Biogas – Easy to Underestimate

Biogas has far more benefits to society than simply being a non-fossil fuel, and its use contributes to all of the UN’s sustainable development goals. These conclusions have recently been presented in a report by Linda Hagman and Mats Eklund of the Biogas Research Center.

biogas

The report has been drawn up under the auspices of the EU project “Prestudy for regional development of biogas infrastructure”, commissioned by the Biogas Öst organisation. Linda Hagman, doctoral student at the Division for Environmental Technology and Management, Linköping University, and the Biogas Research Center, BRC, has plumbed the depths of the scientific literature published during the past 20 years.

“I have critically examined which of the benefits of biogas have been described scientifically. Some benefits are well documented, particularly within agriculture, while other benefits have not been studied so deeply. Few researchers, for example, have applied a systems perspective and taken an overall view,” she says.

She has, despite this, found support in the scientific literature that the use of biogas contributes to all 17 of the UN’s sustainable development goals. Some contributions are direct while others, such as contributions to gender equality and quality education for all, are rather more indirect.

“I was really surprised, but the contribution of biogas to all of the UN’s sustainable development goals is well-supported in the literature,” she says.

She has divided the study into sections and looked at the use of biogas, at the material that remains after digestion (known as the “digestate”), at waste material management, and at societal effects of biogas use. Thirty-four different benefits are described, such as a reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide, self-sufficiency in energy, the use of non-fossil fuels, heat and electricity, a reduction in toxins used in agriculture, better economy for farmers, more efficient use and circulation of nutrients, more efficient water purification, more efficient use of resources, a reduction in methane emission to the atmosphere, job creation and economic growth. These benefits arise in the industrialised part of the world, and in developing countries in which the use of biogas can contribute to economic growth to an even higher degree.

“When discussing biogas here in Sweden, it is regarded as a fuel for vehicles and nothing more, but the benefits are very much greater than this,” Linda Hagman points out.

Mats Eklund, professor in environmental technology and management and director of the BRC, is worried about the development of non-fossil fuels in Sweden.

“Several non-fossil fuels with extremely good sustainability profiles, such as ethanol, biogas and RME are currently produced in Sweden. The levels of production and use are not significantly rising for any of them. We see as researchers that use of the best alternatives is not increasing, despite the ambitious environmental objectives. Our role as researchers is to reach conclusions based on evidence, but there is a risk that government agencies and politicians will view research as just another group with vested interests.

Mats Eklund also points out that the only non-fossil fuel whose use is increasing is HVO. This is imported, and does not provide any of the dynamic effects that fuels produced in Sweden do.

Another problem he describes is that no single government agency has the task of seeing the complete picture, and this makes it particularly difficult to make use of the societal benefits of fuel produced in Sweden.

“It’s high time that politicians in this field focus on long-term sustainability and not solely on achieving freedom from fossil-based fuels. If the goals are to be reached, all positive alternatives must be used, and we can no longer sit and wait.”