Ole Hvelplund, chief executive of Danish biomethane producer Nature Energy –Europe’s largest biogas producer– has deemed the EU’s attest wishes to significantly boost production unachievable.
In order to end reliance on Russian gas, the EU wants output to more than double and contribute to about three percent of a targeted two-thirds reduction in imports of Russian gas by the end of 2022.
However, Hvelplund explained that the target was unrealistic because it takes at least two years to secure permits and construct plants. He said: “The main factor of getting more production in place is to build more plants. You don’t do that over the summer. It takes some time. It will not be doubling on existing plants because you have a lot of physical restraints. In the short run to the next winter, it will be limited what we can do.”
Concerns with Moscow cutting supplies to Europe include blackouts and shutdowns of heavy industry over winter when demand rises. A European Commission official said the aims for reducing reliance on Russian gas by the end of 2022, including the 3.5 bcm increase in biomethane production, were not binding “but rather estimates of what we believe is possible to achieve.”
Biogas is produced primarily using waste from crops, animal manure and industrial activity through “anaerobic digestion”, a process by which bacteria break down organic matter in an oxygen-free environment. This is then purified into biomethane by extracting carbon dioxide and can then be treated identically to natural gas in the pipeline network.
Nonetheless, recent reports, such as one from the Imperial College, have found a higher level of leaks of methane — a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO₂ — than previously thought.
The biomethane industry is attempting to transform into industrial-scale operations. Nature Energy is leading the charge, but the sector is increasingly drawing the attention of energy majors. Hvelplund said that the industry’s future was bright after the EU doubled its biomethane production target to 35 bcm by 2030. However, he warned that supportive policy measures including a floor on gas prices would be needed to incentivise new projects.
He said: “We have to find places to build these plants, a quick way to do permitting, easy access to the gas grid, easy access to biowaste in a circle of 25km and a floor price on gas if we get back to gas prices in the past — then it will open up a lot of investment in Europe.”