With the European Parliament backing a net zero emissions target for 2050, EU member states will need to further develop their biogas markets to continue to reduce emissions from waste, energy, and transport, write Benjamin Budde and David Newman.
In Germany, the biogas market has a special history. It began with the building of around 100 farm waste and food waste plants in the early 1990s, with this number increasing steadily over the next 15 years. 2008, however, was when the biogas boom really started: the number of plants nearly doubled within two years, with around 3,000 built on the back of strong incentives from government.
The 2000 Renewable Energy Sources Act provided fixed revenues for plant owners, and revisions of the Act in 2004 and 2009 offered further profitable opportunities. Biogas was therefore given the opportunity to demonstrate its benefits as a producer of constant, reliable, on-demand energy.
There are currently around 9,500 biogas plants in Germany (150 more than in 2017). However, incentives for biogas production are now falling, with the German government increasingly focusing on unsubsidised, market-driven electricity production.
Despite this, innovative products to increase plant flexibility and improve aspects such as fermentation and separation still constitute a huge market. The German biogas market is expected to remain stable in the medium term, and the export market for biogas is expected to grow as energy-recovery rates steadily improve.
Plant owners are reporting that they want and need to invest in new technology, while overseas demand for German biogas technology remains huge. Other countries whose governments support renewable energy production are enlarging the sales areas for German companies providing biogas products and services: Stallkamp generates as much as 35% of total sales from overseas, demonstrating the strength of the biogas export market.
Following the first tranche of funding for biogas in Germany, production of flexible power will be the most sustainable market moving forward, with biomethane production and waste recycling following closely behind. There is also strong growth potential for separation and processing technology for fermentation residues and manure.
Outside of Germany, recycling waste is the top priority for biogas markets. Whether a biogas plant produces electricity or gas depends on the particular country’s energy infrastructure and geographic location.
The European Union’s (EU’s) proposed Fertilisers Regulation, designed to significantly ease the access of organic and waste-based fertilisers to the Single Market, should help to create a profitable market for digestate in Europe. This will require the biogas industry to invest in producing high-quality materials that have the approval of the farming community, as digestate currently has a low value and little market demand.
The EU Circular Economy Package, meanwhile, will oblige member states to introduce separate biowaste collections or recycle at source by the end of 2023, opening up huge business opportunities for food waste plant operators and the biogas supply chain in Europe in particular.
This will require the biogas industry to ensure clean, uncontaminated collection systems for food waste, as too much food waste is currently heavily contaminated by other waste streams such as plastics, which are a headache for biogas operators.
At the other end of the chain, biomethane upgrading is developing rapidly. Renewable gas for both heat and transport is the current growth sector in many countries: there are now close to 600 biomethane-upgrading facilities worldwide, of which over 500 are in Europe.
There’s also increasing interest from countries such as the Netherlands and companies such as Montello in Italy and Afrox in South Africa in utilising carbon dioxide, which constitutes 40% of the biogas generated by the biomethane-upgrading process, for industrial use.
And of course, there is increasing pressure on the German and all other governments to urgently ramp up their emissions reductions following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report showing that governments have just 12 years to take action to keep global warming to less than 1.5°C by 2100.
With MEPs having backed a net zero emissions target for 2050, member states such as Germany will need to further develop their biogas markets to continue to reduce emissions from waste, energy, and transport.