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Interview with Frank Hofmann, Fachverband Biogas eV and Markus Kemper, AHK Spanien

Germany, a leader in renewable energies in Europe, will be the guest country at the next Renewable Gas Show, which will be held at Feria de Valladolid on October 1 and 2 of this year. The event, organized by the Spanish Biomass Association (AVEBIOM) with the support of the Spanish Biogas Association (AEBIG), will feature the participation of several German companies that will present their technologies and solutions in the field of biogas and biomethane.

We interviewed Frank Hofmann from the Fachverband Biogas eV and Markus Kemper, deputy director of the German Chamber of Commerce for Spain.

  1. What German experiences and technologies will be highlighted at the Renewable Gas Show?

Markus Kemper, AHK Spain: Numerous German companies have already confirmed their participation in the Renewable Gas Show and their range of products and services is very wide. German exhibitors include project developers, plant builders, manufacturers of components such as crushing technology, supply and conveying technology, agitation systems, filters, motors and gas storage systems, gas purification systems, gas measurement and pressure regulation, reaction agents for biogas desulfurization, as well as service providers, for example, for the production and marketing of biomethane.

Together, the German SMEs present at the Renewable Gas Show will present an interesting combination of innovative products and services. The two leading associations of the sector in Germany, the Fachverband Biogas eV and the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (DLG), will also be present at the fair.

  • ¿What role do you think biogas and biomethane will play in Europe's energy transition in the coming years, and how can Spain take advantage of German experience in this field?

Frank Hofmann, Fachverband Biogas eV: Biogas can and will contribute substantially to the energy transition in Europe. Currently, biogas and biomethane represent around 6% of European natural gas consumption, that is, more than 220 TWh of energy production per year. Biogas can be used to generate electricity, but also in the fuel sector and for heat production in industry and homes; can be stored and used flexibly depending on demand. A great advantage of using biogas for the flexible generation of electricity is that this technology makes it possible to balance production and consumption in the electrical grid in a context of volatility of wind and solar energy.

In Germany, around half of biogas plants store the gas produced and use it as required by the electricity grid operator to ensure grid stability. In the transport sector, biogas will play a complementary role in Europe. The trend in the transport sector is moving towards electromobility and perhaps also towards hydrogen in the future, although infrastructure is still lacking. However, these propulsion technologies are not suitable for all applications and needs. Biomethane will play an important role in this regard. We are already seeing strong demand for CNC and LNC as an environmentally friendly alternative in the transportation sector.

Another advantage of using biogas is the reduction of emissions. The storage of slurry and manure produces high emissions of greenhouse gases (especially methane), which can be substantially reduced by using them in the biogas plant. This means that biogas and biomethane can be used both to produce energy and to avoid emissions and is the only renewable energy production technology that can demonstrate negative CO equivalents.2.

I believe that Spain can not only learn from Germany, but, of course, Germany can also learn from Spain. Biogas is an established and socially accepted technology in Germany that has been used for more than 50 years. Currently there are about 10.000 biogas and biomethane plants in our country. The approval of the Renewable Energy Law (EEG), which prioritizes feeding the grid with electricity from renewable sources and guarantees fixed power generation premiums to producers, triggered a major boom in the biogas sector. We also see strong development in the use of biogas as fuel due to the favorable regulatory framework.

Good economic framework conditions are key to the widespread implementation of biogas technology. Fixed energy generation premiums, guaranteed for a period of 20 years, provide investment security and economic predictability. Regulatory simplicity is also essential. In Germany, many operators feel overwhelmed by complex regulations; Currently there are around 300 laws, ordinances, regulations, etc. at different administrative levels for the biogas sector.

Secure long-term planning and “monitoring developments on the ground” are important to further improve regulations and support systems. It must not be forgotten that any change in the framework conditions causes uncertainty and that, therefore, it is important to announce legislative changes well in advance.

  • How do you see the future of biogas and biomethane in Europe and particularly in Spain?

Frank Hofmann, Fachverband Biogas eV: In Germany, there is a clear trend towards flexibility in the electricity sector. Although a large part of biogas plants already produce electricity “on demand”, demand will continue to increase in the future. Another trend is to increasingly use biomethane as fuel due to limited alternatives in the transportation sector. Greater attention is also paid to the use of CO2 produced during the production of biomethane. There are many industrial uses for this product, for example in the beverage, cleaning or packaging industry.

The last point I would like to mention in this regard is the production of fertilizers. Fermentation products from biogas production are increasingly used as a basis for the production of processed fertilizers. These are of high quality and are used both in agriculture and in homes. The increasing exploitation of these byproducts of biogas production contributes to increasing the profitability of the plants and, therefore, attracting new investments in the technology. By introducing a certification system for the use of fermentation products, among other things, the Fachverband Biogas has contributed to ensuring their quality and thus creating greater market acceptance.

  • There is talk of the use of biomethane in turbines to generate electricity, especially for self-consumption. Is this technology being implemented in Germany?

Frank Hofmann, Fachverband Biogas e.V..: In Germany, gas turbines are only used in specific cases. The use of gas engines predominates, which have much higher electrical performance and lower investment costs than turbines. This use may also have to do with the structure of the production plants in Germany. The majority are plants with a power of 300 – 500 kWel, which makes the use of turbines less attractive. The system of premiums for energy generation also influences, which decrease in proportion to the size of the production plant. The advantages of gas turbines, such as reduced emissions and maintenance costs, are best exploited in large production plants thanks to economies of scale.

  • ¿What challenges and obstacles has Germany encountered in the implementation of biogas and biomethane projects, and how has it overcome them? What lessons could be applied in Spain?

Frank Hofmann, Fachverband Biogas eV: In my opinion, an unequal social response is one of the biggest challenges for the realization of biogas and biomethane projects. In the years before 2012, there was great social acceptance and political goodwill in Germany. The inhabitants of the bioenergy villages were proud of their energy self-sufficiency. In the following years, the debate underwent a certain shift and public discourse increasingly focused on the "food or fuel" dilemma, for example, regarding the use of corn as raw material in biogas plants. A few isolated accidents also received extensive media coverage.

At the Biogas Association we are facing these challenges through information and awareness campaigns. This includes informative videos, public information events at sites where biogas plants are planned or tours and 'open days' organized by local operators. There are regional groups that meet periodically. Every year we organize the Biogas Convention and Trade Fair, one of the largest biogas events in the world.

Currently, there is a tendency to increasingly use agricultural and industrial waste and to a lesser extent energy crops that could compete with food. The association is also a strong supporter of safety standards to reduce the likelihood of accidents. Today, biogas plants are safer in this sense than farms themselves.

  • Biogas plants sometimes face social rejection. What actions are being taken in Germany to avoid this rejection and promote the acceptance of these facilities in local communities?

Frank Hofmann, Fachverband Biogas eV: As noted, our association invests heavily in communication campaigns. Another priority is the local use of the products obtained. This could be, for example, a CNG gas station where residents can refuel their cars with locally produced fuel, or the sale of locally produced fertilizers in specialized shopping centers or in agriculture.

The current geopolitical environment has also caused a certain social rethinking. Citizens have become aware that the resilience of the energy system, that is, thousands of decentralized plants instead of a few large plants, and independence from fossil energy imports are fundamental for energy supply. Residents in communities with biogas plants for electricity or heat production currently benefit from comparatively low heating prices. This also provokes a certain pride in energy self-sufficiency in the localities in question.

Poorly managed plants can have a very negative impact on the image of biogas and hamper the acceptance of new projects. For this reason, the Fachverband Biogas ensures that biogas plants are operated in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. I believe that this, combined with the association's intensive public relations work, has largely allayed concerns about odor emissions, the use of slaughterhouse waste, etc. in Germany.

  • ¿How can European and national policies support the growth of the biogas and biomethane sector? What measures do you consider essential to facilitate the implementation of projects?

Frank Hofmann, Fachverband Biogas eV: A central supporting element is the simplification of regulations. Long-term planning is also essential in this regard. The regulations must be coordinated with the different levels of the administration and minimize differences in interpretation by the competent authorities. An economically attractive remuneration framework is also important, for example, with bonuses for energy generation. In the future, stricter regulations are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. Biogas is a possible solution for this, which could provide an additional boost to the technology.

  • The AHK Barometer for spring 2024 reflects growing optimism among German companies regarding the Spanish economy. What specific opportunities do you see to strengthen collaboration between German and Spanish companies in the biogas and biomethane sector?

Markus Kemper, AHK Spain: The semi-annual Barometer of the AHK Spain, a survey carried out among German companies that are members of the AHK Spain, does indeed show a certain optimism. 93% of companies rate the outlook for their business situation for the next 12 months as positive or stable.

Employment forecasts are also favorable, with 38% of companies planning to increase their workforce in the next 12 months. As risk factors, many of the companies surveyed cited the evolution of raw material and energy prices and possible disruptions to supply chains, the political-economic context and the shortage of qualified labor.

There are many opportunities for cooperation between German and Spanish companies in the biogas and biomethane sector. Spain has enormous potential in this area, since the development of the market is still incipient. There is currently a clear political commitment to these technologies in Spain to reduce dependence on fossil gas imports and promote the decarbonization of the economy. The Spanish Government is working to create a stable framework for the development of biomethane, as provided for in the European Green Deal, the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan and the draft law on climate change and energy transition. In Germany, the production of biogas and biomethane is already well established and the country has many years of experience with this technology. This constellation is therefore ideal for close cooperation.

To further strengthen international cooperation, the exchange of experiences between the different agents and companies in the biogas sector of both countries is essential. An example of fruitful cooperation is the “Renewable Gas Show”, which will be held in Valladolid in October of this year for the fourth consecutive time. Germany is the guest country in this edition of the fair and will be represented on site by numerous companies.

We support the presence of German companies, in many cases, leaders in the sector, within the framework of a Spanish-German Biogas and Biomethane Meeting that we will hold on October 1 within the framework of the Exhibition. Our extensive experience in international business cooperation allows us to affirm that these types of initiatives usually form the basis of close collaboration. In many cases, the contacts established give rise to concrete projects, with important mutual learning effects. Of course, all exhibitors and visitors to the fair are more than welcome. Nor should institutional contacts between official organizations and interest groups of our two countries be neglected, which in this case are already very close.

Markus Kemper

Markus Kemper. Vice principal.

German Chamber of Commerce for Spain.

Frank Hofman. International relations.

Trade Association Biogas eV