We will not be able to do without gas in Germany’s energy supply for a long time. On Russian natural gas, on the other hand, yes. An important building block for the independence of Putin’s Gazprom is in our garbage cans, of all places.
Biogas is the backbone of the energy transition and supports the fickle eco-energies sun and wind. Because the gas power plants can be controlled, flexibly, and can be started up and shut down quickly, depending on the wind and weather.
And last but not least, biogas can be stored in the gas network. The ideal supplement for solar and wind energy. That is why the EU Commission also wants to boost biogas production and double the amount of biomethane in the EU by 2030 in accordance with its REPowerEU plan.
The energy associations also see huge potential for green gas – for Germany alone: by 2030, the equivalent of more than 100 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity could be produced from biogas per year, writes the Federal Association of the Energy Industry BDEW.
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That would be three times the current amount, which in turn corresponds to a fifth of the Putin gas imported in 2021. And the German Association of Gas and Water Experts even expects 300 TWh by 2050.
Half of the natural gas that came from Putin and soon from dubious Arab sheikhs could be replaced by German fields, the local cowshed and pigsty. But German politicians don’t want that. Because the parties in the Bundestag are not comfortable with biogas.
dr Eric Schweitzer is the owner and CEO of the Berlin ALBA Group, one of the leading environmental service providers and suppliers of raw materials in Europe with an annual turnover of around 1.3 billion euros and 5400 employees. ALBA is also the name sponsor of the reigning German basketball champions. Schweitzer was President of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) from 2013 to 2021 and has been Honorary President of the DHIK and IHK Berlin since 2021.
Even the Greens and environmental protection organizations view biogas production with mixed feelings. Already more than ten years ago they warned against the “maize of the landscape”. Because the cheapest way for farmers to produce biogas is to grow corn. In order to prevent nationwide monocultures, the federal government capped biogas funding at the time.
But instead of just capping the use of corn, Merkel stopped the entire expansion of biogas plants. The biogas image was too bad. The slump came in 2012: While biogas capacities of more than 1000 megawatts were installed every year up to that point – i.e. on the scale of a nuclear power plant – expansion stagnated afterwards.
Nevertheless, the existing biogas plants still cover around nine percent of Germany’s electricity requirements over the years – and they can also provide heat particularly efficiently in cogeneration. As reliable as a large power plant, they can always be used and are not dependent on the weather or the time of day like wind energy or solar systems. If only they weren’t so unpopular.
But in view of the Ukraine war and the natural gas crisis, biogas is gaining in importance again. And it’s a good thing that there is an environmentally friendly and inexpensive alternative to biogas from the field, with enormous potential and largely unused: organic waste.
All you have to do is collect it and ferment it into methane gas. Currently, the approximately 400 organic waste fermentation plants with a total output of a good 350 megawatts only account for around six percent of all German biogas plants. But the potential is far from exhausted, significantly more biogas could be generated from waste.
Biogenic input currently comes from three categories: commercial waste, green waste and organic waste. Green waste from parks and gardens accounts for the largest share at almost six million tons. Around 4.5 million tons of organic waste come from the brown bin every year, which is green in some municipalities. In addition, there are around four million tons of commercial waste such as leftovers and outdated food.
The problem lies in the wastage of valuable organic waste: just under half of the organic waste collected is fermented in biogas plants, the other part is composted. In addition, around 4 million tons of organic waste currently end up in the residual waste every year.
These are lost for energetic use. According to the Biogas Association, another 500,000 tons of organic waste could not be fermented due to impurities in the organic waste bin and the resulting cleaning steps.
In total, around 4.5 million tons of potentially fermentable organic waste from our household waste is currently not used for energy. From this amount alone, more than 1000 gigawatt hours of green electricity could be generated per year, i.e. one terawatt hour.
That would cover the needs of more than 350,000 four-person households – a city of millions. But that’s just the tip of the biowaste iceberg: Every year, more than 100 million tons of agricultural and forestry by-products and tens of millions of tons of industrial waste and sewage sludge are generated, all of which could be digested into biogas. But it doesn’t ferment.
Three reasons stand in the way of mass biogas use:
Not only is a lot of valuable energy lost, the climate is also damaged in several ways: because if organic waste is only composted, the methane it contains gets into the atmosphere instead of being burned and thus converted into electricity and heat.
Although carbon dioxide is produced during combustion, this would be climate-neutral in the case of waste. According to the UN, a molecule of methane from composting has a 25 times more harmful effect on the atmosphere than a molecule of carbon dioxide!
The Federal Environment Agency in Germany and Austria, for example, therefore recommend processing organic waste for the natural gas network. “More than half of the organic waste was composted, whereby the energy contained cannot be used,” writes the German UBA, for example: “The aim is therefore to increase the proportion of fermentation with biogas production in suitable organic waste in the future.”
If the biomethane is not fed into the natural gas grid, it will destroy the atmosphere unfiltered. Food scraps, green clippings and other organic matter are therefore diabolical bombs that are fueling climate change exponentially.
Therefore, the traffic light now has important tasks in front of its chest:
The traffic light must implement its proposals from the immediate climate program for the fermentation of organic waste as quickly as possible. Why the initiative has stalled remains a mystery.
Economics Minister Robert Habeck’s “Easter package” also contains nothing about the urgently needed expansion of the gas network. So far, only a slightly increased tender volume from 2023 is planned for biogas plants: Habeck wants to increase the current tender volume from 150 to 600 MW next year.
However, this is far too little for the EU’s plans. Too much potential is wasted here. And refrain from doing too much climate protection.