European lessons can generate value through the entire biogas chain

Researchers at Linköping University have studied how biogas development in eight European countries has been affected by political decisions at the national level. The results can provide helpful insights into how decision-makers can maximise value creation in the Swedish biogas chain.

Tractor harvests energy crops for biogas production. In other European countries, agriculture is used to a greater extent to produce substrates for biogas production. Photo: Adobe.

The Swedish biogas sector saw strong growth during the first decade of the new millennium, but production stagnated during the following decade. The same trend is evident in several European countries, except for Denmark and Germany. To find out why it stagnated in some countries but expanded in others, researchers from LiU studied the relationship between biogas development and policy, e.g. letters of intent used to guide decisions in a desired direction.


“We believe we can see some correlations, that when there have been clear changes in production, this can probably be linked to changes in policy. We also see quite clear differences between the countries. The question is then if we can learn from those who have been more successful than Sweden. It’s difficult to transfer what worked in one country, because the context is so important. What worked in Denmark might not work here”, says Marcus Gustafsson, assistant professor at the Department of Management and Engineering, and co-author of the publication.


Both Denmark and Germany have introduced financial instruments to make it more profitable to produce biogas, which has made it advantageous for the agricultural sector to invest in biogas facilities and to contribute with raw materials such as fertiliser and energy crops, i.e. substrates. Either the gas is upgraded and fed into the gas network, or electricity is produced and fed into the electricity network.


Sweden on the other hand has used tax exemption as the principle economic tool, which has increased the demand for biogas. This has created a market where it is profitable for foreign biogas producers to send their gas to Sweden, because they can produce it at a lower cost than the Swedish producers. In Sweden, primarily waste products such as food waste, wastewater and industrial sludge are used as substrates.


We're not getting the effect we wanted, that the usage subsidy would lead to increased production in Sweden. We have to get better access to the agricultural substrates in Sweden, where the level is too low, but a very large part of the potential we see in Sweden for production. Also we have to involve agriculture at the other end, that we use the digestion residue (the other product that is created in the extraction of biogas) because it produces biofertiliser for the agricultural sector.”


“If the substrate comes from fertiliser, we reduce methane emissions, which means less climate impact. It also means more biofertiliser, more nutrient circulation, better use of nutrients and in terms of energy it means we can replace fossil fuels.”


Last autumn the Swedish parliament passed a budget for 2022 that includes production premiums for biogas – a decision the Swedish biogas sector has long fought for.


“Yes, I think that's definitely the right way to go, that's what's been missing and that's why we haven't had the development of production that we should have, considering the demand we have in Sweden. It has been more profitable to purchase biogas from abroad than to produce it ourselves in Sweden. So it is absolutely necessary to even out the competition from imported gas”, says Marcus Gustafsson. 


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