We encourage you to read an interview with Marek Pituła, President of the Polish Biomethane Association - "There are no easy answers in the biogas industry". The interview discusses the condition of the Polish biogas and biomethane sector and its future prospects, as well as the issue of the amount of substrates used in 2022: out of 35 substrates used in 2022 in agricultural biogas plants, 7 accounted for about 80% of the energy generated.


Translation of the entire interview below.


Teraz Środowisko: What does the Ordinance of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of October 12, 2023 on a detailed list of substrates possible for use in an agricultural biogas plant mean for the biogas industry?


Marek Pitula: The said regulation concerns only substrates possible for use in an agricultural biogas plant that meets the conditions set forth in Article 4(1) of the Act of July 13, 2023 on Agricultural Biogas Plants. Thus, the list is an inventory of substrates that can be used not in an agricultural biogas plant, but in a specific agricultural biogas plant - one that meets the conditions specified in the aforementioned Act.


These conditions include:

- location on a property that is legally owned by a farm operator (if it is a company whose shares are held exclusively by farm operators - from which at least some of the substrates used in this agricultural biogas plant will come)

- in which only agricultural products and agricultural by-products specified in the said regulation are used for the production of agricultural biogas, electricity, heat or biomethane from agricultural biogas...;


Biogas or biomethane installations described in the RES Act operate under the existing rules, while those that are actually owned by farmers, using some of their "own" substrates and only those listed in the mentioned regulation, may (but need not) be installations described in the July 13, 2023 Act and enjoy certain facilities that "ordinary" installations do not. Thus, they may be installations that are in a certain sense "privileged," with the amenities mainly coming down to locational or connection issues.


TŚ: What substrates have the greatest potential?

MP: In the agricultural biogas plants currently in operation, 35 substrates were used in 2022. From the point of view of their energy potential (understood as the amount of energy in biogas produced from a given substrate), 7 account for about 80% of the energy produced out of all 35. Of the remaining 28 substrates, 18 account for only 6-7% of the total energy produced in biogas. None of these 18 generates more than 1% of the total energy (so the "marginal" substrates account for up to percentages of energy).


However, if by "potential" we mean the ability to produce a certain amount of energy in biogas, it should be noted that the only source of gaseous energy in the substrates is dry organic matter (i.e., the so-called fresh matter minus the water and ash content, which are not energy carriers).


TM: So there are no "better" or "worse" substrates?

MP: There are slight differences in the ability to produce methane from different dry organic matter, but usually several other factors such as price or preparation costs for anaerobic digestion should be considered in the evaluation. We get different methane yields from proteins, carbohydrates or fats included in dry organic matter (the highest from fats), but this does not at all mean that a given substrate is "better" or "worse." Regardless, monosubstrate digestion is often impossible or the results are not consistent with laboratory test results.


In the biogas or biomethane industry, there are no easy answers. Anaerobic digestion is perhaps the oldest process known to mankind, but it remains incompletely studied, hence the frequent unpleasant experiences of biogas plant operators.


More important is the so-called technical potential, which is most often mentioned in various statements, usually without a word of comment.


According to our assessment, it is actually about 7 - 8 billion Nm per year, with the potential being a certain percentage of the theoretical potential (which will never be used in its entirety) and means that part of it that can be used for biomethane (biogas) production.


Most important, however, is the real potential - this is the portion of the substrate volume of technical potential that can be relatively easily and quickly diverted to the production of gaseous fuels in anaerobic digestion.

Remember that substrates do not tolerate a "vacuum", they are already somehow managed. Gone are the days when a biogas plant was the savior of those who had problems managing waste or by-products - they somehow managed.


This potential is currently estimated at about 1.5 - 2.5 billion Nm per year, with this volume taking several years to reach.


According to NECP2024 (national targets announced in national renewable gas strategies or roadmaps), the potential was expected to be 1.98[1] billion Nm, and in 2030 (based on the Gas for Climate study) it was set at 3.26 billion Nm3.

The Polish Biomethane Association's estimate is thus basically in line with the assessment given in the European Biogas Association's annual report (2023), although we are a bit more skeptical, which is due, among other things, to the knowledge of what sources the EBA drew its information from.


TŚ: What is the situation in other countries in the region?

MP: Given the meager nature of our biogas sector compared to most of our neighbors, any comparison is pointless. It is ironic that Ukraine /14682, which has been struggling with the war for years, already has the first biomethane installations and is building more, while in Poland we do not yet have any operational commercial installation of this type.


Our neighbors to the west, north and south are, of course, not idle, pursuing a very high-set goal of increasing the percentage of biomethane in overall gas consumption in Europe.


In 2022 in Europe, we produced 223 TWh of energy in biogas and biomethane together, which, when converted to cubic meters of biomethane (with 100% methane content) equals just over Nm3 20.27 billion.

In this total energy, biogas and biomethane accounted for a 20% share, with about 4 billion Nm3 produced.


Poland does not produce biomethane, but produced 5,742 GWh of biogas energy, which is about 2.5% of the biogas energy produced in Europe, with an 8% share in the population and a similar share in the EU territory.


Figuratively speaking, Poland in 2022 produced 156 kWh of energy per capita in gas, when at the same time it was 1,349 kWh in Denmark, 1,183 kWh in Germany and 735 kWh in the neighboring Czech Republic.


In Denmark and Sweden, the energy share of biogas production in total gas consumption is already 29 and 26%, respectively, and our Danish neighbors are serious about replacing natural gas entirely with biomethane by 2050.


When I built one of the first agricultural biogas plants in Poland, there was not a single installation in the UK; today there are 730 of them. According to a projection by "The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA)," it is assumed that in 2030 they could generate as much as 5.7 billion Nm3.


TŚ: Why is the situation in this sector like this? In other types of RES, such as photovoltaics, we have seen huge increases in installed capacity.

MP: I avoid comparing types of RES; all are needed and have their role to play.

To some extent, the success in PV is due to the typical inability of policymakers to anticipate; the prosumer support system /14613 got out of their control and resulted in such good results.


This is a unique case that, in my opinion, will one day live to see serious socio-economic analysis.


One of the most interesting results of this program is the unplanned increase in energy awareness of more than a million prosumers - they already know exactly what role energy plays in our lives, they know very well what installed capacity, efficiency and production volume are, they also know how to save energy. And they have their say about the Polish "grids," that holy grail of the energy industry.


Incidentally, with a small change in regulation, completely without investment, it would be possible to take advantage of the natural synergy between the unstable and stable RES sources of PV and wind, on the one hand, and biogas and hydropower on the other - to the benefit of RES and the power system.

As for biogas, its dire state is no accident. The development of this sector has always been skillfully obstructed in Poland, somewhat on the principle of "sew up the hole while it's small". - after all, if we had implemented the famous "biogas plant in every municipality" program, we would have had a biomethane production capacity of 3 - 4 billion Nm3 per year for several years. There would have been fewer imports by this amount, in previous years from Russia, now from various directions, including the East.


I am a moderate pessimist - I expect neither growth nor regression. It is likely that we will be able to maintain the Polish share of 2-3% in total biogas production in the EU by 2030, or about 875 million Nm3 of converted biomethane per year.


We have sufficient substrate potential to achieve this goal. The problem is that in order to achieve the above ( ntb. minimum ) target, about 150-200 large biomethane installations would have to be built by the end of 2029.


The promised support system in the form of a guaranteed price limits the size of the installation to about 2 million Nm3 per year, so we would need more than 400 installations.


Only that installations with a production capacity of 2 million Nm3 per year are moderately profitable, so probably no more than a few dozen will be built.

Ironically, fortunately, we have a lot of experience in importing gas,which will come in handy for importing biomethane.


TŚ: What would have to happen for this scenario not to materialize?

MP: Everything is determined by economics. If there is no domestic market for biomethane for fuel purposes at the moment, because the previous term of the Sejm failed to pass a relevant law, there is no demand. When it emerges (which is inevitable) it will be too late to build enough installations in the country.


However, there is one issue that could naturally change the situation significantly.


It is about the carbon footprint of our food products, particularly milk and meat and their products.


In as little as two to three years, the consumer market will force the labeling of food products with the so-called "three dots" (green, red, black) which will signal to the consumer how much greenhouse gas was emitted during the production of the product.


The consumer in Western European countries is demanding such labeling and it is inevitable.


Just as it has been obvious to us (for many years) to indicate on the label the content of, for example, "Carbohydrates, including sugars" in a product, just as we have already accepted the sorting of waste into different-colored buckets, so it will be with the "carbon footprint."


PSB is interested first in milk and its carbon footprint at the dairy farm stage. Next up is the production of meat and meat products (we intend, among other things, to "crack down" on information about the horrendous water consumption for the production of 1 kg of beef).


Things are not so bad with our milk. We are estimated to have a lower carbon footprint than, for example, Germany, but we are still far from the competition (such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and from further destinations - New Zealand).


By partnering with a biogas or biomethane plant, we can reduce the carbon footprint at the farm stage by as much as ⅓ and achieve a level of about 700 kg of GHG emissions per ton of milk - a result that the aforementioned leaders currently have.


At the same time, this result is achieved while increasing the profitability of production, and from the point of view of the farm - without investment. We are able to prove this with concrete examples.


It is necessary to accept that this awareness is slowly growing (at this stage it is questions from the dairy, whether the dairy producer could do an emissions audit). By the same token, there is a growing understanding that tomorrow there may be problems with the sale of milk, which will be bought neither by EU importers nor by local "chains" who really don't care whether they buy "Polish" or imported products, as long as they sell; and given a choice of a product with a "dot", the consumer will choose "green".


Just as one social program turned the PV world upside down, the combination of the need to reduce the carbon footprint, not from a directive, but from the needs of the market, with the possibility of reducing it through cooperation with a biogas/biomethane plant (combined with funding from REPowerEU) can change the outlook for the Polish biomethane sector.


Link to article (in polish)



26 June 2024

An interview with Marek Pituła, CEO of the Polish Biomethane Association

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