The rise of biomethanization

Published on 18 October 2017 Read 25 min

Paris, October 18, 2017 – Following the authorization of the injection of biomethane into the gas network thanks to the decrees of 21 November 2011, the sector is booming. Alcimed, a consulting company specializing in innovation and the development of new markets, examines the many projects that are being developed and the evolution of the players in the sector. While some see this as an opportunity for development, others are forced to adapt to stay in the race.


Biomethane injection revives the industry

A modification of the legal framework in 2011 authorized the injection of biomethane into the traditional gas network, with an attractive subsidized feed-in tariff to shorten the return on investment period. Since then, a multitude of projects have been initiated, more than 200 have been registered, and as a result, new players have emerged (new biomethane producers, solution providers, specialized design offices, project management assistance).

Setting up a methanization project with biomethane injection can take from two to five years. Thus, it will take a few years before the number of injection sites are adjusted accordingly.

By the end of 2016, there were already 26 sites injecting their biomethane into the gas grid. This represented 215GWh of renewable energy fed into the natural gas grid (+162% compared to 2015) and 0.05% of natural gas consumption. Three months later, in March 2017, six sites have already been added to the list, indicating strong growth for this year.

The number of injection sites is growing exponentially and the number of sites in line for grid connection has exploded. There are currently 241 registered projects, representing a potential of 5TWh/year, +30% compared to 2015.

Beyond the injection and feed-in tariff facilitating the profitability of projects, increasing biomethane production reduces the depreciation period of installations. “A methanization project is, therefore, a territorial approach, seeking to mobilize as many methanogenic resources present on its territory as possible to maximize biomethane production,” says Vincent Pessey, Project Manager at Alcimed. “All the actors in the region can contribute to this process: farmers bringing their manure, agri-food industrialists whose waste with high methanogenic power is highly valued, local authorities and their organic household waste, etc. This is why new ways of managing this waste are being set up.”

New players on the market

Beyond the need to define an economic model to achieve high profitability, the regulatory evolutions in this field are stimulating technical interest as well as new approaches are emerging that could lead to new business models.

Biolectric – Micro-methanization

Biolectric is developing a micro-methanization solution that enables small companies to be profitable. With dairy producers as its main target, this methanization unit relies on manure. The biomethane produced is consumed in cogeneration and the electricity is sold to the energy distributor at an advantageous rate with an obligation to purchase. About a hundred of these units have already been set up in Europe.

Waga Energy – Wagabox

The Wagabox, developed by a Grenoble start-up, transforms household waste buried in landfills into 98% pure biomethane which it then injects into the gas grid. This is an achievement because no one in the sector had managed to valorize this type of waste. The Wagabox thus creates energy while limiting the impact on the environment.

98% pure methane, an achievement made possible thanks to 10 years of development and collaboration with the largest French manufacturers in the field of gas engineering (Air Liquide in particular). The technology developed is a combination of membrane separation, which first separates CO2 from methane, and cryogenic distillation, which purifies the gas to achieve 98% purity.

The injection of biomethane and feed-in tariffs undeniably boost the development of the sector: explosion in the number of methanization units, development of new solutions, the emergence of new players, etc. “The Law on Energy Transition for Green Growth (abbreviated to LTECV in France) sets biomethane a target of 1.7 TWh in 2018, 8 TWh in 2023 and aims to supply 10% of the gas consumption in 2030. There is still a long way to go!” adds Vincent Pessey. “How can we exploit the organic waste deposit to achieve this objective? How can energy players be supported in adapting the gas network and transforming it into a smart grid?” remain open challenges.


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