Building a sustainable future

Biomethane or how to save €7,552 million per year among other benefits.

Jovanny Mojica - Business Development

Natural gas has been and remains a key fuel in the development of human activity. Thanks to this hydrocarbon we have replaced coal in many of its uses and it has allowed us to develop simpler and more economical energy applications. This gas remains one of the main sources of energy along with oil, coal and renewable sources (sun, wind and water).

Spain had a consumption of 364 TWh of natural gas in 2022 which represents approximately 21% of the total energy consumption in our country. Virtually 100% of this important resource is imported from abroad. In other words, we don’t have natural gas and we have to buy it outside.

This is not a condition peculiar to Spain or the Iberian Peninsula; almost no EU state has access to natural gas fields. The only places in Europe where it can be found in abundance are the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea, as well as eastern and southern Ukraine. Other nearby locations include Russia, Algeria, Libya and the Black Sea. Logically, the existence of these deposits gives political and economic power to those countries that can exploit them, such as Norway, which has gained significant weight as a supplier of natural gas to Germany and other European countries since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine (a country that has recently become the talk of the town for having the world’s largest phosphate deposit), or Russia itself, which for decades has been the main supplier of gas to Europe, benefiting from the privileged position in the geopolitical context that this gives it.

There are two ways of obtaining this gas for the purchasing countries: through gas pipelines, preserving its gas nature, or through liquefied natural gas, transforming it into a liquid that will later be converted back into gas and distributed in regasification plants. The logistics in either case are very different.

Natural gas transported through pipelines travels directly from the place where the gas is processed to the place of consumption through kilometres of network. This is the case of the gas historically purchased from Algeria, connected via the Medgaz and Maghreb pipelines to Spain, or Russian gas (in some cases), connected to Europe by a very extensive network of pipelines. LNG is normally extracted at distant locations that cannot be linked by gas networks. This is the case of the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Mozambique and Qatar (to name but a few of our most recurrent suppliers in 2022). Once this gas has been extracted, it is converted into a liquid state to be transported in methane tankers to terminals or “regasification plants” that will transform it back into gas, introducing it now into the gas pipelines of the national network that will take it to the point of consumption: our homes and industries.

Spain has a good strategic position in this context thanks to an extensive network of regasification plants located along the coast of the peninsula. This allows for a long list of liquefied natural gas (LNG) suppliers and no dependence on a single supplier.

With no natural gas fields and having to import 100 per cent of our demand Spain spends 7,552 million euros a year on purchases. emissions to meet our gas needs (62% of imported gas is used for private and industrial consumption and the remaining 38% for electricity production).

Moreover, despite our extensive trade connections, the strategic weakness of being totally dependent on the outside world in a sector as critical as energy is evident. The paradigm shift in the European Union as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine leads us to protect our supply chains.

Finally, although to a lesser extent than coal, natural gas is a pollutant. In a context of Energy Transition and the fight against climate change, we must look for clean and sustainable options.

These three reasons seem more than enough to look for alternatives. The best is biomethane: a 100% renewable gas equivalent to natural gas.

The biomethane

As can be observed in the Biomethane Map 2022/2023 created by the European Biogas Association and Gas Infrastructure Europe , Europe has been aware of and using this technology for years, having already created a significant network of biomethane plants across most of the continent (and it is only growing).

Faced with this situation, one might ask: what about Spain? Our country has hardly any biomethane plants in operation. Why is that? A good question. Sadly, there is no logical, clear and cogent answer, although there are a number of points to be made. One of them points to technologies used in Germany and central Europe, which use what are known as “energy crops”: agricultural plantations whose final destination is not food but energy generation. These dynamics are not attractive for Spain.

However, the situation has changed. We already have in our country important technologists with proven efficiency in the generation and injection of biomethane into the grid who do not need these energy crops. We currently have proven technology capable of generating and injecting biomethane produced from the treatment of industrial, agri-food and agricultural waste.

The sector is also mobilised. In recent years, large companies and investment funds have become interested in this energy vector in our country. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs launched its investment vehicle Verdalia Bioenergy with the aim of investing 1 billion euros in biomethane. Macquaire has also joined the market, as have BayWa, Naturgy, Enagás, Redexis and other large companies in the sector.

Positive local impact.

The explanation of the process of obtaining biomethane is relatively simple (although the technology used is certainly complex and cutting-edge). In a biomethane plant, unusable waste (which usually ends up in landfills or composting plants) is treated to generate a renewable gas to be injected into the gas grid.

To obtain this renewable gas, the waste passes through digesters where it decomposes in the absence of oxygen. The resulting gas is “biogas” which after an enrichment process becomes biomethane, injectable into the grid.

The biomethane energy model generates important synergies with the local economies where these projects are implemented as they remove waste in the region to generate renewable energy. In many cases this waste is a problem for industries, as it needs to be managed. On the other hand, these same companies may need energy. A biomethane plant solves both situations in a single process.

The great opportunity.

Spain’s biomethane potential is significant, analysed in detail by Sedigas and Price in the Study of biomethane production capacity in Spain, 2023. Thanks to this work we know in detail that some of the Autonomous Communities of our country could be self-sufficient thanks to biomethane. This is the case of Extremadura, Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha.

In addition to achieving this energy independence, biomethane will help to solve important problems we face in Spain, such as employment and rural population, improving the competitiveness of our industries, modernising the agri-food and agri-livestock sectors and managing waste for use in the Circular Economy.

Biomethane is a renewable and clean energy that creates important synergies with many sectors in our country. Thanks to this gas, we could achieve significant levels of energy independence with the corresponding savings in imports from abroad. It is also one of the essential vectors in the decarbonisation of industry and the fight against climate change.

Biomethane is the perfect alternative to fossil fuels, let’s throw ourselves into it.

Jovanny Mojica has led the Arrate Group’s biogas and biomethane projects since 2018 and has a global vision of the company’s entire business development activity.

Jovanny has more than 20 years of experience in the renewable energy sector, specialising in the development of photovoltaic, wind, hydro and biomethane projects.

A civil engineer by training, his extensive experience in the renewable energy sector has led him to become familiar with all levels of project development in a wide range of technologies, with particular expertise in the development and implementation of biomethane.

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