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EXCLUSIVE: Could biogas solve the UK’s CO2 supply issues?

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Creating a network of CO2 supply sources from biogas plants could be the answer to preventing future shortages, according to UK-based BioCarbonics.

Established in June 2018, BioCarbonics works with AD operators/biogas producers to help them recover and monetise their waste CO2, providing a dedicated channel to market for biogenic ‘green’ CO2 from renewable energy sources.

Earlier this month, a sudden increase in wholesale gas prices forced two major fertiliser plants in the north of England to close, causing major issues for the UK's food and drink manufacturers. These two facilities in Teesside and Cheshire supplied 60% of the UK’s food-grade CO2 supply.

What if more reliable supplies of CO2 could be obtained from a network of biogas facilities? Could this be the answer to preventing CO2 shortages in future? Bioenergy Insight spoke to BioCarbonics’ managing director, Christopher Carson, to find out.

“The idea to create a new supply model for the UK CO2 industry came about well before the CO2 crisis in the summer of 2018,” said Carson. “In fact, the UK has suffered from severe supply shocks since 2006, when the Severnside ammonia plant was shut down permanently.

“This closure took a significant chunk of capacity out of the UK market and created instability that has grown worse over the past 15 years, as economics around ammonia production in the UK become more volatile.

“There have been significant supply disruptions every two-to-three years since 2006 and they seem to be growing more severe each time they occur.”

So, in 2017, the BioCarbonics team set out to create a new CO2 supply chain model in the UK, and instead of relying on one or two large sources of CO2 supply, they focused on creating a new network of smaller supply sources, based on biogas plants, which were independent of each other and uncoupled from the ‘volatile’ economics of ammonia sources.

“As the network grows, the importance of any one plant in the network decreases,” Carson explained, “thereby reducing the risk of supply disruptions when any one or two supply sources go down.

“It’s a similar concept to distributed energy systems and micro-networks and with the growth in the number of gas-to-grid biogas plants in the UK, we saw an increasing number of prospective partner sites to add to our network.”

BioCarbonics has partnered with several food and drink producers to deliver green CO2. Westons Cider in Herefordshire was one of the first customers to harness the full potential of BioCarbonics’ offering.

“They put their trust in us early on and they have benefitted from the stability of our supply chain, especially over the past few months,” said Carson.

Working with STL Energy, apple pomace from Westons’ cider production was returned to STL’s AD plant and used to generate biogas and green CO2, which was then returned to Westons to be used in their carbonation process. In a situation where 60% of the UK’s CO2 supply was cut off, this local source of CO2 has proven extremely valuable.

Look out for the full interview in our November/December edition, along with details on how to get involved BioCarbonics’ AD and biogas network.