With the start of the year still fresh in our minds, EBA has prepared an overview on the future biogas trends for 2019, taking into account the current EU priorities and the technical developments of the sector.
Biogas – more than electricity, heat and biomethane
In June 2018 the EU institutions agreed on a new Renewable Energy Directive for the next decade, including a legally-binding EU-wide target of 32% for renewable energy by 2030. The biogas sector will undoubtedly contribute in achieving this goal. With a total of 17,783 biogas plants and an electricity production of 65,179 GWh in 2017 the European biogas market is established and mature. On the other hand, the number of biomethane plants is still growing quickly, from 187 plants in 2011 up to a total of 540 plants in 2017.
Efficient valorisation of the whole biogas production process
Currently, anaerobic digestion (AD) plants are mainly considered for energy production (electricity, heat and biomethane), although there are many more benefits of AD, which are not yet fully exploited to produce financial revenues. Anaerobic digestion can be used to produce organic fertilizers and help save GHG emissions, process organic waste and create a flexible source of renewable energy.
The main expected trend for the biogas and biomethane sectors in the upcoming years will be a better integration into the EU circular economy. Digestate, the end-product of the digestion process, can be optimized and used as organic fertilizer, hereby replacing the energy-intensive production of traditional fertilizers. The European Parliament, Council and Commission recently agreed upon the Fertilizing Products Regulation, which will open the market for organic fertilizers.
In addition, as the share of renewables and intermittent energy sources is growing in Europe, the need for flexible energy production is increasing. Biogas and biomethane can be stored and overcome seasonal variations in energy demand.
In the coming years, the integration of biogas and biomethane plants in their local environment will still increase. The plants will take advantage of location-specific opportunities to optimally valorise all the end-products (CO2-gas, organic fertilizer and energy) of the anaerobic digestion process and reduce concerns of local citizens. For example, the CO2-gas flow that remains after upgrading biogas to biomethane, can be used as a nutrient source in nearby horticulture delivered in simple underground pipelines. To cover longer distances, the CO2-gas can be liquified.
Another upcoming trend will be the use of both combined heat and power production (CHP) and biogas upgrading on one plant to meet the local heat demand. Heat can be recovered for industrial or other heat-requiring activities close to the biogas plant. The remaining biogas is upgraded and injected into the gas grid.
A clear trend towards biomethane
Both existing and new anaerobic digestion plants are shifting from electricity production from biogas towards upgrading the biogas to biomethane. The high value of such renewable gas gained recognition, as biomethane can be used for the same end consumer applications as natural gas. In 2018, three additional European countries (Belgium, Estonia and Ireland) connected their first biomethane plant to their national gas grid, amounting the total number of European biomethane producing countries to 18. The European Renewable Gas Registry (ERGaR) is working hard to implement a European administration system which will allow cross-border trade of biomethane, expected to boost the biomethane sector even more.