A weapon in the fight for energy independence may be… manure and food waste, which are generated during other processes in agriculture. Biogas has unlimited possibilities of use in the energy industry and has enormous development potential. In Poland it is still treated as a curiosity, but the example of Germany is where over 9,000 operate. biogas plants, this is proof that it is not worth limiting yourself to biogas. Scientists from the Poznań University of Life Sciences popularize biogas and biomethane plants.
The time of fossil fuels as a pillar of industrial development is numbered. The energy of the future is renewable sources. Every year, photovoltaic panels and wind turbines are improved, thanks to which it is possible to obtain energy from the sun and wind. Their price is falling, availability is increasing, but they have a natural limitation: they produce energy only in certain weather conditions. Perhaps one day scientists will be able to produce panels that work also at night or on a cloudy day, and wind turbines that remain active even when the air is practically still – but this is a task for the future.
Biogas occurs in nature, so why use it?
There are also high hopes for green hydrogen, but a lot of research and huge financial outlays are still needed to free the world from natural gas supplies.
There is another source of green energy that is slowly making its way into the Polish energy mix, regardless of the fact that subsequent governments have declared support for the development of this type of energy. It is biogas, the popularization of which would allow us to achieve two goals: to provide environmentally friendly energy and to manage waste in agriculture and the food industry. Moreover, biogas plants operate regardless of weather conditions, which cannot be said about other renewable energy installations.
– Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. It is a gas that occurs widely in nature. These are gases released from swamps and wetlands. Each manure pile is a natural biogas plant, emitting carbon dioxide and methane. Ruminants are natural biogas plants. A cow secretes approximately as much biogas per day as its volume. This gas occurs naturally in nature and is produced as a result of the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. People have been trying to use this process for their own purposes for a long time – said prof. Jacek Dach, head of the Ecoenergy Laboratory of the University of Life Sciences in Poznań.
He added that China alone has built over 70 million biogas plants over the last 70 years, of which over 40 million operate on farms. These are usually small biogas plants with a capacity of several cubic meters, which process kitchen waste, animal excrements and other types of biomass.
What stops the development of biogas plants
Biogas plants could contribute to the diversification of the energy system and play a role in the mix. However, their formation is inhibited by several barriers. The main one is costs: building a biogas plant with a capacity of 0.5 MW costs over PLN 10 million. For comparison: building a 1 MW photovoltaic installation costs approximately PLN 2-5 million.
Biogas plants take up a lot of space: a facility that is supposed to provide 1 MW of power requires an area of approximately 2 ha, which is difficult to achieve when the purchase of an agricultural plot of over 1 ha by non-farmers is very difficult. Additionally, installations above 499 MWh of power require environmental decisions. Investors also complain about difficulties in obtaining conditions for connection to the distribution network, and there are no clear regulations regarding food and post-consumer waste as well as waste and by-products used in biogas plants.
The regulations did not make it easier for investors to act
The regulations also did not make it easier for investors. By 2021, Poland was obliged to implement the provisions of the RED II Directive (Renewable Energy Directive). This was achieved only in the summer of 2023 when amending the RES Act. It gives the right to producers of biomethane from biogas or agricultural biogas to run a business and use a specific support system. The amendment introduced the definition of biomethane and excludes the term agricultural biogas from the definition of biogas. Business activity in the field of producing biomethane from biogas and biogas for the production of biomethane will be a regulated activity, requiring entry in the register of producers – which should also create clear rules and thus simplify the formal procedures for starting such activity.
Independently, an Act on facilitating the preparation and implementation of investments in agricultural biogas plants, as well as their operation, was passed, which is intended to simplify administrative procedures related to the production of agricultural biogas and biomethane.
The Energy Regulatory Office, which collects data on small non-agricultural biogas power plants (with a capacity of up to 1 MW), at the end of 2022 recorded 180 such micro-installations with a total capacity of 75 MW. Just before the acts entered into force, there were 125 agricultural biogas producers registered in Poland, operating a total of 150 energy installations with a total capacity of 145 MW. The Ministry of Agriculture estimated that the possibilities are much greater and reach up to 2,000 MW.
For comparison, there are over 9,000 in neighboring Germany. biogas plant.
Is biogas a renewable energy source?
Annually in Poland we obtain 150 million tons of biomass, which we can process in biogas plants and obtain energy or heat. Animal excrement has the largest share: we have almost 100 million tons of manure in Poland every year. In addition, there are liquid fertilizers (slurry).
– The energy produced from manure has a negative carbon footprint. This is unique. Coal-fired electricity has a carbon footprint of around 1,000 g for every kilowatt-hour of electricity. In the power grid, we have twenty-something percent of energy from renewable sources, so the electricity that flows in the socket has an emission level of 750-770 g. Thanks to avoided emissions, the energy produced from manure has even minus 150 g of CO2 per kilowatt hour – explained prof. Jacek Dach in the podcast. He added that biogas is produced as a result of the carbon cycle in nature.
Scientists from Poznań decided to popularize biogas plants and began work on creating the first biomethane plant in Poland in Brody near Poznań. What is the difference between biogas and biomethane? Biogas is a mixture of methane and other substances that has different physical and chemical properties than natural gas, so it cannot be injected into the gas network. In turn, biomethane, which is produced in the biogas purification process, has the same quality and properties as natural gas, which makes it possible to use it in the national gas network.
In addition to the production of biomethane, the innovative installation will recover biogenic carbon dioxide and biofertilizers for agriculture, safe for humans, animals and the environment.
The investment is being carried out by Instytut Energii Barczewo Sp. z o. o. from the province Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, on the premises of the Brody Agricultural Experimental Farm belonging to the University of Life Sciences in Poznań. The National Center for Research and Development (NCBR) is also a partner of the project called “Innovative Biogas Plant”.
As the ordering party, NCBR expected the implementation of a prototype installation that would be as universal as possible, i.e. it would work with various raw materials, such as animal excrement and all kinds of by-products and waste from agri-food processing. An important requirement was the odorlessness of biogas plants throughout the entire technological cycle, because the aspect of emission of noxious odors had already prevented many installations of this type in Poland due to strong social opposition.
– This facility does not arouse social protests at all, quite the contrary. During public consultations on the expansion of the biogas plant from 0.499 MW to 1 MW, 100 percent of the village residents present at the meeting supported the expansion plan. Public support for the operating biogas plant is enormous, and residents are very satisfied with the heat from “our biogas plant” – as they refer to it. Thanks to the expansion, by autumn 2023 the entire village will be heated with ecological heat from cogeneration – said the producer. Dach in an interview with BiznesAlert.
It is estimated that in Europe there are 45 biogas plants per 1 million inhabitants, and in Poland there are almost 10 times fewer of them. When asked how to change this relationship, a scientist from Poznań said that investments in biogas and biomethane plants should be made strategic investments from the state’s point of view – so that groups of dissatisfied local residents cannot block sensibly designed investments using good Polish technologies.
Who are small biogas plants for?
Scientists from Poznań also conduct research in an experimental biogas plant built on the experimental farm of the University of Life Sciences in Poznań in Przybroda. In the fall of 2022, the heating system was opened for the residents of the village of Przybroda. It is powered by an experimental biogas plant: the installation produces as much heat annually as can be obtained from burning 800 tons of coal.
– The biogas plant uses unique solutions on an international scale, e.g. a biotechnological accelerator, i.e. a special hydrolyzer that significantly accelerates the initial process of fermentation and decomposition of substrates by several times – said prof. Jacek Dach, who was actively involved in this research project.
He added that the experimental installation with an electrical power of 499 kW and a thermal power of 560 kW will ultimately heat over 400 residents. – This is very ecological heat because it comes from burning biogas. Thanks to this, we avoid local smog caused by burning coal, sometimes of poor quality, he emphasized.
When is it worth considering launching a small biogas plant with a capacity of up to 499 kW? This may be attractive to farm owners, e.g. those with 200 cows and 150-250 ha of crops.
– Of course, a biogas plant can be powered only by plant biomass, although they are especially needed on farms with animal breeding – said Prof. Roof.
He emphasized that biogas investments with a capacity below 500 kW or producing up to 1 million m33 methane per year, they use the so-called fast administrative track and do not require issuing an environmental decision, preparing an environmental impact report or public consultations. – They don’t really have any negative impact on the environment – he assured.