A Brief History of Renewable Energy Engineering at Caterpillar

by Contributor KelscNM on ‎08-19-2013 01:14 PM - last edited on ‎08-26-2013 11:09 AM by Administrator

Nick Kelsch Caterpillar Blog.jpg

I recently received an invitation by a Caterpillar customer, Luc Turcotte of EBI Energie, and our local Caterpillar dealer salesperson, Regis Drouin of Hewitt Equipment, to visit what was billed as the most advanced landfill-gas-to-energy (LFGTE) facility in North America. With that kind of billing, it was an offer that I couldn’t refuse. 


I had visited LFGTE facilities prior to this trip, but nothing quite like what I was about to see at EBI’s facility near Montreal. My colleague, Mike Devine, who has 20 more years in the power business than I do, often reminds me that Caterpillar has been in the renewable energy business even before his tenure—a fact that escapes many consulting engineers and project developers these days.  My goal for this trip was to put together a video and technical article for a trade publication that would spell out how new technology can impact the approach on new green energy projects. On the plane ride from Chicago to Montreal, I thought a lot about the history that got us where we are today.


You see, since the 1960s, Caterpillar has been applying engines to run on biogas. Some vintage model G333 to G399s were applied as pump engines in wastewater treatment plants operating on the gases extracted from the wastewater treatment process. It wasn’t until 1985 that Caterpillar adapted a natural gas G3516 generator set for landfill methane fuel. At that time, U.S. government regulations were just being activated that made sanitary landfill construction mandatory. Those regulations helped support a landfill energy program because for the first time, modern landfill construction made it possible for landfill gas wells to efficiently extract ‘nuisance’ methane gases. During this time, the primary goal was to burn off landfill gas in order to protect groundwater and improve the quality of life of surrounding communities. Nobody knew if landfill gases would even work as a renewable fuel in an engine generator, and nobody in the engine business had heard of siloxane or had seen what it could do to the insides of a gas engine. Because of a strong relationship within our heavy equipment division, Caterpillar had partnered with Waste Management to try out a modified 16-cylinder G3516 rated around 800kW on landfill gas. The generator set was packaged into an ISO container so that if the engine failed it could be quickly exchanged, repaired or applied at a different site. Fast forward 28 years, and today Waste Management is applying enough Cat gas generator sets to power half a million U.S. homes. 


From 1983 to the early 1990s, more engines were being applied on landfill projects and product development flourished. Caterpillar differentiated itself with stainless steel after-cooler cores, elevated jacket water temperatures, special exhaust valves, seals and bearings that were specifically designed for these applications. In 2005, Caterpillar added four cylinders and nearly doubled the power density of a landfill engine with model G3520C rated for 1600kW at 1200rpm (2000kW at 1500rpm). Doubling power density also doubled the amount of corrosive landfill gases consumed inside the same engine. As many engine manufacturers were focused on the natural gas business in the 1990s, other technology paths sprouted that focused on treating fuel to make it nearly as clean as natural gas versus using a specialized engine design. More sophisticated fuel treatment technologies developed included gas chillers, regenerative adsorption silica gels and activated carbon. This is the technology path Caterpillar followed by acquiring MWM, based in Mannheim, Germany, which today manufactures the Cat CG line of generator sets for operation on both biogas and natural gas.


The investment and sophistication of the engineering that I experienced during my recent visit to EBI Energie in Quebec was even more notable.  Be sure to keep your eyes open for our upcoming Power Profile and YouTube video on this project. You can view all of Caterpillar’s Landfill stories on the Gas Power website.


-          What is your experience in applying Caterpillar engines versus other engines on landfill gas fuels?

-          What new technologies do you think could change the way these projects are being executed?

-          Should local governments be playing a stronger role in driving biogas-to-energy programs?

by Super Contributor
on ‎08-19-2013 11:42 PM

You may want to go back a bit further Nick, at the dealer when I was an apprentice, I worked with a guy who worked on Digester fueled D13000 engines that had been converted to spark ignited shortly after WWII, as generator sets. Of course they weren't CAT packaged sets back then, but yellow iron has been sucking crappy gas out of the ground, or sewer and burning it for a lot of years. I still have an old Autolite spark plug cross reference that shows all kinds of older CAT engine models that had been converted to SI and run on both natural and biogas applications.


A fair number of G399's made it into landfill gas service for a number of years, but most I worked on in the 80's and 90's have long since wore out, some replaced with G3500's, other replaced with competitors products. And what about the G3600 series? A few out in both digester and landfill gas applications, unfortunately destined to die out because CAT won't commit resources to keeping them going by offering A3 retrofits. How about G3500 tandem units on landfill gas? A few of them out, and still running.


I am constantly amused by how much people think this is a "new" idea, of course when I started in it we called it "brown" energy, green energy sounds so much sexier.


I still run into a number of old dog Waukasha's banging away at sewer plants and a few old landfills. Tough old iron, with a few upgrades like digital ignitions and better fuel systems seem to keep hanging in there.


Jenbacher was the technology to beat for many years, I have recently had the chance to work with their dealer on some new project startups, and have to say, pretty nice packages. I also was recently involved with a startup at a sewage treatment plant in Northern California using Cummins products. Again I have to say I was pretty impressed with what used to be my former competitor.


No matter what color the engine is, the efficient use of any waste stream produced fuel is way better in the long run than just about any other source I can think of. And yet thousands of cubic feet of usable gas is flared off  everyday instead of being used to produce electricity and heat. What a shame.


Be interesting to see just how well CAT can leverage the MWM product into new installations. There are a few older ones running around here that were sold under the Duetz agreement with Stewart and Stevenson, not bad but not without thier own issues. Interesting to se how it turns out.


Mike L.

by Contributor KelscNM
on ‎08-23-2013 08:23 AM

Hi Mike.  Great comments.  I see you have a wealth of experience in this area.  You are absolutely right that the D13000 engine predating the G333.  Do you have any pictures of the D13000 converted for sewer gas?  That would cool to see!


If you have any projects working on G3600 generator sets and would like to get in touch with some of our factory service engineers regarding your controls concerns, just drop me a private note with your contact info.


I agree with your comments that the higher good of green, er, "brown" energy.  I respect our competitors who are out there pushing for the same initiatives to capture waste and convert it into useful energy because at the end of the day, it serves the industry and the plant, well.

by New member smarajitroy2004
on ‎08-27-2013 10:51 AM

Hi Nick,


Is there any easy way to collect biogas from landfill sites or from a large STP to generate 5MWe power.Can you please quote an indicative capital cost for a pilot plant in India. Please  reply to my email address  as below. Kind regards 



by Visitor christian_lima
on ‎08-27-2013 02:08 PM

Dear Nick,
Good afternoon.

Could you tell me if the 3516 generators (diesel) would also work with natural gas? What are the changes to be made? In dollar, which the estimated cost for each machine?

Christian LIncoln

by Regular Contributor
on ‎08-28-2013 03:31 AM
Nick, confident that the acquisition of MWM, has brought new Acquaintances in Cat, For us Europeans it is not, Mwm, it's just a German engine with all the problems that the German machines,complicated, non-intuitive, and by no applications starting all over the world, they think that the world is only germany, everything else has to adapt, installs a MWM in the desert? to my knowledge of the market just need to give Cat a few provisions, but precise thing you should not do, and dealers instead of watching the competitors that install on and do, they take their responsibility, CG 132 MMM, many have been replaced, by Man, why?, expensive, complicated and break easily, so long live the old 3400 series, my experience with MWm ?, 12 megs to manage every day, and are still new, three years older, problems?, every day, solution, an avalanche of money buttatti waiting for the German round of the passwords, even to change the carburetion car because the gas was changed so much, or else you'll outside temperature changed, and this is just a small example, we can be here hours, cat in the market endure many, many, and also in all applications not approved by cat, but every day they do their dirty work, and money, and also create a volume of spare parts not despicable, also other manufacturers are about equal, but they sell well smoke, new technologies, there is nothing new, maybe the computers we use, the engine is a diesel engine since, the face and also coach Otto, we have improved controls, or metals, but we think less, and we Nick, confident that the acquisition of MWM, has brought new Acquaintances in Cat, new technology, for my whole idea is old, we only have new computer, but if you analyze it well, we are doing what our elders were without means, but thought more, and turned the machines, pollution is not posed many issues, but not pollute like us today, and we spend to clean up after, now in countries like Europe where the incentives for renewable energy is strong but also the bureaucracy (Italy is first) need to have guidelines strong but slender in the process of responding to the final customer, and above all, work machines, the ferrari is the ferrari but not used for work every day, and I, who live in the famous motor valley between Bologna and Modena, with a lamborghini 8km, ducats to 10 KM, pagans 6 km, 20 KM ferrari, etc. etc., not there innamoriano only numbers written on brouschure to work you claim work machines, and Cat is such, greeting and thanks gordini
by Visitor christian_lima
on ‎08-28-2013 06:53 AM

Working in a power generation company with CAT 3516 diesel engines (1640 ekW @ 1800 rpm). The maintenance is costly and pose many problems. My question is: can I turn these engines to use natural gas? You show me what? Give me an idea for dread.
Christian LIncoln

by Contributor KelscNM
on ‎08-28-2013 03:27 PM

Smaraj....not sure if I understand what STP is.  Certainly, we can utilize biogas (landfill gas) to provide 5MW of power.  The installed cost of the genset including outdoor container, cooling system, utility paralleling switchgear, master controls, fuel train, freight, fluids, and commissioning would start around US$750/kW.  Upgrade to brick and morter, add fuel treatment, add more sound attenuation, expanded service capability with overhead crane, CHP, etc. can add a lot to that number.




by Contributor KelscNM
on ‎08-28-2013 03:30 PM



Have you heard about Cat's Dynamic Gas Blending System.  http://www.cat.com/cda/files/3593991/7/DGB%20Final%20Apr%2029.pdf


You'd need to contact your local dealer to get pricing and updated generator performance details for the kit.  http://www.cat.com/dealer-locator



by Contributor KelscNM
on ‎08-28-2013 03:36 PM



Thanks for your comments.  Caterpillar's acquisition of MWM does bring some new engine technology and capability, particularly in the 3 to 5 MW engine range.  I actually like your analogy of MWM to Ferrari.  Who uses a Ferrari in the desert?  I imagine there are more than a few Ferraris in UAE and Saudi!  


Following your same analogy, if MWM is like Ferrari, is Caterpillar like a Ford F150?  One is designed for speed, the other may be a bit of a workhorse....but they each serve their intended purpose!





by mbr sellers
on ‎08-28-2017 08:37 AM - last edited on ‎09-21-2017 01:07 PM by Administrator

renewable energy resources are very important to day generation.. because natural resources are need for future generations.... like waste water management.. regards...

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