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European industrial wastewater could supply 142 TWh of biogas annually – EBA

Industrial wastewater treatment in Europe represents a significant untapped renewable energy potential while at the same time, an opportunity to mitigate methane emissions and create jobs according to a new paper released by the European Biogas Association (EBA). By mapping the opportunities of producing biogas from industrial wastewaters and quantifying the biogas production potential of different EU industry sectors it is possible to recover around 14 Mtoe (142 TWh) of biogas the EBA finds.

Industrial wastewater treatment in Europe represents a significant untapped renewable energy potential while at the same time, an opportunity to mitigate methane emissions according to a new paper released by the European Biogas Association (EBA). By mapping the opportunities of producing biogas from industrial wastewaters such as at this paper mill, and quantifying the biogas production potential of different EU industry sectors, it is possible to recover around 14 Mtoe (142 TWh) of biogas the EBA finds.

The paper “The role of biogas production from industrial wastewaters in reaching climate neutrality by 2050” includes recommendations to untap the biogas potential from industrial wastewaters. The results show that biogas has a high potential to mitigate methane emissions from wastewater whilst at the same time providing a huge potential source of renewable energy.

This will reduce energy consumption at wastewater treatment installations, provide a solution for the management of sludge and create additional green jobs at the local level.

The findings of this paper show that it is possible to recover around 14 Mtoe (142 TWh) of biogas per year by valorizing industrial wastewater from the spirits, biodiesel, pulp and paper, beer, vegetable oils, ethanol, meat, and cheese sectors.

However, this large potential of biogas production from industrial wastewater is not yet considered in most studies evaluating the biogas production potential in Europe in 2050 between 87-114 Mtoe (1 008-1 326 TWh). Therefore, this potential can be higher than currently estimated.

Reduced energy and material handling costs

The currently applied purification treatment of industrial wastewater has a high greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. When producing renewable gas from industrial wastewater, GHG emissions are saved in different ways.

First, due to the reduced energy consumption in wastewater treatment installations. Second, by the replacement of fossil energy sources. Last, by bringing the wastewater in a closed and controlled environment, preventing methane emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

According to the EBA, the production of renewable gas from industrial wastewater can be economically attractive. The traditional treatment of industrial wastewater entails high shares of energy consumption.

Biogas production from wastewater can decrease current electricity consumption for wastewater treatment by 75 percent, which corresponds to approximately 3 Mtoe (32 TWh) annually at the EU level.

By implementing anaerobic treatment technologies, it is also possible to decrease the excess sludge production by up to 70-80 percent in most cases, leading to a reduced cost for sludge processing as well.

Green job creation

According to EBA estimates, local jobs attributed to the anaerobic treatment of wastewater can grow from 1 000 direct jobs today towards 20 000 direct jobs spread among 85 000 SME’s when realizing the full potential.

The lifetime for wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) is typically 20-25 years, which means that until 2050 each wastewater treatment plant will be refurbished, rebuilt, or replaced at least once. This creates opportunities for more sustainable choices in the coming years.

The EBA calls for this high potential of biogas production from industrial wastewater to be considered in upcoming EU legislation. In addition, the objectives of the Urban Wastewater Directive and the Methane Strategy must be aligned with the EU clean energy agenda.

AD penetration to European SMEs is expected to boost the environmental technology market, create new job positions and significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Economic incentives are more than necessary combined with environmental legislation and social awareness measures. Technology providers should develop sector-specific solutions and ensure economies of scale for decentralized energy production. These are real challenges for the future, said Vasilis Diamantis, Chair of the EBA Working Group Wastewater.

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