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Biogas “made-in-Sweden” reduced emissions in 2018

The use of biogas In Sweden increased by 29 percent between 2017 and 2018. Although biogas production in Sweden was almost unchanged, the use of biogas increased sharply thanks to a doubling of imports according to a recently published Swedish Energy Agency report on biogas production and the use of waste residues.

Total biogas consumption (GWh) in Sweden 2015–2018, including net imports (source Swedish Energy Agency).

According to the report “Produktion och användning av biogas och rötrester år 2018“, biogas production in Sweden 2018 remained essentially unchanged compared to 2017 amounting to just over 2 TWh.

The statistics have been produced by the Swedish Gas Association (Energigas Sverige) in close cooperation with the Swedish Waste Management Association (Avfall Sverige), Federation of Swedish Farmers (Lantbrukarnas Riksförbund – LRF) and the Swedish Water & Wastewater Association – SWWA (Svenskt Vatten).

Doubling of biogas imports

Despite unchanged biogas production in 2018, use continued to rise sharply. In 2018, approximately 3.7 TWh of biogas were consumed in Sweden, compared with approximately 2.9 TWh in 2017.

The increase is due to the doubling of imports during the year, of which two-thirds from Denmark. Swedish biogas is mainly upgraded to biomethane (also known as renewable natural gas RNG) and used for natural gas vehicles (NGV).

About one-third of the imports were used as vehicle gas, while the remainder mainly replaced natural gas use in industry and heating.

It is fantastic that biogas use continues to increase. This shows that there is great interest in the industry when biogas can be offered at a competitive price. We also see that sales of gas cars have taken off seriously and that the market for liquid biogas is building up rapidly. At the same time, the increase in Swedish production has stopped, and few investments are being made in new plants. It’s a shame considering that many of the biogas’s major environmental and social benefits are linked to production, commented Maria Malmkvist, CEO, Swedish Gas Association.

Nutrient-rich digestate contributes to emission reductions

In 2018, Swedish biogas plants also produced 2.8 million tonnes of nutrient-rich residue – digestate – where 86 percent (2.4 million tonnes) was used as fertilizer in agriculture. As a result, it replaced large quantities of mineral fertilizers, with reduced emissions as a result.

Biogas reduces emissions in several ways. Mainly as it replaces fossil fuels, but also because biofertilizers replace mineral fertilizers in agriculture. Emissions also decrease when manure is digested into biogas as methane emissions from manure management are reduced, commented Johan Harrysson analyst at the Swedish Energy Agency.

However, the figures also show that around 10 percent of the Swedish biogas production is flared, a percentage that has remained unchanged compared to 2017.

Distribution of end-use of Swedish biogas production in 2018 (source Swedish Energy Agency).

At the wastewater treatment plants, the proportion of biogas upgraded to vehicle gas quality is decreasing and instead flaring is increasing. This is an undesirable development, which is largely due to continued difficulties in obtaining biogas sales in competition with subsidized imported biogas. It shows how important it is that the temporary biogas premium is extended and broadened so that it also includes biogas from the treatment plants, remarked Pär Dalhielm, CEO of Swedish Water & Wastewater Association.

Circular economy and jobs

Biogas is a valuable asset for a society that closes cycles, turns waste and residual products into resources, reduces emissions, generates bio-fertilizers for organic agriculture and creates green jobs – a flexible fuel with a broad market and many social benefits.

The “Tuvan” municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in Skellefteå, Sweden has also a co-located dedicated food waste biogas plant. The shared facilities, all post-digestion, include biogas storage, upgrading, compression, and flare.

The organisations point out that biogas production in Sweden has the potential to grow several-fold by 2030, with the right conditions.

Biogas production is important for Swedish agriculture in many respects, including for the goal of increased organic farming that is dependent on bio-fertilizers. It is gratifying that an increasing proportion of the country’s manure is being digested into biogas. This provides a double climate benefit as methane emissions from manure management are reduced, while fossil fuels can be replaced. It is now necessary to announce a long-term extension of the manure management support in order for more biogas from manure to come to fruition, said Palle Borgström, President of the Federation of Swedish Farmers.

Food waste collection, biogas, and biofertilizer are intimately linked and a concrete example of a true cycle and circularity. The government has decided on compulsory food waste collection from 2021 – a step on the road, according to the Swedish Waste Management Association.

Now, the proposals for measures that the ongoing Biogas market investigation will present in December must create long-term visibility and stability for Swedish biogas. We need a solid production premium for Swedish biogas and continued tax exemption. We are experiencing increased awareness of the biogas’s many social benefits, but now it is up to the evidence of the Riksdag and the government to introduce the instruments needed to secure continued strong demand and at the same time lift Swedish production, ended Tony Clark, CEO of the Swedish Waste Management Association.

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