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Great potential and huge challenges ahead for the German biogas sector

At 28th BIOGAS Convention held November 14 – 16 at the Hanover trade fair in Hanover, Germany the German biogas sector presented itself as "flexible, safe and future-oriented“.
"Even though the framework conditions on the German biogas market are currently difficult, industry players are cautiously optimistic about the future", remarked Horst Seide, President of the German Biogas Association, reassuringly.

“The world market leader is taking the next step in biogas utilisation, Biogas 2.0. Biogas offers so much potential worldwide. Now we have to do our homework here in Germany in order to demonstrate that it is possible and how it can work,” said Horst Seide, President of the German Biogas Association, here addressing delegates at the DLG Awards Ceremony that featured no less than six biogas related gold and silver medal winners.

Like every year, the focus of the convention programme organised by the Fachverband Biogas e.V (German Biogas Association) reflects the German biogas industry circumstances: the legal framework is just as relevant to German market participants, as are topics like processing biogas to produce biomethane, fertilising and hygiene, reducing emissions for combined heat and power (CHP) systems, as well as innovations and concepts for the future.

Increasingly, however, the focus is shifting towards the utilisation of biogas outside of the German domestic market: two panel presentations and two workshops were held entirely in English.

This year, for the second time, the BIOGAS Convention was held in conjunction with the EnergyDecentral and EuroTier trade shows organised by Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft – German Agricultural Society (DLG) in Hanover.

Around 200 members of the German Biogas Association exhibited technologies and innovations at EnergyDecentral.

Transition stage for German biogas sector

It is clear that the German biogas industry is in a transition stage. In three years, the initial operators of biogas plants will be faced with the end of the twenty-year payment guarantee provided by the Renewable Energy Act (EEG).

Although the current EEG 2017 includes an option for receiving subsequent payments for another ten years, conditions are not very good and procedures are difficult: In tendering procedures, operators of biogas plants can bid with regard to a specific amount of electrical power – the lowest bids are awarded contracts.

However, response to the first two rounds of tendering in 2017 and 2018, was “unenthusiastic”. Of the advertised electrical power output of 225 MW this year, only 77 MW were offered in 79 bids.

The tendering procedure poses new challenges for the operators. Many operators are still waiting and prefer to remain in their existing payment scheme as long as possible instead of switching to EEG 2017 now. Above all, for many the cap specified in EEG 2017, at a maximum of 16.8 eurocents per kilowatt hour for existing plants, is too low to make further operation worthwhile, explained Seide.

While the German biogas sector may find itself at a transitional stage, German Biogas Association President Horst Seide found himself onstage welcoming some 800 or so dinner guests. Seide is confident that there is still interest in the industry and a willingness to continue – a “the show must go on” and find new directions to move into. Even if biogas plants do not produce electricity 24 hours a day, biomethane and biofertilizer hold great potential.

Nevertheless, there is still interest in the industry and a basic willingness to continue. Seide is certain that “in the future, biogas plants will not produce electricity 24 hours a day”.

It would be a waste, because biogas can do much more and, it should be used with flexibility and in line with demand, said Seide.

Nearly half of approximately 9 300 biogas plants with a total capacity about 3 GW have already been converted for flexible operation. In the future biogas plants will no longer be economically viable based on electricity sales alone. Many plants have an outstanding heating design and supply houses, schools, and swimming pools in the neighbourhood with climate friendly heating.

But in most cases, the price per kilowatt hour of heat is much too low because fossil-based alternatives are too cheap. Improvements are needed here too, Horst Seide explained.

Biomethane and biofertilizer key

Despite this Seide sees a great future for biogas. For example, if it is upgraded into biomethane and fed into the gas grid, biogas can be used as a climate friendly fuel. Across Europe there are about 500 biomethane-to-grid plants; 200 of these are located in Germany. With the current diesel scandals and driving bans in some cities, more and more people are interested in climate friendly fuel alternatives.

In comparison to a petrol operated vehicle, one that runs on biomethane produces up to 90 percent less greenhouse gas GHG emissions. In Europe there are currently about 3 500 compressed natural gas (CNG) filling stations, 900 of which are in Germany; at some of those, vehicles can be filled with 100 percent biomethane, at others, the fuel is a mixture of biomethane and natural gas.

In future, biogas will play an important role in the fuel sector, Seide said confidently.

Moreover, high quality fertiliser is produced during fermentation in biogas plants, which has sparked great interest in both agriculture and gardening operations. The German Biogas Association has launched a dedicated print and online information kit – “Düngen mit Gärprodukten” (Fertilising with fermentation products)” – provides a comprehensive overview of this alternative, potential marketing method.

Converting digestate from slurry based biogas plants (left) into high-value co-products such as concentrated nutrient rich liquid and solid biofertilizers along with clean water is a focus area for the German Biogas Association.

The brochure is a cooperative production of the German Biogas Association together with the German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ) GmbH, the Indian Biogas Association (IBA), and the European Compost Network (ECN) e.V., with the financial support of the German Federal Ministries for Economic Affairs and for Economic Cooperation and Development.

According to Seide, the (German) biogas sector “can and must” move in new directions. In the long run, operating a biogas plant will never be worthwhile based on the price of electricity alone. He is certain that without biogas, the energy transition will not succeed and it will not be possible to reach the goal of limiting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The world market leader is taking the next step in biogas utilisation, Biogas 2.0. Biogas offers so much potential worldwide. Now we have to do our homework here in Germany in order to demonstrate that it is possible and how it can work, ended Horst Seide.

This year, for the second time, the BIOGAS Convention was held in conjunction with the EnergyDecentral and EuroTier trade shows organised by Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft – German Agricultural Society (DLG) in Hanover.

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