New paper highlights potential of biogas from industrial wastewater

A new paper released by the European Biogas Association (EBA) shows the high potential of biogas production from industrial wastewater.

The results show that biogas has huge potential to mitigate methane emissions from wastewater while generating renewable energy. This will reduce energy consumption at wastewater treatment (WWT) installations, provide a solution for the management of sludge, and create additional green jobs.

The findings of this EBA paper show it is possible to recover around 14 Mtoe (142 TWh) of biogas per year by valorising industrial wastewater from the spirits, biodiesel, pulp and paper, beer, vegetable oils, ethanol, meat, and cheese sectors. However, the large potential of biogas production from industrial wastewater is not yet considered in most studies evaluating biogas production potential in Europe in 2050 between 87-114 Mtoe (1,008-1,326 TWh). Therefore, this potential can be higher than currently estimated.

Currently, the applied purification treatment of industrial wastewater has a high greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. When producing renewable gas from industrial wastewater, GHG emissions are saved in different ways; firstly, due to the reduced energy consumption in WWT installations, secondly by the replacement of fossil energy sources, and finally, by bringing the wastewater into a closed, controlled environment, prevent methane emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

The traditional treatment of industrial wastewater also involves high shares of energy consumption, according to the report. Biogas production from wastewater can decrease current electricity consumption for WWT by 75%, corresponding to around 3 Mtoe (32 TWh) annually at EU level. By implementing anaerobic treatment technologies, it is also possible to decrease excess sludge production by up to 70-80% in most cases, meaning reduced costs for sludge processing too.

Producing renewable gas from industrial wastewater can also be economically attractive. EBA estimates suggest local jobs attributed to the anaerobic treatment of wastewater can grow from 1,000 direct jobs today to 20,000 direct jobs spread among 85,000 SMEs when un-tapping the full potential. The lifetime for WWTPs is typically 20-25 years, which means that before 2050, each WWTP will be refurbished, rebuilt, or replaced at least once - this creates opportunities for more sustainable choices going forward.

“AD penetration to European SMEs is expected to boost the environmental technology market, create new job positions and significantly reduce GHG emissions,” said Vasilis Diamantis, chair of the EBA working group on wastewater.

“Economic incentives are more than necessary combined with environmental legislation and social awareness measures. Technology providers should develop sector-specific solutions and ensure economies of scale for decentralised energy production. These are real challenges for the future.”

The great potential of biogas production from industrial wastewater must be considered in upcoming EU legislation, according to the EBA. Additionally, the objectives of the Urban Wastewater Directive and the Methane Strategy must be aligned with the EU clean energy agenda.

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