Interview to Jean-Victor Rotger
“Most European countries have reinforced their commitment to biogas and biomethane ”
This month, following our 2020 editorial line: climate challenges, we deal with a technological challenge: the integration of renewable gases in the energy system. We have interviewed Jean-Victor Rotger, Head of Commercial West of France at GRTgaz, who talked to us about the sector and its challenges.
What’s the state of the renewable gas sector in Europe? What countries are in the vanguard of this technology?
In Europe, up to 110 new installations were commissioned in 2019, so there are almost 660 installations in operation with 570 mil Nm3/h or 22TWh of biomethane capacity a year.
Apart from Germany, most European countries have reinforced their commitment to biogas and biomethane from 2012 to 2019. There are two main strategies: on one hand, there are countries with Feed-in-tariffs that ensure the producer steady income and a stable and solid growth rate such as in France and the UK. On the other hand, the countries that support the demand of biomethane fuel, with a lower but more natural growth rate such as Sweden.
At the end of 2019, France had more than 860 biogas production units, 123 out of them inject biomethane into the natural gas grid. The strong growth observed in 2018 increased in 2019: +73% of the injected volumes.
Where do the generated biogas and biomethane come from?
Germany, the UK and Austria are the only countries that use energy crops to produce biomethane. France, Denmark and the Netherlands focus on the reutilization of farming waste materials, while other European countries use domestic or industrial organic waste. The co-digestion process used in Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark allow them to use farming, domestic or industrial waste to produce biomethane and makes the development of units with a larger capacity easier.
Image 1 – Share of feedstocks used by country
In France, most of the biomethane comes from farming waste materials and the 6 different main kind of biomethane installations are growing. The 6 main installations of this kind are Autonomous Farming Installation, developed by one or more farmers or by a property structure mainly made up of one or more farmers, over 90% of the production comes from the farming waste materials. Territorial Farming Installation, developed by a farmer, a farmer collective or by a property structure mainly made up of one or more farmers, over 50% of the production comes from the farming waste materials and they add territorial waste materials −industry, STEP or others.−
Another kind of installations are Territorial Industrial Installations. They are operated by a project developer or one or more industries, they use territorial waste materials from industries, STEPs or others.
There are also installations that use organic waste materials and biowaste and are managed by a community, society, waste management association or one or more industries. They methanize the organic waste fraction of domestic waste materials after being processed in a factory or selectively separated.
Other installations are STEPS, that use urban and industrial waste materials, and Storage Installations for Non-Dangerous Waste Materials.
Image 2 – Different Biomethane Installations in France
Is there any non-mature technology with promising prospects?
Now, methanization is the most mature technology to produce renewable gas. In the medium and long term, new renewable gas production and recovery processes will be developed such as pirogasification of dry biomass or waste materials prepared at the end of their lifespan as Solid Recovered Fuels. Others such as hydrothermal gasification, power-to-gas: hydrogen production by water electrolysis using renewable electricity or microalgae methanization.
Are there plans to boost biomethane injection into the grid?
France and the European Union have set important targets regarding GHG reduction, energy efficiency and renewable energies. Biomethane injected into gas grids is already contributing to these targets. In 2010, in France, the National Renewable Energy Plan lay the foundations of a new requirement to buy biomethane injected in natural gas grids, like the one laid for electricity.
In November 2011, 8 decrees were published to develop the biomethane injection chain into the grid, and they have been included in the energy code. In 2018, RED II renewable energy directive was voted, and it should be included in the French legislation before the 30th June, 2021, it contains regulations regarding the biomethane sector. So, the sector can benefit from two financial tools: a regulated purchase price with a 15-year guarantee for producers and a guarantee of origin system that ensure the biomethane traceability and allows consumers to decide.
The right to inject is an important step to develop biomethane injection: the EGALIM legislation passed in October 2018 established a strong base to adapt gas grids to the sector developments such as: the connection of a biomethane producer to the distribution grid, even if it is located outside a service area, the technology to be used and how to get finance to adapt the grid.
How can an industry or farm become a biomethane producer?
One of the most important steps that determine the success of a methanization project is the previous thought phase. Before an injection project, several issues must be assessed: kind and volume of the outputs to feed a LNG tanker, the proximity of the site to the distribution gas grid, the grid capacity for biomethane, the financial capacity, the land necessary to install the unit and the area of application.
To learn the most, I would recommend learning as much as possible about methanization by attending conferences, meetings with other biomethane producers and visiting other installations in operation.
Methanization is not very well-known by the general public, local environmental associations or local government employees. So, another very important part of the project is to address them. The development of a methanization project, mostly in a farming environment, can arise questions and doubts: noise, olfactory impact, environmental risks, devaluation of assets, etc… That is the reason why information and dialogue with local actors is basic.
Jean-Victor is a mining engineer specialized in energy systems. After 10 years working in LNG international strategy, study and trade −Argelia, Norway, Malaysia, Chile, etc.−, now he works in territorial biomethane production projects.