Biogas, the key renewable gas in moving towards a circular economy

20 October, 2021

  • The proposed Biogas Roadmap sets out the goals and action lines to multiply the production levels of this renewable gas in Spain almost fourfold by 2030.

Together with electrification, renewable gases are set to be the energy carriers of the future. Government and business sector join forces to boost its deployment.

In Spain, in October 2020, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge published the Hydrogen Roadmap, a document that outlines the steps to be taken to encourage the development of innovative industrial value chains, generate employment and economic activity and contribute to the reactivation towards a green economy with high value-added.

Along the same lines, in July 2021 the proposed Biogas Roadmap was made public, bringing together 43 action lines that pursue a single goal: to multiply the sustainable production of this gas fourfold in less than a decade.

What is biogas? And biomethane?

Biogas is a “green” energy obtained from our waste: the organic fraction of municipal waste, agri-food industries, sewage sludge, crop residues and livestock manure. The most advanced way for the production of this biogas is through anaerobic digestion, a process through which organic matter is decomposed through the action of microorganisms.

Biogas can be used to produce electricity and heat, especially in industrial environments where electrification is not possible. Alternatively, once converted into biomethane, it can be used as a transport fuel or injected into the pipeline gas network.

To obtain this biomethane, the biogas undergoes a technological process called upgrading. This biomethane, whose composition is similar to that of natural gas, is characterised by being a renewable, local and storable energy source. It also has the huge advantage of being able to be transported by existing gas infrastructures. It is considered an essential energy carrier in order to meet European decarbonisation targets and to boost the development of the circular economy.

Biomethane is a renewable, local and storable energy source, which also has the huge advantage of being able to be transported by existing gas infrastructures

Spain currently has 146 biogas production facilities (with annual production of 2.74 TWh) and only 1 biomethane facility (0.10 TWh/year). Compared to the rest of Europe, Spain has not made much progress in its development, so there is still a long way to go. Above all, because the country has an opportunity in the large-scale industries of the agricultural and agri-food sector, where proper management of waste can quickly activate the market.

Moreover, this type of project represents an opportunity for Spain, as it contributes to the economic development of the areas in which they are located, in most cases rural areas. They manage to improve the infrastructure of these areas, help stop depopulation and, in turn, become a focus of attraction for the young population due to the employment opportunities generated.

This type of project represents an opportunity for Spain, as it contributes to the economic development of the areas where they are located

This is the Roadmap for the development of biogas in Spain

The Biogas Roadmap mainly contemplates two measures:

1.The creation of a system of guarantees of origin, which allows consumers to distinguish renewable gas, highlighting its sustainable origin, something similar to what happens with electricity.

2.Establish mandatory penetration targets and simplify administrative procedures to encourage production and use.

To achieve this, several lines of action are proposed: the development of regulatory, sectorial and economic instruments that foster the implementation and widespread use of biogas and biomethane. In addition, other transversal lines of action, such as actions to promote the prioritisation of biogas projects in areas of fair transition or the tasks of disseminating the benefits of biogas. And finally, the promotion of R&D&i, which makes it increasingly possible, useful and profitable.

If the plan comes to fruition, Spain will be able to multiply the current level of biogas production almost fourfold by 2030. 45% of the production would be consumed directly, while the remaining 55% would be transformed into biomethane for heavy mobility or injected into the existing network. For each bcm of biomethane recovered from the biodegradation of organic matter, and injected into the network, the emission into the atmosphere of about 20 Mt of CO₂ equivalent would be avoided. Complying with the plans set out in the Biogas Roadmap would entail a reduction of 2.1 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent each year.

It is considered an essential energy carrier for decarbonisation and for the development of the circular economy

Residuos en fuente de energía

Specific Projects

Some Spanish companies, such as Enagás, have been working for quite a while on projects to develop this renewable gas. 

According to the energy infrastructures company: “coupled with the increased penetration of renewable energies, and as an essential complement to the growing electrification, biogas/biomethane is positioned as an energy with a key role in achieving the European and Spanish goal of reaching a carbon neutral economy by 2050. We have the opportunity to give it the necessary impetus to make this possible.”

Accordingly, it has launched the Green Link initiative to facilitate this type of connection to the high-pressure pipeline network for biomethane and other renewable gases. The company is also involved, together with more than 20 partners, in the development of more than twenty biogas/biomethane generation projects throughout Spain.

Among other projects, it is working on the ‘Unue’ project in Burgos, aimed at transforming biogas into biomethane for subsequent injection of this renewable gas into the gas pipeline network of the Spanish gas system. So far, the most important initiative – and a pioneer in Spain – is of a public nature and is located at the Valdemingómez landfill in Madrid.

It has also signed, in partnership with other companies in the sector, a protocol with the Generalitat Valenciana to promote a circular economy project based on rice straw. This will lead to the production of 87 GWh per year of renewable gas to be injected into the gas infrastructure. This is the equivalent to more than 15% of the natural gas consumption of the city of Valencia. With this initiative, the city of Valencia and its metropolitan area will improve the quality of the air they breathe, by contributing – to a large extent – to solving the environmental problem of polluting emissions associated with the burning of rice straw. All this thanks to a process of energy recovery that is a clear model of circular economy.