The European market for green energy was feared to have plateaued following the financial crisis of 2008, however investments in renewable fuels such as biogas do show that the road to sustainability has not been put on the backburner as we might have first thought.
Since 2011, investment in biogas technology in France has seen a threefold increase. Out of the country's existing 230 active plants, nearly half of them were commissioned in the past two years. With an additional 500 plants in the works, there will be a dramatic change in the role of this particular form of renewable energy in the European market. An astounding 800 million EUR will be invested in biogas over a six year period from now to 2020 to generate 310 MWel, and the biggest of these, in Hagetmau, will generate enough electricity to power 9000 households.
What Is Biogas?
Biogas is by no means a new concept. Anaerobic digestion - the series of processes through which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen - occurs naturally in nature and it was only a matter of time before its potential for fuel would be harnessed.
Using organic raw materials (substrates) such as:
- sludge from wastewater treatment plants;
- domestic food wastes;
- hospitality and service industry food waste;
- manure from agriculture;
- different plant materials; and
- biomass and process water from the food industry
you can process this waste to create either a gas, or a liquid fuel. The process of biogas production can be divided into three main steps; hydrolysis, fermentation and methane formation. The residue or waste product of the process (bio-manure and digested sewage sludge) can be used as an organic fertiliser providing it isn’t contaminated which is another big selling point, especially for sceptical investors.
Best Case: Sweden – Its Rising Potential
Sweden has always been a pioneer when it comes to sustainable technology and biogas has been produced from wastewater treatment plants since the 1960s, with incentives in place to reduce sludge volume from the agricultural industry. Two major cities, Malmo and Linköping have been running their public transport on biogas for years, most famously their buses.
Essentially biogas relies on waste as a substrate for its production. This brings up the wider issue of dependency, thus in the current societal drive to reduce consumption, this industry essentially capitalises on the high consumption patterns for survival.
At this present moment, biogas costs 14-19 percent more than regular diesel. This is subject to change as there are ever-changing efficiency measures being put into place. In most European countries, strong and counterproductive bonds between the politicians and the energy sector have created a slow uptake in renewable energies compared to select European countries such as Norway, Germany and Sweden. This would need to be resolved in order to make effective progress within this sector. However, this noticeable shift marks perhaps a change in opinion and, hopefully, a serious commitment to sustainable energy.