Biogas projects popping up everywhere – are they the magical solution we’ve been looking for?

September 9, 2018 |

It’s not just you…it’s true, talk of gas is popping up everywhere. But it’s no longer a ssshh’d conversation whispered in the bathroom of a Mexican restaurant after eating too many bean burritos. It’s mainstream conversation now thanks to the growth of biogas around the world. And thanks to rainbow-farting unicorn memes of course.

While Cartoon Network already has Lady Rainicorn, a half-rainbow, half-unicorn character, we are always looking for a magical solution to solve our problems. We might just find a piece of that if we look to biogas.

It’s not bloating…it’s biogas

After too many bean burritos, you may feel like exploding, but for the biogas industry, things are already exploding…in a good way.

In Europe

Like a beautiful unicorn flying in the sky, biogas production is taking off in Denmark, accounting for almost 19% of the gas used in Denmark this July – an impressive 50% increase from last year! The Danish state company Energinet, which owns and runs the gas network reveals that “this is a European record, since no other country is at such advanced state when it comes to biogas integration in the energy network and out to consumers,” according to Public Services Knowledge Network.

Why is this so explosively amazing? “It is important, as we are facing a massive switchover in our energy system: a switchover to find a system that emits a net amount of zero CO2 in 2050,” Energinet’s regional head, Jeppe Danø told Public Services Knowledge Network. “Biogas is the start of the massive green switchover in the gas system and the entire energy sector that we have set in motion, and the amount of biogas will increase over the next few years up until 2030 when other green types of gas will come in,” added Danø. Looks like beautiful rainbows and unicorns to me.

In fact, biogas is growing so rapidly that Global Market Insights has predicted that the biogas market in Europe will exceed $2 billion by 2024. Analysts attribute the growth to “favorable government measures to encourage and promote renewable energy utilization.” The report, published this month, adds that “favorable government initiatives including feed in tariff, renewable portfolio standards, tax incentive schemes and direct subsidies [that] will drive the biogas market size.”

In other big news, Ireland added biogas to the country’s gas network for the first time, as reported in The Digest in August.

In Africa

Biogas isn’t just exploding in Europe either. In Uganda, John Tuhimbisibwe, commissioner for renewable energy at the energy ministry, said last week that biogas will substitute the firewood consumption in schools and institutions, according to New Vision Daily. Tuhimbisibwe said, “Some schools use expensive liquefied petroleum gas that still eats into their cash flows. Biogas is affordable since the organic materials used are available and cost less.”

In Kenya, farmers are using animal manure and crop waste converted to biogas via anaerobic digestion to power their farms. Based on typical energy usage for a farm in Kenya, only two to six cows are needed to create the raw material (manure) needed to create biogas, according to Felix Opinya from the Department of Animal Science at Egerton University.

In North America

Just last week in Missouri, the second phase of a project that will turn prairie grasses and marginal farmland into biogas has begun. Roeslein Alternative Energy, in a partnership with Smithfield Foods (yes, the pork producer) and a group of Midwest universities, has begun converting the first of a thousand acres of lower quality farmland to prairie grasses, according to Energy News Network.

The anaerobic digesters at Roeslein were already using the pig waste lagoons’ methane as a feedstock, but the second phase will allow them to add prairie plants and grasses to the mix as well.

According to Energy News Network, “Roeslein believes that converting marginal and erodible crop lands from corn and soybeans to native prairie plants can achieve three goals simultaneously: reduce runoff polluted with farm chemicals, enhance wildlife habitat, and provide plant fiber that can be processed into renewable natural gas.”

While the project sounds as lovely as a fresh rainbow out your window, Roeslein and Smithfield aren’t ready quite yet to produce renewable natural gas, according to Energy News Network. “Just this year they began converting the first of the 1,000 Smithfield acres to a combination of six prairie grasses and 14 species of flowering plants. The prairie biomass likely won’t be ready for harvest for another couple years, according to Roeslein spokesman Sheldon Ripson.”

Emily Heaton, associate professor of agronomy at Iowa State, said it well when she told Energy News Network, “This is a great project. The Roeslein project is one of the things makes me feel better about the direction of the world.” And that’s exactly what these biogas projects are doing…giving us hope, very realistic hope.

There are tons of biogas projects already going on in the U.S., and around the world, so it’s not just a pie in the sky concept, but something pretty darn real. Just for kicks, type in “biogas” in The Digest’s search bar sometime and be prepared to be amazed at just how many biogas developments there have been just in the few months, like California’s $12 million in grants for biogas projects, RNG and PES’s $120 million MSW biogas project, Gasum and Pöyry biogas plant in Finland, and more.

Bottom Line

When it comes down to it, there will always be waste. Pig waste. Prairie grasses. Sewage. Fatbergs and sludge. Food waste. But what we do with waste is evolving.

What used to be a throw it in a landfill or bury it deep somewhere or incinerate it attitude, is now turning into a how can we turn this into something useful or valuable question. How can we turn a pile of sh*t into rainbows and unicorns? Biogas gets at the heart of that question. Biogas is as beautiful as a rainbow-farting unicorn, but the good news is it isn’t mythical or a legend. It is as realistic as the waste we emit every single day.

Just for comparison purposes, the U.S. has over 2,100 sites producing biogas, compared to Europe which has over 10,000 operating digesters and some communities are essentially fossil fuel free because of them, according to the American Biogas Council. Looks like there are more unicorns and rainbows in Europe…

But dreams and hopes are not lost for the U.S. The potential for U.S growth is huge with the American Biogas Council counting “nearly 11,000 sites ripe for development today: 8,241 dairy and swine farms and 2,440 wastewater treatment plants (including ~381 who are making biogas but not using it) which could support a digester and 440 untapped landfill gas projects. If fully realized, these biogas systems could produce enough energy to power 3.5 million American homes and reduce emissions equivalent to removing 800,000 to 11 million passenger vehicles from the road.”

Now that’s as impressive as seeing unicorns farting rainbows in the sky.

So next time you hear that parent whispering to their kid about gas or farting unicorns, listen carefully…maybe they are telling them about biogas, the energy of the future.

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