Next generation technology

David Newman explains why it is high time to harness the global potential of biogas

The potential of the biogas industry is enormous, especially in the context of addressing the climate emergency. Unlike solar and wind, biogas not only produces a sustainable energy source to replace fossil fuels, but also recycles food waste, sewage, manures and crop residues which emit harmful emissions when left untreated – sadly the situation in 70 per cent of the planet today. Also, unlike solar and wind, biogas produces not just electricity, but also energy for heat and vehicle fuel when upgraded to biomethane and is a dispatchable source of energy, available 24/7, which can act as a battery for when other renewables are unavailable.

We are currently tapping into only two per cent of the global biowastes available to produce biogas. Working with the International Energy Agency, we estimate that treating the full volume of feedstock available around the world and removing all barriers to the industry growth would enable us to cut global greenhouse gases emissions (GHG) by at least 13 per cent by 2030.

Plants of the size of Montello near Milan (700,000 tons of food waste treated annually) or SESA near Venice (550,000 tons) or Nature Energy in Denmark (500,000 tons of manure) show that at scale, biogas can become a major industrial player in the energy landscape. India has announced plans to build 5000 plants whilst the Chinese already have 110,000 industrial plants in operation – a number expected to grow to over 300,000 by 2030. Our members think they can reduce the costs of producing biogas by 50 per cent over the next decade by improving efficiency, perfecting processes and using research to industrialise and standardise the building of these plants in a systematic way. Such savings would make our industry even more competitive.

As mentioned earlier, whilst producing a cubic meter of biomethane offers a clean alternative to coal, oil and gas, it does so much more by treating millions of tonnes of organic wastes that would otherwise end up in landfills and incinerators, where they emit greenhouse gases rather than contribute to reducing them. As all EU countries move to implement separate food waste collections from 2023, some 70 million tons of food waste will need recycling. The opportunities for making energy from these volumes are significant, as well as generating by-product such as nutrients to restore depleted soils and stripping out the CO2 for food and drink use.

Major European corporates like Suez, SHV Energy, Engie and IES (SNAM) have recently joined WBA because they believe in the value of this industry and in its enormous potential to contribute to decarbonising the economy and to meeting the UNFCC Paris Agreement objectives. Now is the time to harness the potential of the biogas industry and play our part in addressing the global environmental challenges that we face today and in the years to come.

Biogas – a growing industry for global decarbonisation
When the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP25) takes place this December in Spain, the deadline for world governments to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions towards achieving the Paris Agreement will be just a year away. The biogas industry, led by the World Biogas Association (WBA), is working hard to ensure that it is integrated in those submissions as a significant contributor to reducing global greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and developing a sustainable, low carbon circular economy. As a ready-to-use technology that cuts emissions in the hardest-to-decarbonise sectors, the next decade will be crucial for the sector’s growth. Companies from leading biogas producing countries, such as China, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, the USA and the UK have been working together to ensure all resources and infrastructure are in place to build on current achievements and unlock the industry’s potential to abate 3.8bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

Biogas in 2019
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) statistics show a global capacity of 18,126MW for thebiogas industry in 2018 – producing over 87.9TWh of biogas each year. Europe is by far the largest contributor with 73 per cent of the global production, and Germany leads the industry, with close to 11,000 plants currently in operation. Outside of Europe, the USA and China are the largest producers, with a combined capacity of 3,014MW and output of 16.1TWh per year.

The global biogas industry has grown by over 90 per cent between 2010 and 2017, and the climateemergency is focusing minds to invest further into developing its infrastructure and realising its full potential to decarbonise the economy across multiple sectors. The latest WBA report, the Global Potential of Biogas, shows that only two per cent of the feedstocks available globally are treated to produce biogas. This means that there is a 98 per cent untapped volume of organic wastes worldwide that could be turned into biogas in the future.

Optimising plant performance
Biogas is produced from the natural process of anaerobic digestion – the breaking down of organic matter such as food waste, sewage, wastewater andagricultural waste under oxygen-free conditions, in a plant called a digester. Optimising the performanceof those plants will be crucial to enabling the biogas industry to fulfil its potential.

Training, regular maintenance and routine monitoring are the only ways to achieve process efficiency. Developing technical standards, such as the AD Certification Scheme in the UK, and sharing innovation and expertise among global operators will also be key to ensuring that growth is not only rapid but also robust, with high environmental and health and safety requirements embedded, to give confidence to investors, policymakers, regulators, insurers and the general public in support of the industry.

A winning sector
At the inaugural World Biogas Summit in Birmingham UK, in July 2019, Niclas Svenningsen, of UN Climate Change, the Secretariat for the UNFCCC, described the biogas industry as a multiple-win sector. “Biogas has all the features of the next generation technology,” he said. “It is a win-win-win-win-win industry: turning GHG into energy; using that energy to replace fossil fuels; turning global waste that releases dangerous levels of methane gas every day into a valuable resource; creating jobs and contributing to the new low-carbon economy; offering a stable energy source that can be built and used even at the household scale in remote areas.”

He called on biogas to be at the table when the future policies of governments are designed and for business,government and civil society to work together to realise its potential. “We have the power and the responsibility to build the world that the future generations, that will inherit this planet, want and deserve,” he said, and he considers biogas to be part of that world. Industry stakeholders are now joining forces to live up to these expectations. The future for the industry is huge, and that future is now.

World Biogas Association
David Newman is President of the World Biogas Association. Launched at COP22 in Marrakesh in 2016, the World Biogas Association is the global trade association for the biogas,landfill gas and anaerobic digestion (AD) sectors, dedicated to facilitating the adoption of biogas globally. It believes that the global adoption of biogas technologies is a multi-faceted opportunity to produce clean, renewable energy while resolving global issues related to development, public health and economic growth.

For further information please visit: