2012 EEG Guidelines Favor Biogas in Germany

The new EEG Feed in Tariff guidelines for 2012 were published in Germany. Biogas in Germany was given a big boost from the decision to switch from rapeseed oil to biogas for Cogeneration Plants.

What is Biogas?

Biogas typically refers to a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. Biogas is produced by the anaerobic digestion or fermentation of biodegradable materials such as biomass, manure, sewage, municipal waste, green waste, plant material and crops.

Biogas is a renewable fuel, so it qualifies for renewable energy subsidies in some parts of the world – such as Germany.

Biogas consists primarily methane and carbon dioxide and may have small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, moisture and siloxanes. Typically, biogas contains about 60 percent methane and 40 percent carbon dioxide while natural gas contains about 97 percent methane. Methane within biogas can be concentrated via a biogas upgrader to the same standards as fossil natural gas (which itself has had to go through a cleaning process), and is then known as biomethane.

If the local gas network allows for this, the producer of the biomethane may utilize the local gas distribution networks. Gas must be very clean to reach pipeline quality, and must be of the correct composition for the local distribution network to accept. Carbon dioxide, water, hydrogen sulfide and particulates must be removed if present.

The methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be combusted or oxidized with oxygen. This energy release allows biogas to be used as a fuel. For example, biogas can be used to power motor vehicles. In the UK, for example, it is estimated to have the potential to replace around 17% of vehicle fuel.

Biogas can be utilized for electricity production on sewage works, in a CHP gas engine, where the waste heat from the engine is conveniently used for heating the digester; cooking; space heating; water heating; and process heating. If compressed, it can replace compressed natural gas for use in vehicles, where it can fuel an internal combustion engine or fuel cells and is a much more effective displacer of carbon dioxide than the normal use in on-site CHP plants.

Biogas in Germany

As much as 20 percent of Germany's natural gas needs could be supplied from biogas by 2020, according to Andrea Horbelt of the German Biogas Association.

Horbelt said that some studies predicted that Germany could even supply its entire natural gas needs using biogas if it were able to tap the agriculture potential of Eastern Europe with sufficient efficiency. But for now the focus is on exploiting the potential in Germany where a well-developed national grid facilitates biogas transport.

"Biogas in Germany is the market of the future because it allows energy to be produced and transported economically and in a decentralized way around the country," said Pivi Scamperle of agri.capital, the company that runs Germany's largest existing biogas plant, feeding 6 million cubic meters of biomethane into the national grid.

The boom in biogas in Germany comes thanks to a key technological breakthrough in 2007 that allowed biogas to be injected into the natural gas grid and so transported around Germany economically, said Thomas Wilkens of WELtec BioPower, a company that manufactures biogas units.

Until that breakthrough, as much as two-thirds of all the energy produced by combined heat and power biogas plants couldn't be used because there was not enough demand for heat at the point of generation — usually in agricultural areas — and there was no technology available to put the gas into a pipeline and bring it to customers in other places.

WELtec BioPower, which has 55 employees, has built about 200 biogas plants around the world, with 150 of these in Germany and the company expects many more orders over and above Konnern as the sector takes off again following some industry setbacks.

"Germany's four big energy providers have recognized the value of biogas and we think there will be a bright future for large-scale biogas plants that feed gas into the national grid," Horbelt said.

Small-scale biogas plants that use liquid manure as a raw material have also been given a boost by a revised renewable energy law that cleared its last parliamentary hurdle on July 4, 2008. Biogas plants of 150 KW that use liquid manure will get EU €0.04 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), making them more attractive. By setting a generous tariff for manure, the government is hoping to encourage the biogas industry to switch away from corn and wheat amid concerns of rising food prices.

"Research is just beginning to look at the many types of plants that could be used to produce biogas," said Horbelt. "We are confident there will be many alternatives to using food crops such as corn."

The Konnern biogas plant is almost as big as the Huckabay Ridge Renewable Natural Gas facility in Stephenville, Texas, where 635,000 MMBtu of biomethane generated from cow manure and other organic waste has been injected into the Enterprise natural gas pipeline since January 2008, making it the world's biggest.

New EEG Guidelines Promote Biogas in Germany

The EEG guideline published on August 5, 2011 advises potential investors that the use of rapeseed oil as an acceptable fuel for CHP units is being phased out on January 1, 2012 in favor of biogas. A higher incentive of €0.25 / kWel produced is available for qualifying biogas cogeneration units.

Although the new EEG has passed, manufacturers and users alike are still awaiting (as of August 2011) more detail regarding the specifications of qualifying biogas fuel specs.

Meanwhile, it’s clear to this writer that biogas in Germany, especially as it is likely to be used in the production of heat and electricity using cogeneration units should experience rapid growth because of the attractive incentives and general strategy of supporting the increase of biogas production and utilization as a key renewable energy strategy in Germany and the EU.

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