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European biowaste market is growing ‘significantly’

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Environmental consultant ecoprog said it expects about 8.1 million annual tonnes of additional capacity to be built for the fermentation of municipal biowaste by 2030. AD (anaerobic digestion) capacities for treating commercial biowaste will be developed as well. The main reasons for this growth are EU regulations stipulating a separate biowaste collection from 2024 onwards as well as the booming biomethane market. 

Today, there are approximately 960 active biowaste AD plants in Europe. These are biogas plants that mainly treat organic waste from household collection schemes and from commercial sources. The latter particularly includes companies from the food and feed industries, from restaurants or trade.  

ecoprog has estimated that about 500 of these plants to primarily treat commercial biowaste and about 370 to mainly process separately collected municipal waste: "Approximately 90 biowaste AD plants are active at sites of mechanical biological treatment (MBT) facilities - they treat biowaste that was collected as part of residual waste. In many countries, it is not always possible to unambiguously classify biowaste AD plants as facilities for commercial or municipal waste."

ecoprog added that the input of all biowaste AD plants amounts to about 46 million annual tonnes: "About 27.5 million annual tonnes of this are treated in biowaste AD plants for commercial biowaste and 14.2 million annual tonnes in biowaste AD plants for municipal waste. Biowaste AD plants at MBT sites treat 4.4 million tonnes annually.

"This will be complemented by further potentials, especially in the commercial waste sector. In early 2022, ecoprog was aware of a total of about 250 biowaste AD projects in Europe, and 75 of those had a focus on commercial waste."

It said there are two main drivers for this market growth. EU waste legislation is the first, stipulating that all biowaste in the EU must be collected separately from 2024 onwards. Furthermore, according to the EU Waste Framework Directive, which was amended in 2018, at least 55 percent the municipal waste must be recycled until 2025. This goal will increase to 60 percent until 2030 and to 65 percent until 2035. In almost all EU member states, improving the household collection scheme for organic waste is one of the most important instruments to reach these recycling goals.  

The second driver is the EU policy for increasing the use of renewable energies. Biomethane plays a very important role in this. In the past, biogas was mainly used to generate electricity. But in recent years,  biomethane has become more important as a fuel and on the heat market, where there are only limited alternatives to fossil sources (contrary to the situation in the electricity market) – a situation that is even more evident now, in times when natural gas costs are increasing due to the war in Ukraine. 

The boom of municipal biowaste AD plants will also affect plant technology: in the future, ecoprog said it expects a clearer distinction between the fermentation of municipal biowaste and of commercial biowaste. This will be a result of the increasing number of municipal projects but also of tighter technical requirements for the fermentation process, for instance, when it comes to downstream composting of fermentation residues or the share of impurities in a plant’s output.