Nippon Gases: Using biogas to drive the Net Zero transition

Biogas is rapidly becoming a key player in the ongoing global transition to renewable energy. As the world continues to move away from fossil fuels, the gas is emerging as a reliable, sustainable and cost-effective alternative.

Produced through the anaerobic digestion (AD) of organic matter such as agricultural waste, sewage sludge and food scraps, biogas is generated when microorganisms break down the organic matter and release a mixture of gases, primarily methane and carbon dioxide (CO2).

One of its key benefits is its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By capturing the methane released during AD and using it as a fuel, biogas projects can significantly reduce emissions to help combat global warming.

The versatility of biogas also lends itself to applications such as electricity generation, for heating power plants, fuelling vehicles and even being injected into natural gas pipelines.

It can also be used to help address waste management challenges, particularly in agricultural and urban areas. By diverting organic waste from landfills and using it for energy production, biogas projects can reduce the volume of waste in landfills and lower associated environmental and public health risks.

These benefits have seen biogas skyrocket in popularity around the world over the past few years. In Europe, biogas production has grown significantly, particularly in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. The US, China and India are also investing heavily in biogas projects, recognising its potential as a sustainable and cost-effective renewable energy source.

This growth has been partially driven by widespread adoption of biogas by leading industrial companies offering clean energy initiatives such as Nippon Gases and its Carbon Neutral World campaign.

Speaking to gasworld’s Global Content Director Rob Cockerill and Broadcast Journalist Tom Dee during exclusive webinar, ‘Biogas: A New Playground of Opportunities in Industrial Gas’, Jose Vicente Sanchez, Marketing and Business Development Director of Nippon Gases Espana explained the role that the company plays in the biogas market.

“The biogas market plays an important role with our global initiative, Carbon Neutral World. This global initiative that our group – Nippon Sanso Holdings – has established is oriented towards helping our customers reduce their carbon footprint,” he said.

The initiative comprises five pillars, each of which ties heavily into biogas and biomethane.

Its first pillar, Greening Combustion, involves using oxy-combustion in combination with biomethane to allow Nippon Gases customers to reduce their carbon footprint.

Hydrogen Solutionsaims to harness the power of biogas to generate green hydrogen, while its CO2 Capturepillar focuses on capturing and valorising CO2 captured during biogas upgrading.

Circular Economylooks at the circular potential of biogas and biomethane when generated from different types of organic residues, turning waste into a valuable resource.

The fifth pillar, Digitisation, is led by the company’s proprietary Mirugas system, which helps monitor the different processes of plant operations.

“As an industrial gas company Nippon Gases has the know-how and the right capabilities to add value to the biogas supply chain,” explained Sanchez. “Our company has a background based on gas separation and liquefaction and has the expertise to operate and maintain biogas upgrading units and to valorise biomethane and BioCO2.”

What role can biogas play in the energy transition?

The transition to a climate-neutral society has been labelled an urgent challenge by the European Union. In 2020, the organisation released its ‘2050 long-term strategy’ – its objective to produce Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This objective is at the heart of the European Green Deal and in line with the EU’s commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement.

Following the release of the EU’s sustainability goals, Sanchez stated that renewable energies such as PV and Eolic were often mentioned when discussing decarbonisation. Due to the nature of these technologies either being unavailable when needed or sometimes produced in excess, hydrogen has been considered as a useful energy vector to store renewable energy for later use.

However, the availability of this renewable energy is not constant and is highly variable depending on the geographical location.

“To face decarbonisation successfully we need to find a sustainable solution for our industry and so far, the hydrogen economy has a long way to go to become economically sustainable, and the deployment of the hydrogen economy will have some environmental impacts that we need to face,” said Sanchez.

This includes considerations such as the land required for installing the PV farms, the construction of the pipeline networks and the water consumption needed in those areas.

This is where biogas and biomethane can act as both a bridging energy source and a sustainable alternative.

Having recognised the potential of biogas, the EU Commission reviewed its strategic plan RePower EU and increased the target of biomethane used by ten times up to 35 billion cubic metres (bcm) by 2030.

According to figures released by the European Biogas Association (EBA), the EU has around 20,000 biogas plants producing a potential 200 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy.

“This power can be available at any time, so we can provide a base load to the energy system or back up other renewable energies when they are not available,” said Sanchez.

Another advantage biogas may have over other zero or low carbon energy sources that have yet to reach industrial scale is the proven technology behind it. Already used in large operations, biogas upgrading technologies such as membrane, VPSA, amine and water scrubbing are well known in the industrial gas sector due to their usefulness in separating gases.

Sanchez explained, “It can be injected directly into the natural gas grid and get to our industries and homes. This means that it is ready to be used and no change in the equipment will be required.”

“This is an important advantage over hydrogen, where further modification in the point of use will be required.”

New technologies, established foundations

The technologies behind biogas upgrading technologies are interwoven with the firmly established infrastructure that underpins the separation and purification of gases that has been used by Nippon Gases for more than a century.

“On the other hand, much of the biogas production today is produced by our customers, they own the feedstock, but they need a partner like us to upgrade the biogas and to valorise the biomethane and the BioCO2.”

“BioCO2 recovery should also play an important role in decreasing the fossil origin fuel in the coming future,” he added. “For instance, BioCO2 in combination with green hydrogen for obtaining e-MeOH that can be used as an alternative fuel.”

By exploiting its in-depth knowledge of the industrial market and the supply chain, Nippon Gases can connect biomethane producers with end users and provide the technology and equipment needed to use biomethane and BioCO2.

The relationship between established industrial gases and nascent sectors such as biogas upgrading extends to the use of oxygen for the pre-treatment of biogas or wastewater, specialty gases for calibration of analysers and liquid nitrogen use for biomethane liquefaction.

Energy security and 2030

In addition to its capacity to decarbonise industry and potentially reduce costs for customers, the rapid deployment of AD plants could also help Europe increase its energy security.

Last year the European Commission unveiled its strategy to end the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels, in turn accelerating the green energy transition.

The REPowerEU Plan aims to help end European dependence on Russian fossil fuels, which the EU states are being wielded as an economic and political weapon by Russia.

The plan calls for the investment of an additional €210bn by 2027, through energy savings, diversification of energy supplies and accelerated roll-out of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels.

Complementing the strategy, a Biomethane Action Plan was also announced which – along with the Biomethane Industrial Alliance – will stimulate the renewable gas value chain and aims to achieve the production of 35 bcm of biomethane by 2030.

To meet such lofty targets against a rapidly encroaching deadline, the importance of collaboration cannot be understated.

Sanchez explained that – due to the projects being CAPEX intensive – Nippon Gases offers flexible solutions to split the investment and minimise financial risk.

“Some solutions could be the creation of an SPV or working with one of our strategic partners that can provide any funding required for the project.” “We strongly believe that by working together we can accelerate biogas growth.”

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