With energy security and cost becoming increasingly important considerations for all nations as traditional fossil fuel reserves begin to run low, biogas a renewable low cost energy resource manufactured from organic waste, could just be the answer.
Europe currently imports over 60% of its fuel requirements but could actually generate up to 50% of its total needs locally using biogas technology. Biogas technology is nothing new – it was used by the Chinese and Persians as long as 3,000 years ago to make fuel. Biogas is created by the anaerobic digestion (AD) of all biodegradable natural materials except wood which occurs at landfill sites. The resultant gas contains high amounts of methane, which when harnessed can be used as an emission-free green energy source suitable for CHP or gas engines. It can also be upgraded to natural gas quality for grid or vehicle fuel use. Biogas represents a major opportunity for the food and agriculture industries, two areas that traditionally produce high levels of organic waste, to significantly reduce costs and lower their carbon footprint by turning this waste into energy and fuel, which can then be used across multiple industry sectors. The digestate from this process can also be used as an environmentally-friendly fertiliser or weed killer.
There are a number of key benefits associated with biogas, according to Barry McDermott, Head of Sustainability at PM Group, which has been involved in several major biogas plant developments worldwide over the past few years. “In addition to lowering emissions and reducing carbon footprint, which helps to combat climate change, it also provides an unlimited low cost renewable energy resource which can significantly reduce national reliance on fossil fuel imports,” McDermott explained. “It also contributes to meeting the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, whereby countries will be required to source 20% of their energy requirements from renewable resources by 2020, and the Landfill Directive which seeks to significantly reduce the level of biodegradable waste going to landfill.”
Germany has been using biogas as an alternative heat and energy source for the last two decades and currently has approximately 4,000 facilities in operation around the country. Sweden has also been exploiting its biogas potential for many years, most of which is upgraded to biomethane for use in the transport sector. According to the European Biomass Association report, “A Biogas Roadmap for Europe”, the technology remains relatively untapped in Poland, despite the massive potential it offers.
“Biogas will be one of the fuels of the future, offering a whole range of environmental, cost saving and energy security benefits for all,” McDermott said. “With initial costs starting at a couple of million euros for a small to medium-sized plant, return on investment is usually achieved between four and ten years, depending on the local tariff system.”
PM Group has been providing specialist turnkey engineering, architecture and project management services and has worked on a number of biogas facilities in Europe and the Caribbean, including one for frozen food manufacturer McCains in Lodz, Poland where a 3,500sqm tank capable of 8,000sqm of biogas per week from potato starch and peel waste was incorporated into the facility. Others include a €40m facility in the UK and another in St Croix in the Caribbean for Diageo.