Biomethanation, a miracle solution to the gas crisis?

Green gas, cheaper and produced in Belgium

The process is very technical, so let’s summarize it: Every day Eric injects 15 tons of manure and 60 cubic meters of manure. This mixture, called ‘biomass’, is then watered, heated and stirred in the tank, creating ‘biogas’ which is 60% methane and 40% CO2. It is then cleaned to keep only the methane, which is the gas used to heat homes or in cars that run on CNG. This process is called biomethanation.

Later in the farm we hear the sound of an engine. “It is the combined heat and power plant, we convert the gas into electricity and what enables us to feed 6,000 kWh into the electricity grid every day is the electricity consumption of 400 households. And on top of that, our entire consumption is energy self-sufficient: our farm, the two stables, the two lodges, the milking parlor and our CNG vehicles.

So here, in the depths of Luxembourg, green gas, produced in Belgium, constant and cheaper than the gas we import. So could this be the panacea European countries are looking for if they want to decouple from Russian gas?

The front of biomethanation

Eric Jonkeau recognizes it himself, the investment was very, very important at the beginning. And the project, not entirely profitable. “We have invested 3.5 million euros, 35% of which is funded by the Walloon Region (27%) and the European Union (8%). And again, when I visited the banks and the Walloon region, they didn’t believe in my project. In addition, it was not profitable at the beginning. This project will be profitable because I have a 15 year guarantee on my green certificates and energy prices are high. It is only thanks to these high prices that the energy I produce becomes competitive.“Let’s take the example of CNG at the pump, a year ago it was still €0.8 or 0.9/kg and thus well below the 1.20 displayed on Eric Jonkeau’s pump.

The size of the investment and the price of this energy are also the two obstacles pointed out by Frédéric Lebeau, professor at Agrio-Bio-Tech in Gembloux and expert in biomass. “In the context of normal energy prices, this energy is quite expensive to produce and requires significant investments. Today this source of energy is profitable only because we are in crisis and the prices of imported energy are high.”

Professor Lebeau goes even further in his argument for those who would be tempted to invest in this technology today. “We cannot tackle such a project today by saying that it is currently profitable. It would be too risky because prices will eventually come down: either because other solutions will bring prices down, or because we’re in an economic recession and then, of course, prices will fall. During the first oil crises we had already produced biomethane plants, which disappeared when energy prices fell.

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