production. Given the health and safety risks associated with high hydrogen sulfide levels, it is important that these organic materials do not contain a high content of sulfur. However, if this is the case, the excess hydrogen sulfide must be removed in a responsible manner. The current trend towards larger and more complex biogas production plants is expected to continue, which will increase third-party risk.
Based on the results of this study, this report makes a number of recommendations aimed at minimizing the potential risks in producing biogas. Firstly, it recommends that there be a legal requirement for the maintenance of a safe distance between fermentors and local residences, similar to the regulations implemented into Dutch legislation on chemical companies in the 'Besluit externe veiligheid inrichtingen, Bevi'. Secondly, it recommends the creation of a reference guideline based on all available information on how to construct and safely operate such large biogas production plants. This information is currently not centralized and is to be found scattered throughout various (international) documents. One standard guideline would guarantee a minimum safety level and provide clarity to both licence holders and licensing authorities.
This research was conducted by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and commissioned by the Inspection authority of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM). The engineering firm DHV B.V. cooperated in the investigation commissioned by RIVM.

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