Exclusive interview: Christian Cuenot of VARO Energy
Earlier this year VARO Energy acquired an 80% stake in Dutch biogas manufacturer Bio Energy Coevorden. Bioenergy Insight inquired as to the background of this acquisition.
“VARO is committed to becoming a leading producer of biogas in Europe,” said Cuenot. “We are building a portfolio through the acquisition of existing biogas and biomethane plants and greenfield developments. The acquisition of Bio Energy Coevorden (BEC) is the first step in the realisation of our Biomethane & Bio-LNG strategy which has a target of 1TWh by 2026.”
He noted that BEC is unique in its scale and location, because it lies directly at the border of the Netherlands and Germany, in an area with high feedstock availability. The company plans to utilise feedstock originating from waste streams – manure, agricultural residues and slaughterhouse waste. The feedstock streams are certified, continued Cuenot, which ensures the sustainability of the feedstock and provides assurance to VARO that it produces the right biomethane for its customers.
“We believe that combining VARO’s expertise with regard to certification, feedstock and trading with the operational expertise of BEC will enable further growth towards one of the largest biogas plants in Europe. It will expand our biogas team and accelerate the expansion of our portfolio in the Netherlands and other European countries,” said Cuenot.
The acquisition is something VARO is very proud of, with it being a stepping stone for the firm’s biogas ambitions. Cuenot said the team at VARO was able to assess and complete the deal in a very short amount of time – highlighting the company’s entrepreneurial spirit, agility and can-do attitude.
In terms of the European Union’s (EU’s) work with the bioenergy sector, Cuenot observed that its latest initiatives – RePower EU, Fit for 55 and RED III – have been for the promotion of renewable energies.
However, he pointed to constraints that remain – related to End-Use or Cross-Border movements that impose a limit upon the EU’s ability to harvest the true potential of renewable energies.
“For biogas, this means that we would encourage the EU to support the use of Biomethane as a fuel for transport in every country and to remove any restrictions on cross-border biomethane movements through the gas grid,” said Cuenot.
One of the biggest challenges facing greater deployment of biogas is the number of new projects that are granted a permit, he continued.
“The permitting process is costly and lengthy (1-2 years to 5-7 years if any) and the outcome of the permit application is somewhat unpredictable,” he said. “From our view, this is the greatest challenge for the biogas industry. We would support a change of paradigm and see municipalities identifying their needs for biogas plants based on waste streams available in their surroundings ; the local authorities would then pre-authorise their biogas projects within certain conditions.”
On asking whether VARO plans to expand its portfolio outside of Europe, Cuenot pointed to the EU’s very ambitious goals of growing biomethane volumes tenfold by 2030. “VARO being mainly based in Europe will remain focused on the European markets. We might, however, consider worldwide opportunities, in the spirit of importing Bio-LNG into Europe,” he added.
On asking whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has increased interest in biogas, Cuenot said: “We are devastated by the events in Ukraine and we hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict as soon as possible.
“With EU efforts to become more energetically independent from Russia, all renewable energy solutions have been brought forward to the spotlight and it has indeed helped biogas to regain interest from the regulator and the investors. We believe that the biogas market is ready to further develop in order to fulfil the EU ambitions on biogas.”
Christian Cuenot’s presentation at the International Biogas Conference & Expo is entitled “Industrial-scale biomethane production to supply Bio-LNG”. He will look at the benefits and downsides of industrial-scale sites, and explore Bio-LNG for hard-to-decarbonise sectors.