Biogas Growth

GE’s global reach gives it a bird’s eye view of biogas industry trends.
By Lisa Gibson | January 25, 2011

A Chilean water utility will install a GE Jenbacher biogas engine as part of a wastewater treatment plant expansion and effort to clean up the municipal water supply along the Mapocho River near the capital city of Santiago. Elsewhere, a leading waste-to-energy developer in the Philippines inaugurated the country’s first landfill gas power plant in December, also using a GE Jenbacher biogas engine.

With such installations all over the world, GE has a unique view of the global biogas industry and can offer a snapshot of its trends and growth. The company’s global marketing leader, Michael Wagner, says wastewater treatment and landfill gas applications have been booming in Western Europe for the past 10 to 20 years. “Meanwhile, we see this trend that these applications become global, driven by trends to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to utilize renewable and alternative energy,” he says.

Wagner sees significant growth in the 27 European Union member countries, driven by the region’s goal to reduce GHG emissions by 20 percent and increase renewable energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. Specifically, the number of biogas applications is increasing quickly in countries such as France and the U.K. In most European countries, the biogas boom stems from good incentives such as feed-in tariffs, and green certificates. “Investors need incentives and a long- or mid-term guarantee that over the payback time the investment will be feasible,” he says, adding that the U.S. needs similar incentives before it can realize meaningful growth.

Germany, for instance, has some of the best incentives in place to spur biogas project development, and therefore sees bigger growth in the industry, he cites. The country has more than 5,000 biogas production plants in both rural and urban areas, creating tens of thousands of jobs, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. The industry flourishes there because of a carbon tax, carbon cap-and-trade-system and feed-in tariffs.

Besides the EU, significant development is taking place in Southeast Asia, Wagner says, but not because of beneficial incentives. “There, it’s simply the availability of biomass,” he explains, citing a tremendous amount of organic waste streams.

Because of the logistics of biomass feedstock, the applications GE has contributed toward are small and decentralized, around 1 megawatt, avoiding significant fuel transportation issues. Wagner expects the EU biogas industry to continue to grow, but also sees tremendous potential for anaerobic digestion systems in the U.S., as demand increases. “We see a trend in the U.S. with increasing [interest] in decentralized power,” he says.

—Lisa Gibson