Understanding biogas at the regional level – report published by AG7

Anaerobic digestion is a key component of the circular economy

The new Stocktaking Paper of the Activity Group 7 on Biogas, released in April 2020, found that globally biogas is valued for its contribution to the circular economy: use of waste, substitution of fossil fuels, and co-production of fertiliser for enhancing crop yields.

The circular economy is becoming increasingly important for tackling the anthropogenic changes take place in the environment caused by increasing temperatures, overexploitation of resources and escalating pollution. The circular economy – the continual use of resources, through the utilisation of wastes – aims to reduce (or ideally eliminate) the pollution caused by the disposal of resources common in the ‘classic’ economic system.

Biogas can be produced from the anaerobic digestion of organic waste and is therefore a key component of the circular economy. Anaerobic digestion not only provides a solution to waste management problems but the biogas produced can be used to produce renewable energy, thus reducing the GHG emissions compared with alternative fuels, such as fossil fuels or traditional biomass. The by-product of the process, digestate, can be used as an organic fertiliser, enhancing crop yields and reducing the need for chemical fertiliser.

Biogas is not without challenges

The Stocktaking Paper used SWOT analysis to investigate the main strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of biogas value chains. Across the three regions analysed in the Paper – Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) – the main weakness identified at all levels was the high initial investment.

Another difficulty identified across the regions is the problem of adapting biogas technology that has been developed for a different regional, national or local circumstance. One of the key findings of the study is that biogas technology requires context-specific feasibility studies to ensure its functionality. Networks of practitioners, such as REBIOLAC in the LAC region, are integral to support knowledge transfer and cooperation towards this goal.

Recommendations for future development

The Stocktaking Paper aims to facilitate information and encourage future development of biogas technology in different regions of the world, taking into consideration that every area has different circumstances and is subjected to a different social, political and economic context.

To encourage further development of biogas technology and to overcome difficulties, strong policies need to be developed since in general, solid policies dedicated to biogas are not present in most countries. However, there are examples of successful policies promoting biogas. Those examples include subsidies, tax exemptions to imports of materials, indirect incentives from regulations on waste treatment, power purchase agreements, feed-in tariffs and guarantees for investment. Carbon markets are also an option for improving returns on investment in biogas but until now, still seem to be underused for the sector. Existing fossil fuel subsidies also reduce the competitiveness of biogas and therefore should be revised in line with sustainable development strategies.

The Stocktaking Paper, with full SWOT analysis of different biogas scales in the three regions and recommendations for future development, can be read online.