Biogas, a solution to replace Russian gas?

Faced with tensions over natural gas, biogas could experience a marked acceleration against the backdrop of the energy crisis in Europe.

From food waste, slurry or specialty crops… biogas, already popular in the face of global warming, could experience a marked acceleration against the backdrop of the energy crisis in Europe. But to what extent can it contribute to the replacement of Russian gas?

A renewable gas

“Green gas” is produced by the fermentation of organic matter: waste water from livestock, leftovers from canteens or agri-food plants, sludge from sewage treatment plants, etc.

The released methane is used for the production of electricity and heat, or is injected into the fossil natural gas networks.

It allows heating, cooking and driving (bioNGV), but unlike natural gas, it is renewable and avoids 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the company Carbone 4.

Projects can be run by farmers, with huge “yurt” tanks in the heart of the farms. There are also factories that process biowaste from a metropolis, such as soon in Paris, or even sites run by industrialists.

Biogas suffers from high production costs: the French state recently bought it 5 to 10 times more expensive than natural gas. But that is less true since the peak in fossil gas prices.

The sector, in full development, wants to reduce costs through a numerical effect, digitization… It also advocates the services provided: recovered waste, employment, agricultural income, manure residues, etc.

Europe is looking for local gas

According to Eurostat, in 2021 the EU will have consumed about 400 billion m3 of gas, or 23.7% of its energy needs, more than 45% imported from Russia.

Biogas supplies 18 billion m3, says the European Biogas Association (EBA). Although the EU wants to do without Moscow, the sector says it is “ready to produce 35 billion m3 by 2030”, or 10% of current demand and more than 20% of imports from Russia.

According to the EBA, this potential could triple to more than 100 billion by 2050 and cover 30-40% of future gas demand, in a context where gas consumption will have fallen sharply in favor of electricity and energy efficiency. global warming under control.

The EBA estimates are based on “a part of the available sustainable materials” (residual and waste matter, waste water, intercropping, etc.). However, not all countries are on the same page.

Different situations

In France, biogas supplies 1% of the gas consumed (2% expected in 2022). The state aims for 10% by 2030 and the sector estimates it could reach 20%, covering all Russian imports, “if support systems are stabilised”.

With this crisis “there is a renewed call, and we can clearly see that the work has accelerated,” notes Robin Apolit of the Union of Renewable Energies (SER). A decree was issued on Tuesday to oblige gas suppliers to introduce a minimum amount of green gas; the SER hopes to apply this from 2025.

Except that in France gas represents 15% of energy. Change of management in Germany, where it is 26%, Russian for more than half.

The country has been committed to methanation since the 2000s and is the European leader, with half of the methanizers. However, biogas represents only 1% of the gas consumed.

The deployment there has been delayed since 2014 for environmental reasons, also criticized for being based on committed food cultures. With the war in Ukraine, Berlin has expressed a desire to revive the sector, which makes it want to change the model.

Elsewhere, the incorporation of biomethane into gas networks is also being developed in the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark. It is in its infancy in Ireland, Spain, Belgium…, sometimes still non-existent, as in Poland.

Limits to Expansion

The resource is not infinite. Regulations are already limiting the use of specialty crops to maintain land and food security, for example in France. In Germany, 14% of agricultural land is already used for energy production…

This growth sometimes also leads to neighborhood problems, integration problems in the landscape. The Wellfarm association has just written to French gas companies to warn them about animal welfare, fearing, as a senatorial report did earlier, “that by striving for maximum wastewater performance, some breeders may be tempted to feed their livestock.” to lock up”: “the cow in the meadow could become a vague memory”.

The gas world is working on other options, most notably technologies for compressing and then heating waste that is now unusable. Protesters exist especially in the Netherlands.

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