Biomethane Market: Overview
“Biomethane” or “renewable gas” is a term used to describe a gas mixture that is predominantly methane (>97%) and is sourced from organic materials. This gas has similar thermal characteristics as natural gas. Biomethane is considered as pipeline quality gas and can be injected into the natural gas network and used in existing gas appliances. Clean-up of biogas to allow injection of biomethane into the gas network requires investment in appropriate plant and its operation. The case for making this investment needs to be assessed by developers, on a project-by-project basis, against the benefits that biomethane injection brings.
Biogas can be upgraded to biomethane and injected into a gas grid. This could be the national high pressure gas transmission grid or a local low pressure gas distribution network. To be used in the gas grid, the impurities need to be removed from biogas. It also needs to be dried and upgraded to higher methane content (>95%) – this allows it to resemble the attributes of natural gas. Presently, biomethane can be used for any purpose satisfied by conventional natural gas, such as heat generation, cogeneration of heat/power and as a fuel in natural gas vehicles.
Biomethane Market: Drivers and Constraints
One of the major market driver involved in the progress of this industry is that governmental policies in many nations support the grid injection system and are ready to provide fiscal as well as infrastructure benefits to the investors and companies involved in these operations. Research on biomethane has also proved that it is a much more flexible gas and has a higher energy density than biogas. Moreover, it is economical for the Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant operator to install a gas grid connection than an electricity connection. Besides, there are a few challenges that haunt the biomethane market.
One of the constraints is that, as yet, there are no specific standards for the production of biomethane. Moreover, upgrading from biogas to biomethane adds substantially to the cost and energy requirement of the plant, as well as, reduces the producer’s carbon savings. Furthermore, Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants may not be located close to the gas distribution network, which could increase the cost of the producer as he also has to account for transportation costs from the plant to the network. Despite the complexity of the long value chain, lack of cooperation between the involved stakeholders as well as cross-border trade barriers, the industry has a lot of scope to improve all around the world, be it technology-wise as well as policy-wise.
The biomethane market can be diversified based on the method of production available, viz. fermentation and gasification. Typical feedstock used for fermentation is organic household waste, animal manure, food residues, energy crops, and food processing industries. In case of the gasification process, the most common biomass used is dry biomass, especially wood. “Syngas” is produced through gasification, which consists mainly of hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO). After methanization and gas cleaning a gas can be produced that meets the gas quality standards of the natural gas grid. Out of fermentation and gasification, the former technology is applied the most.
Biomethane Market: Regional Trends
The production and supply of biomethane is somewhat restricted to certain regions. The current market trend shows that the European region is the largest producer and consumer of biomethane, with most of the plants located in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Countries like Austria and the United Kingdom are framing policies in this regard. Another major producer cum consumer located in the North American region is the U.S,. which has increased their production and distribution capacities significantly over the past three years. The Asia-Pacific region and Rest of the World is carrying out tests and research and still has to foray into biomethane production, commercially.
Major companies involved in the production and distribution of biomethane are: Gasrec Ltd., MagneGas Corp., SoCalGas, Future Biogas Ltd. and Scotia Gas Networks Ltd.
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