Making renewable biomethane work in Southeast Asia

Desmond Godson's picture
Desmond Godson, CEO, Asia Biogas
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The production of biogas from wastewater in the Southeast Asia cassava starch industry is already widespread, where it is used as a fuel for process heat and power generation. Biogas production from cassava pulp and from widely available Oil Palm industry waste streams such as Palm Oil Mill Effluent and Empty Fruit Bunch is less common, but emerging as a huge opportunity. Just these two sectors, oil palm and cassava starch have potential to produce over 12.5 billion m3 methane per year in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Despite the huge potential, less than 25% is being exploited today. This is largely down to two factors:

  • Obstruction by the three national utilities who are not keen to advocate distributed generation
  • Lack of demand at the mill site for the energy.

For the biogas industry to expand and reach its potential we need to be upgrading the biogas to biomethane thus creating a more valuable fuel resource.

Biogas is produced from the anaerobic digestion of solid and liquid organic wastes and feedstocks. It varies in methane concentration between 50% to 70%, with the balance being typically CO2 and H2S. Biogas can be processed to increase the methane concentration and remove impurities, values up to 99.5% are achievable and selected depending upon the end use of the biomethane. 

Asia Biogas is currently developing projects which will produce as much as 30 tonnes per day of bioCNG from a single site - although not large these sites are distributed all across the region and can significantly reduce the cost of delivering natural gas to end users, while also being a renewable source of fuel. As with the electricity market, where solar is disrupting grid infrastructure by making distributed generation a reality, so too will biogas in key markets – producing both distributed electricity and also distributed renewable natural gas fuel across the region.

The key to success will be in utilising where possible existing gas infrastructure to transport and utilise clean locally produced biomethane. The obstructionist policies and attitudes of the large utilities can be overcome when they see biomethane not as a threat but as a reliable fuel which can be cofired with fossil fuel or utilised on a standby basis to support and balance the grid infrastructure. Likewise, the dominant fuel retailers in the region need to be encouraged to blend biomethane with natural gas to improve the quality of their fuel, their social contribution and reduce their environmental impact.

Share your insights and join the conversation: How do you see biomethane and natural gas working together in the next 5 years? Leave your comment below.

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