Opinion on biogas sector
Biogas sector has gotten publicity lately and this publicity has not been entirely positive. It all started with this article published by Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE News, 29.6.2018). We do not want to take sides regarding the company handled in the article but we express our opinion on the matters related to the whole sector. Although in our opinion, any mistakes or misconduct made by individual operators in the sector should be discussed publicly.
The article states under the header ”Business with tax payers’ money” the following:
”Biogas sector has enjoyed Finnish government’s unfaltering trust during the last years.” (YLE News, 29.6.2018)
Biogas plants can receive production support or investment grants like any other form of renewable energy production. The preparation of these governmental support programs took notably long and the result was disappointment to some extent. The production support was directed only to production of electricity even though biogas could be utilized also in other forms, like biofuel for instance. This result distorts the incentives within different solutions for biogas utilization. On the other hand, the investment grant requires really innovative solutions, which can lead to risky investments because something new has to be included to the project.
”Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s government has set a goal that Finland will be forerunner of circular economy and cleantech by 2025. Without taxpayers’ support money investing to biogas plants would have been considerably sluggish. At the moment we can talk about crazy days of biogas plants because there are so many plants being built all around Finland. Biogas sector can be seen as government’s favourite child.” (YLE News, 29.6.2018)
It is true that biogas sector has grown rapidly during the last 10 years but this growth has not happened due to the public investments but rather the grants and support programs have been just helping the growth. There are lots of companies in Finland that have long history and background of reliable plants that have been built with both private and public money. One good example is Finnish company called BioKymppi Oy. The Sopensuo biogas plant that they built and have operated since 2014 has been working well from the beginning and they have developed the process more efficient by themselves.
Watrec Ltd. has built a network of biogas plants to Finland, Biotehdas chain mainly by private money. Together with private investors Watrec Ltd. built six plants to Huittinen, Kuopio, Honkajoki, Oulu and Riihimäki. The first plant of Watrec Ltd. was built together with company’s own funding and with a small investment grant. At the time Watrec was relatively small company and the annual revenue was about 1 M€. The more notable governmental support was Finnvera’s guarantee for the bank loan which was two thirds of the whole investment.
All of these plants have started operation in schedule or even faster and also they have stayed within the budget. After plants' erections and start-ups, the plants have been operating almost without interruptions, with a downtime of under 2 % or about a week per year. All together these plants treat over 300 000 tons of biodegradable waste annually. Plants also produce biogas up to their designed and planned potential. In these projects Watrec Ltd. was responsible for developing and constructing the technology.
Watrec Ltd.’s values include always seeking for the most suitable and reliable solution for the customer. Based on these values, we have been able to build reliable processes, which have been tested and secure technology, to our customers.
So there are serious players in Finland that are able to develop the biogas sector further. There are already over 100 plants that are different sized and with different technologies and more plants are being built all the time (biokaasuyhdistys.net). In the future, we will definitely see new technologies and new players.
Finland would still have a considerable potential to build new biogas plants that would take care for example of the manure produced by agriculture in a way that the manure would be returned to the nutrient cycle as a safe and odourless product. However, agricultural manure is only treated in a fraction of biogas plants at the moment.
Even though YLE playfully calls cleantech sector as “government’s favourite child”, this support policy is underpinned by genuine concern about the climate. This makes it natural for society to support more sustainable waste treatment and energy production technologies. This way we can together fight against climate change and achieve jointly set emission goals. Biogas process allows us also to recycle our diminishing natural resources like phosphorous.
We believe that domestic investments leads to technology export and hence generate economic benefit to Finland. Even though this requires that public support money will be targeted especially to domestic technology. This will benefit Finnish companies and that way Finnish exports.
Cleantech is relatively new sector and it is actively moving all the time. It is important that events and phenomena related to the sector are followed critically and discussed publicly. However, the whole sector should not be valued based on isolated cases. It is also important to understand that the cleantech sector and its development are strongly involved in the technological change, with the focus of shifting values towards a more sustainable lifestyle. This applies to society as a whole.
Director - Projects and Solutions