Friday, 29 October 2021
Author: Kevin Lim
The European Biogas Association held their annual conference from 26-27 October – a welcome opportunity to network after the long COVID-19 hiatus. The theme for this year’s conference ‘Speeding-up climate neutrality with renewable gas’ – with plenty of food for thought given the context of the European Green Deal announced earlier in the summer and the upcoming COP26 summit talks.
Aleksandra Tomczak, a representative of EC vice president Frans Timmermans, touted the EU's position in advocating for a global net-zero emission target. The quantum shift required for achieve this goal will not only require electrification of various sectors but also the development of renewable gas energy carriers. As far as Fit for 55 was concerned, the EC expects to hear strong business cases for biogas development particularly within the transport sector, and we should look forward to new legislative proposals in December.
Piero Gattoni, Acting President of the EBA struck a solemn tone, commemorating the recent passing of biogas pioneer and EBA stalwart Harm Grobrügge. The need to continue his legacy in pushing for the recognition of biomethane in a low carbon economy was perhaps best encapsulated by the motto ‘No net-zero without biogas’.
Director Harman Dekker continued the discussion by highlighting the number of registered participants for this Brussels meeting (almost 230). He also noted biogas continues to be underestimated as a resource, with concerns on feedstock supply and scalability. But with success in transport – promotion and the recent accelerating uptake of bioLNG, there is plenty of cause for optimism. Neglecting biomethane disadvantages rural regions as well as the agricultural and waste sectors. Biogas is one of the few ways we can still obtain biogenic carbon dioxide without contributing to global warming.
The first session focussed on the availability and scalability of biogas and biomethane. Key statistics on biomethane presented by the EBAs own Mieke Decorte and the IEA’s Peter Zeniewski. Peter reported on the global outlook for biomethane – with Asia expected to be a growth market, and much global growth expected to be spurred given the current high natural gas prices. Mieke announced the 2021 annual EBA statistics report would be coming out in November, and of interest to the European transport sector, 10.6TWh annual production expected by 2024 in committed projects.
Discussions on the EU biomethane market (including GO and mass balancing tracking) as well as presentations by representatives from different EU industries including paper, power and heat production, were bookended by a session dubbed ‘Towards negative mobility’, recognising the processing of certain feedstocks for biogas can capture methane emissions which would otherwise contribute to global warming.
Farid Trad, from French logistics company CMA-CGM talked about their own journey to net-zero, voluntarily offering customers low-carbon options, the attractiveness of bioLNG as a drop-in fuel to allow continued use of current fleets and infrastructure, as well as a future where electro LNG might dominate the shipping fuels market.
After a long day of travel and talks, the information sessions wound down and gave way to festivities – the EBA gala dinner and awards ceremony which allowed participants to unwind, network and celebrate individuals who had made significant impact and contributions to the industry, via avenues such as research and promotion.
The second day commenced by looking at the farming sector, which is poised to take advantage of the many benefits of biomethane production including waste management, fertiliser production from digestate. Vasileios Diamantis, of Democritus University of Thrace, offered some data on the processing of industrial wastewater for biogas in the EU, where digestion technologies have the potential to reduce sludge handling (which also comes with benefits of reduced volumes and energy used for processing) as well as job creation in addition to a tapping a resource which could be responsible for 14 bcm of biogas per annum in Europe.
Thomas Manheim of DUCTOR AG in Germany explained how the production of fertiliser from their AD technology was able to drive the supply chain emissions below net-zero, given that the biogenic fertiliser avoided emissions associated with traditional fertiliser manufacture – this is on top of the reductions associated with the production of the renewable natural gas.
One of the break-out sessions proceeding the morning’s activities discussed innovation in the industry, highlighted by presentations from academics. Two involved studies on the biogas from the AD of catch crops or sequential crops – which are crops often sown for nutrient recovery. These crops are not considered energy crops, thus there is no competition for food supply. However, their status in the RED is currently unclear and will require support and clarification going forward.
The final session of the conference was devoted to the outlook for biogas. Philipp Lucas of Future Biogas in the UK talked about the treatment of carbon emissions from biomethane production, how these emissions could not only be captured but also processed into a valuable industry product. Madeleine Alphen of ATEE touched upon pyrogasification, an alternative yet complementary method to AD for biogas production which would improve the variety of feedstocks and ultimately the supply of biogas.
Hydrogen was also briefly touched upon in this final session - Steve Jones of Bayotech described the technology used to convert biomethane into hydrogen, and how this adds value given the versatility of hydrogen. Harman acknowledged the potential of hydrogen but noted that biogas was the dominant renewable gaseous energy carrier for the present.
Closing remarks were delivered by Philipp, paying tribute to Susanna Pflüger who recently announced her resignation as EBA Secretary-General; this came almost after a decade in this key role.
While the conference ended on Thursday evening, there was no rest for the weary; with biogas conventions in Remini and Berlin, as well as the COP26 in Glasgow to the end of November, now is the time for the biogas industry to shine. Although there was some frustration at the pace of progress, most participants agreed that the industry can do better with promoting biogas by identifying the externalities associated with production, as well as improving communications between all stakeholders whether they be the EU or farm cooperatives in the Nordic countryside.