Biogas has acquired a new fillip in the wake of the Ukraine conflict in Europe. The latter wants to acquire independence from imported gas from Russia. Climate change targets have also influenced higher biogas targets in Europe and elsewhere.
Biogas is not something new; it started from China in the 1970s and spread all over the world later, initially for household use in rural areas. Its use is now spread over industrial, commercial and utilities uses.
Biogas is produced from biomass of all kind; agricultural waste, urban solid and liquid waste including food and sewerage, animal waste, etc. It helps keep cities and rural areas clean, reduces climate injurious emissions of Methane and builds a circular economy. Manure is produced as a byproduct which acts as a very good fertilizer.
One can guess the potential of biogas in mitigating climate change by the surprising fact that cows have been found to generate more emissions than cars on the average? Big companies have joined biogas movement; Shell has acquired biogas companies in Europe and Chevron has launched initiatives in the US.
China had more than 27.8 million household biogas users and more than 27000 medium and large capacity biogas/bio-methane plants by 2012. India had 4.54 million small household units by the same time. India plans to install 5000 large bio-methane/Bio-CNG plants over the next five years.
In Pakistan, biogas has remained at low key although its initiatives have been launched many decades ago. Technology has improved in the meantime. Gas availability has reduced and prices have been increasing.
Industries in rural areas have started making and using biogas. Several large-scale projects are under consideration. Nothing happens in Pakistan without government policy support. We will discuss here the need and scope of the required biogas policy.
There are following six biogas use areas that have to be addressed; 1. Biogas for rural homes; 2.Community biogas; 3.Industrial use; 4. Transportation use as CNG; 5. Biogas for gas networks; and 6.Integrated Biogas plants for large cities.
Biogas is of two types: (a) uncleaned and unprocessed gas containing Methane (60%) and CO2 and other extra gases (40%).House and Community use does not require cleaning; (b) Biogas cleaned of extra gases is almost pure Methane and is usually referred to as Bio-Methane. We have used a commonly used terms biogas unless differentiation is required.
Biogas for households
PCRET is a technology and research centre in Pakistan on Biogas and other RE subjects, while NRSP had been tasked for assistance in building small household Biogas units in rural areas. NRSP is reported to have built 5000 or so units and seems to be inactive now. There is a need to launch new initiatives by provincial and federal government.
New technologies have emerged in the meantime. Factory-made plastic cylindrical units have been developed, are cheap and have been found to be quite effective. This may decrease lead time and reduce logistics and skills requirement in the older type brick-made units.
A plastic cylinder unit may cost under Rs 15,000 and brick type may cost around Rs 50,000. Credit and financial assistance can also help popularize biogas units in the household sector. A target of several million units in a five-year plan should be there. This would alleviate pressure in expanding gas system network and also would help alleviate tree-cutting.
Biomass cookers have come up in competition with biogas’. Biogas units are usually installed where animal waste is available, while biomass cookers are used where solid agro biomass such as crop residue, tree and plant cuttings and shrubs etc.
Dry Biomass material is burnt in biomass cookers .It can be more popular where biomass is available almost free. However, biomass pellets are commercially available as well.
Biomass cookers are available in the market at a price of Rs.2500- 5000. Unfortunately, it requires some electricity to run its mini-blower. Biomass cookers are mobile, can be used in open areas with facility. Users are more at ease when using it.
A project of distributing 1 million units would cost Rs 2 billion. By comparison there are 10 million gas users in Pakistan. A credit and concessional scheme may be able to distribute and benefit several million households. It can be a big vote catcher, speaking politically.
LPG-Air mix plants are being built, Biogas which costs less than 50% of LPG, can replace LPG or be used in consonance. LPG-Air-mix plants have been designed for 1000 households. Much cheaper and for smaller clusters of 100-200 units can be made where there is cattle population.
Local bodies may be assigned and encouraged to build community gas plants instead of pressurizing gas companies to expand uneconomic networks. Unhygienic Uplah practice and visibility can be reduced or done away with. A simple community biogas plant can cost around Rs 1 million or more depending on capacity.
Integrated plants for large cities
Integrated units can be built in large cities combining solid waste and sewerage treatment and management. There are households generating solid and liquid waste, food outlets, vegetable markets, slaughter-houses and Milk-colonies, etc., which all can provide gas rich raw material that could economize all social cleaning services and provide fuels. City management, local bodies and gas companies may form a consortium.
A significant policy work is required to build project models solving cost and benefit sharing, costing, tariff, management and finance. Gas companies may play a major role at the end of biogas production, while City managements may play a major role on collection side.
A large number of CNG plants are lying unutilized due to lack of gas availability and falling economics. CNG can reduce pollution by substituting petrol and diesel in a significant way. Semi-urban-rural areas which may not have gas but having cattle population should attract investment in Bio-CNG.
Bio-CNG pumps may also like to produce biogas nearby (a few kilometers away).There may be many ways of cooperation such as consortia forming. There can be father-mother configurations as well. No wonder that in India, Bio-CNG is attracting a lot of attention. It is being sold cheaper or at competitive rates.
Biogas for industries
Rural industries or industries located nearby rural areas can build their own biogas plants. Industries can build far-off plants and transmit their biogas through gas companies’ network. There is an open access policy approved by OGRA already.
Biogas — a big business
Cleaned biogas (Bio-Methane) is required for non-household uses. For pumping in the gas network also, cleaned biogas (Bio-Methane) is required. Unlike typical small and old type image, Bio-Methane plants are capital intensive. It may cost 6-50 million USD per plant, depending on the plant or cluster capacity.
These are indicative European figures. Indigenization can significantly reduce capital cost. A plant size may be typically of 1-10 mmcfd, as much as a small gas field may be producing or an LNG terminal. Thus it requires a sophisticated business, financing and technical framework. Minimum regulatory framework and hurdles is suggested. Open unregulated pricing is recommended.100-500 Bio-Methane plants can be envisaged for a 200-500 mmcfd market.
Towards a policy framework
Considering the above background, a policy framework is required. Perhaps the framework, as usual, can be built under a technical assistance programme of a bilateral or multilateral agency, which may provide both technical and financial assistance in the form of technical grants and concessional credit lines etc.
As gas transmission and other issues are involved, the federal government may initially take the initiative with the involvement of provincial governments and private sector. It is to be a totally private sector based initiative in terms of business and implementation.
However, for initial launching work, federal and private governments may have to play their role. Oil and Gas companies may be encouraged to initiate installing the larger plants.
Finally, it is not meant here to propose Biogas as a panacea. However, it has a potential to meet a significant share (20%) of the gas demand. It will also add to the energy security as it is a domestic resource and is distributed throughout the country. Let’s get going.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023