An English village becomes self-sufficient thanks to biogas

Re-publication of an article by Mario A. Rosé on Agronotizie

Bureaucracy and Nimby at Italian levels, but perhaps with clearer regulations.

The political debate of the last month has focused on the consequences for the Italian economy of the international embargo on Russian gas. Despite the Guidelines contained in the communication of the Ce REPowerEU and the Spanish example of a quick and pragmatic reaction to the supply problem, the only answer that Italian politics was able to find was simply to replace dependence on Russia with dependence on other countries. Inter alia, not all democratic or politically stable.

Read also

Biogas and independence from Russian gas: Spain will beat Italy on time?

According to the president of the Italian Biogas Consortium (Cib), Piero Gattoni, to increase by 20% the production of existing biogas plants would be enough only to reduce the bureaucratic burden. Moreover, says Gattoni, the delay in issuing clearer rules on the injection of biomethane into the network has slowed the construction of new plants, which today would be able to replace the 30% of natural gas imports. A delay what time the Government tries to compensate by desperately seeking alternatives abroad.

Meanwhile, the Parliament Italian perseveres in Byzantine discussions on the possibility of reintroducing nuclear power or install more solar panels on the roofs to solve the energy crisis, a small English village has reached the paradigm of’circular economy and l’energy self-sufficiency. South Molton is a rural village with 4.093 inhabitants located in Devon, about 300 miles west of London. L’Condate biogas plant (Opening photo of the article), placed at approx 1,5 kilometers from the town center, produces enough renewable electricity for 2.300 families, and gas for 4.600.

It is one of several plants belonging to the Ixora Energy Group. It is equipped with two cogenerators from 500 kW and an upgrading system with capacities up to 600 m3/h. It looks a lot like any of the over a thousand existing plants in Italy, except for two details: the design choice to install two cogenerators in parallel instead of the usual engine from 1 MW, and the simultaneous production of electricity and biomethane, still a rarity in our country due to unclear regulations.

Thanks to the general manager, Mr Darren Stockley, who kindly gave us his time to answer our questions, we offer our readers a summary on the general state of simultaneous electricity and biomethane production in the UK.

Years ago, in Italy it was allowed to feed the digesters with up to 100% of dedicated crops, and many old plants still operate on this diet. After the revision of the Red II, the limit for new plants has been set at 30% of the total weight in feed. Since the UK is no longer subject to the EU regulations, what are the percentages of dedicated crops and residues / by-products in your feed mixture?

“New plants in the UK must be powered with at least 50% of agricultural residues. Our plants are not subject to this rule, so we can operate with mixtures containing the 20-50% of agricultural residues. Condate works with the 20% of agricultural residues. We are constantly trying to identify new sources of agricultural residues to increase their percentage in the feed mix”.

In your web page it says that Ixora Energy pays local farmers for their manure and by-products. Calculate the price based on measurements of the Bmp of each lot? Or take the German approach, based on Bmp tables?

“We pay farmers based on the content of Ss, Dry substance, of their supplies. We have contracts for the entire life of the plant (15 years) and the price per ton of dry matter is updated every year by an independent expert who reviews their costs”.

Return the digestate to the farmers free of charge or make them pay for it as fertilizer?

“We give it to him for free backards, but we do not allow them to charge us with artificial fertilizer costs in the by-products we buy”.

How do you manage digestate?

“We separate the solid and liquid fractions. The solid is applied directly to the ground. The liquid fraction is currently used as a liquid fertilizer, but we are working with several British and European companies to extract and recycle water. This is an area for which we are very interested in finding a solution”.

Recover the residual heat from the cogenerator and / or the CO2 from the upgrading system for some use?

“The heat is recovered, but only to reduce the humidity of the digestate. We are evaluating several options to make the best use of heat for hydroponic and vertical farming. We are also modifying our plants to capture CO2 for its use in the food industry”.

You have designed the Condate plant from the beginning for the simultaneous production of electricity and biomethane? Or you started as an electrical system and then added biomethane production at a later time?

“It was designed from the outset for the production of electricity and gas. Gas production is limited only by the extent of the pipeline serving our community”.

What are the electrical and biomethane rated powers?

“The flow rate of biomethane to the pipeline is approx 500 m3/h, and the electric power is 1 MW (of which 400 kW represent the self-consumption of the system)”.

The production of electricity and gas are simultaneous, or the electric generator is switched off when biomethane is produced?

“Before, enough electricity is produced to power the plant, then gas production is maximized, then the electric one. Therefore, the production is simultaneous.

How much time did you waste for the bureaucratic procedures before getting permission to start construction and operation?

“They have passed 12-18 months to obtain the building and environmental permits needed to start construction. Lately this problem has gotten worse in the UK, despite the need to become energy self-sufficient”.

There were local protest committees, or spreading fake news on biogas in an attempt to block your project? How did you solve the problem?

“Condate was not a problem, but we have other plants that suffer from the protests of the neighbors. This situation has worsened with the use of social networks. To overcome this problem, we try to invite as many people as possible to visit the site and show them that the rumors about biogas plants are incorrect. We also try to dialogue with local politicians to show the benefits that the plant provides to the environment”.

How the sale of electricity and gas is organized in England? Sell ​​gas and electricity directly to the municipality or to a distributor that owns a local network? Or inject them into the national grid?

“We directly inject gas and electricity into national networks. We sell the production to private energy companies such as BP / Total / EDF, which they resell to the final consumer”.

British regulations recognize a rewarded rate compared to market prices, or subsidize the construction of the plant, or recognize only a fixed proportional to the nominal power of the system?

“We receive a subsidized payment based on actual gas and electricity production. Payment is made monthly by the Government and we must demonstrate our environmental performance by providing detailed information. Everything is regularly checked”.

summing up: the situation in England does not seem so different from the Italian one. Over-regulation seems to be a recurring problem both inside and outside the EU.

England benefits from greater flexibility in the use of dedicated crops to feed the digesters and slightly shorter administrative times, though 12-18 months is not a very short time if we consider the urgency of global climate change. The anaerobic digestion technology of the Condate plant is Central European, as in the majority of Italian plants. The logic of state incentives on biomethane and electricity products, as well as the way these incentives are administered, they look similar in both countries.

Comparing the statistics of energy production from biogas on a national scale, we observe some interesting additional differences on the evolution of both markets (Photo 1).

Graphic: Energy production

Photo 1: Official data on English production. Official data on Italian production. Conversion factors to be able to compare data from different sources: 1 TJ = 23,8846 TEP e 1 GWh = 85,9845 TEP

(Click on the image to enlarge)

The reason for which the biogas industry is growing faster in the UK than in Italy it seems to be legislation.

In Italy, the biogas boom began years earlier than in England, but Italian policies have remained static and at times alternately contradictory, therefore the Italian anaerobic digestion market is still strong globally, but stagnant. In the United Kingdom, the sector expanded between 2009 and the 2017 under the legislation known as Renewables Obligation (RO), main incentive mechanism for large renewable energy projects. In March 2017 RO is over and most of the significant growth in energy produced by anaerobic digestion is attributed to various mechanisms, specially designed to provide sufficient financial incentives to reduce the cost gap between conventional and renewable energy sources.

A example of these is the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (Rhi, incentive for the production of heat for non-domestic use), which provides payments to encourage the production of renewable heat, both through direct production (combustion of biogas on site) and injection of biomethane into the network. In Italy, there is no direct combustion support policy for the production of heat from biogas. Incentives for heat recovery from cogenerators are not attractive to investors and plants capable of producing electricity and biomethane are just a handful.

Then, we deduce that the culprits of the stagnation of the biogas industry in Italy are bureaucracy and short-sighted policies. Elementary, Watson!

Biogas and independence from Russian gas: Spain will beat Italy on time?

advanced digester prototype

Re-publication of an article by Mario A. Rosé on Agronotizie.

The Spanish Council of Ministers approves the Guidelines to encourage biogas in record time.

Last 22 March the Spanish Council of Ministers approved the Guidelines on the Development of the Biogas Sector (full text in Spanish in This Page). A draft of the same had been submitted for public consultation in September 2021, receiving several suggestions from the Spanish trade associations which were included in the final document.

The conflict in Ukraine and the consequent price increase of fossil fuels pushed the European Commission to an official position with its Communication to European Parliament: REPowerEU: common European action for safer energy, more sustainable and at more affordable prices (Italian texts of the Communication and related annexes in This Page).

For several years the Spanish government has been trying to catch up on the development of renewable energies caused by previous governments. The war in Ukraine and the European thrusts have served to overcome the ideological discussions between the various parties at once, finding a agreement for the common good. This should be the norm in any democracy, but in a country that is culturally very similar to Italy, an agreement between parties based on scientific criteria is a rarity that constitutes news.

In a nutshell, the Guidelines just approved foresee:

  • Overcoming i 10,4 TWh, which means to multiply by 3,8 current biogas production by 2030 strengthening the circular economy and stopping the exodus of the rural population by creating new supply chains. It is expected to avoid the emission into the atmosphere of about 2,1 million tons of CO2 equivalent to the year.
  • Create a system of guarantees of origin for renewable gas, already in progress, with the possibility of setting objectives and entry quotas to develop the market.
  • Activate an aid line to implement biogas projects, for a value of 150 million euros, borne by the Recovery Plan, Transformation and Resilience (Prtr).

The Spanish strategy does not leave out any potentially fermentable matrix or push for a concrete model: agricultural waste, Forsu and mud will be used to produce electricity, industrial heat or traction biomethane. It is important to note that the Spaniards included in the plan the production of heat directly from biogas to be used in the same digestion plant or in small district heating networks.. Thermal use is the most logical and economical for biogas, but it has never been taken into consideration by the production model imposed in Europe which sees electricity generation or upgrading to biomethane as the only valid options, much more expensive and complex.

The Spanish plan to incentivize biogas includes 45 measures divided into five lines of action:

  • Regulatory tools. A guarantee of origin system will be created so that consumers can distinguish whether they purchase energy from biogas or natural gas. The simplification of the authorization procedures and above all the homogenization of the interpretations made by local authorities is expected – due to delays in Spain as in Italy – in particular with regard to the sustainable management of digestate as fertilized. On this last point, the reading of the text gives a glimpse of a somewhat approach’ leopard: the Spanish laws are simply listed which contain more or less the same ideological vices as the infamous Effluents Decree and the concept of “end of waste” – end of the legal status of refusal – for it is not clear what the simplification will be. As in Italy, digestate from sewage sludge will continue to be excluded from agricultural use.

Read also

The point of the situation on the Effluents Decree

  • Sectoral instruments. The possibility of defining annual targets for sales volumes or biogas consumption is established, mandatory quotas, as is done for example with liquid biofuels. It is proposed to encourage the production of biogas with the aim that it is consumed in situ, for example as process heat in the agri-food industry or in the waste treatment process, or in vehicle fleets. In accordance with the ideology of Green Deal and the anti-biomethane ideology of the Spanish right is mentioned the possibility of injecting biomethane into the grid or converting biogas into hydrogen, provided that it proves economically viable.

Read also

Hydrogen from biomethane, biomethane from hydrogen

  • Economic tools. It is proposed to divert existing aid funds (national programs) to finance the innovation and technological development of biogas and also take advantage of the Recovery Plan, Transformation and Resilience (Prtr). Apparently, the latter already provided for aid actions to the biogas sector, therefore its inclusion in the new Guidelines would seem rather a reminder or a kind of harmonization of measures.
  • Cross tools. An effort will be made to prioritize biogas projects in disadvantaged areas, to introduce it in public procurement specifications. The study of anaerobic digestion technology will be included among the technical training subjects. Citizen awareness campaigns will be organized to improve the quality of separate waste collection. The creation of rural energy communities and working groups within agricultural cooperatives will be facilitated to facilitate its implementation. The participation and coordination of research projects financed by the’European Union.
  • Driving research and development. Promote research into techniques for reducing emissions of contaminating gases that are not greenhouse gases, promote demonstration projects on the thermal use of biogas in industry and agriculture or innovation on less mature digestion technologies. It is not clear what the relationship of biogas with i is “non-greenhouse gas contaminants”, what these gases are or why some of the resources that should be used to promote biogas should be diverted to this small research niche. Whereas about the 60% of biomass (vegetable) when fed to the digester it comes out without being digested, the priority of research should be to increase digestion efficiency at all costs.

Read also

Digestate re-digestion and thermophilic digestion

The provision of the Spanish government provides us some food for thought:

  • Although Spain is a country that is less methanized and less dependent on Russian gas than Italy, ideology “anti biogas” it weighs less among the Spanish parties. The fear of war made it possible to find an agreement relatively quickly despite the extreme fragmentation of political forces and regional parochialisms that characterize our Iberian cousins.
  • The institutional attitude towards methane is more pragmatic – to put it mildly – in Spain than in Italy. To example, the project of the regasification plant in the port of Mugardos (A Coruna) has been exempted from the Environmental Impact Assessment (Via). In Italy, instead, the opposition to regasification terminal in the port of Trieste it demonstrated the ideological myopia and parochialism that characterize the Italian political class: for the then regional president Debora Serracchiani “it is incompatible with the Town Plan”; for the then minister Carlo Calenda “it is not strategic”; for the regional councilor Sara Vito is “oversized for the needs of the region”; e for the deputy Aris Prodani the Via had to be revoked due to a series of bureaucratic quibbles. The conspiracy hypotheses around the project are those common to the “committees of the no” and al M5S. We report a item as an example whose author hides behind a nickname.
    In a civilized country, a work of the scale of a regasification plant should be evaluated in a logical and rational way, with a view to the long-term national interest. Nor with the parochial conspiracy attitude of Friuli Venezia Giulia, but not even with an uncritical acceptance as in the Galician project.
  • The Spanish plan acknowledges and aims to enhance the environmental benefits of anaerobic digestion. The goal of a partial self-sufficiency on methane is therefore not an end in itself, but included in a broader circular economy perspective. In Italy, instead, we find an opposite example in the Autonomous Province of Trento where it is planned to methanize 47 mountain municipalities that would be perfectly self-sufficient with a modern and rational management of forest biomass.
    As the president of the Italian Federation for Renewable Energy (fiber), Walter Righini, in a press release: “In our country, the energy-programmable agroforestry complex would be able, if oriented properly, to avoid the import of at least 13 billions of cubic meters of natural gas, all with a very important financial impact on the national economic system. It deals with, indeed, of a value equal to 35/40% of the import of gas from Russia recorded in 2021, which today translates to 27-40 billion euros / year”. Among the points highlighted by President Righini, in his speech, there was also the importance of encouraging the development of biomethane for transport.
  • As for the issue of greenhouse gases it is as obvious as the politicians (and not only those of Rome and Madrid) they bring up the argument to defend their positions, without, however, having any scientific evaluation criteria. We have already pointed out in other articles the conceptual errors in the European doctrine of clean hydrogen (Biomass hydrogen and Green Deal e The return of biohydrogen) and also those of the no biogas political groups (I “committees of the no” and the vademecum no biogas and biomass e What future for bioenergy in the next legislature?). The commonplace is the demonization of conventional agriculture and livestock farming, guilty of methane emissions. The irrefutable reality is quite different. According to the data collected by the European satellite Ghgsat, the most technologically advanced tool for identifying methane emissions into the atmosphere, the contribution of agriculture and livestock is irrelevant. The main emitters of methane are the fossil fuel mining industries (Petroleum, natural gas and coal), followed by waste dumps (Photo 1). The emissions of Europe count for very little in the global balance, the main emitter of methane is China, followed at a great distance by the USA and Russia (Photo 2).


Methane emissions into the atmosphere by product sector

Photo 1: Methane emissions into the atmosphere by product sector. Ghgsat surveys, Relationship 2021, texts in Italian by the author

(Click on the image to enlarge)


Atmospheric methane emissions related to the coal mining industry

Photo 2: Methane emissions into the atmosphere related to the coal mining industry. Ghgsat surveys, Relationship 2021. Four mines in China and one opencast in Kazakhstan emit about the same as all other coal mines in the rest of the world

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Personal reflections of the author

Autarchy was a valid political philosophical concept (perhaps) at the time of the Cyrene philosophers, but it is utopian for an industrialized and interconnected society like that of the twenty-first century. But, without falling into the illusions of the fascist era – even those without a logical or scientific basis – it is undeniable that a certain amount of self-sufficiency – based on circular economy criteria – and a policy of diversification of resources – based on common sense – are essential to ensure the energy resilience of a nation.
By overcoming party ideologies in a timely manner to respond to the energy crisis in one's country, Spanish politics has given us a little lesson in pragmatism. The Italian political class, in the meantime, continues to waste time debating the moral and ethical implications of supplying or not supplying arms to Ukraine, or whether to allocate the 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (Pil) military spending will anger the Pope or whether Senator A or Deputy B are “Putinians”. According to the Savoyard philosopher Joseph De Maistre (1753-1821), “Every nation has the government it deserves”. But what have we done to deserve a government of Crocian pseudo philosophers for whom emotional reactions matter more than logic or science??



Manure biomethane is more sustainable than hydrogen

Re-release of a article by Mario A. Rosato on Agronotizie

The Jrc (Joint research centre, Joint Research Center) is the institution that coordinates the European scientific community and elaborates the technical-scientific reports on which the European Parliament should then define its development policies. The last one studio on energy efficiency ed CO emissions2 in the transport sector was released in late September 2020. It is a colossal analytical work, which includes beyond 1.500 combinations of energy carriers and production and conversion technologies.

Continue reading “Manure biomethane is more sustainable than hydrogen”

Liquefied biomethane and agricultural plants

Much has been said about biomethane injected into the natural gas network, also in the webinars organized by Agroenergia. Certainly important players in the waste sector have traced the path for the development of this sector, not only in the center-north but also in the south, albeit so far to a limited extent compared to the need for use in automotive, but with good prospects in the short term and even more interesting if the reference decree of 2018 to encourage the conversion of agro-zootechnical plants.

The combination of biomethane produced by the fermentation of the organic fraction fits optimally into the circularity of the economy if this product is self-consumed by a fleet of methane vehicles used for separate collection or service or feeds a fleet of city buses: all means using CNG - gas compressed to more than 200 bar.

Continue reading “Liquefied biomethane and agricultural plants”

The state of biomethane plants in Italy: some considerations in view of a new decree

This article aims to examine the state of development of biomethane in Italy, object of 3 seminari on line, between October and November 2020, taking up some arguments made with Snam and Federmetano, on this occasion. More than two years after the second decree came into force and seven years after the first, the effects of which had been virtually nil.

Of course, all this time, the market has become fully aware of the reality of biomethane as an important and sustainable energy source, and there are many new economic entities that have entered this sector, whose importance has been fully enhanced by Snam, the largest national operator of the gas network.

With the second decree on biomethane, the legislator has treasured the lessons learned with the former, starting from the method. The decree was in fact born after six months of consultation with the operators concerned and has a coherent and well-articulated approach, concentrated, according to a shared logic, on the priority to the transport destination, in light of the delay in this sector, compared to other renewable energy sectors, and without forgetting the strength of the national industrial chain in natural gas transportation.

Continue reading “The state of biomethane plants in Italy: some considerations in view of a new decree”

The selection of the inoculum for the biogas plant – III Part

Easy Methane Lab

For each by-product its digestate!

Re-publication of an article by Mario A. Rosé on Agronotizie

In Part I of this article we have explained how an anaerobic digestion system works by comparing it with a “breeding of bacteria”. For the proper functioning of a biogas plant, its manager must know how to choose the inoculum according to the by-products with which the digester will be fed, just as a breeder chooses the breed to breed according to the business purpose, for example dairy or beef cattle. On the sidelines of the verification of methanogenic activity (SMA) – explained in Part II of this article – it is important to verify the ability of the inoculum to degrade complex organic matrices, such as cellulose, proteins and fats.

Continue reading “The selection of the inoculum for the biogas plant – III Part”

How to select the inoculum for the biogas plant – Part II

BRS bioprocess control

The specific methanogenic activity (High school): realization and interpretation of the test results.

Re-publication of an article by Mario A. Rosé on Agronotizie

In Part I of this article we have illustrated how the biological activity of an inoculum is measured by introducing a certain amount of reference substrate into a test reactor and verifying that for each gram of COD (Chemical oxygen demand) are produced at least 350 Ncm3 of methane.

Let's analyze in this Part II of article le peculiarities of the test of Specific Methanogenic Activity (High school).

Continue reading “How to select the inoculum for the biogas plant – Part II”

How to select the inoculum for the biogas plant – Part I


The specific methanogenic activity (High school): a very useful test but still to be normalized. Re-publication of an article by Mario A. Rosé on Agronotizie

“I often say that when you canto measure what you are talking about, and express it in numbers, thensai something of it; but if you can'tmeasure it, if you can't express it in numbers, your knowledge is meager and unsatisfactory; it can be the beginning of knowledge, but he will not have allowed you, in your mind, to advance in the progress ofscience, whatever the discipline”.
  William Thomson, The Barons of Kelvin (Lesson on “Electrical units of measurement”, 3 May 1883)

Continue reading “How to select the inoculum for the biogas plant – Part I”

The biological self-management of the biogas plant


Re-publication of an article by Mario A. Rosé on Agronotizie

Optimally manage a biogas plant it means becoming a "breeder of bacteria".
Like farm animals, i battery they do their best if they are kept in conditions that are optimal for them, it is therefore essential to monitor the various aspects that affect the functioning of the entire anaerobic system. It is known to all that the different manufacturers and some independent workshops, offer biological care service.
Typically all of these services have a weakness: the results are not provided in real time. Moreover, the analyzes provided, generally they only concern the dynamics of the anaerobic degradation process, but not the verification of the biomass quality – silage or by-products that are – with which the system is powered.

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Biomass hydrogen and Green Deal: It is possible to circumvent the Laws of Thermodynamics with an EC directive?

Re-publication of an article by Mario A. Rosé on Agronotizie.

L’European Green Deal (Italian text in This Page), strongly supported by the Von der Leyen administration, is the manifesto that the European political class proposes as a recipe for:

“... build a Europe in which there will be no local pollution, nor loss of biodiversity, nor global impact on the climate, nor energy poverty, businesses will be competitive, the just and prosperous society, and no one will be left behind”.

Read with a critical spirit, purely technical and devoid of ideological bias, the document looks more like a utopian wish list than a guideline, because there is a lack of concrete actions to achieve the set objectives. The content includes several claims that are not supported by any evidence, For example:
“The rapid decrease in the cost of renewable energy, combined with a better definition of support policies, has already reduced the impact of renewable energy on household energy bills” (sic).

Continue reading “Biomass hydrogen and Green Deal: It is possible to circumvent the Laws of Thermodynamics with an EC directive?”