While in the Czech Republic biogas is mostly used for electricity and heat production, many countries in Western Europe are purifying it in large quantities to natural gas quality, so-called biomethane. The first projects of this type are already in operation in the Czech Republic, allowing biomethane to be injected into the gas grid or used, for example, as a transport fuel. Experts say that this is one of the reasons why biomethane stations in the country will be located near major cities in the coming years. The development of biomethane production is also supported by the European Union, which sees it as a local sustainable source of energy. The Czech Republic is gradually preparing for a greater expansion of this technology by setting more favourable technical and economic conditions for its producers.

While the Czech Republic is at the very beginning of the introduction of such solutions, the number of such solutions is growing rapidly in other European countries. According to the latest statistics from Gas Infrastructure Europe, the largest number of biomethane stations is currently in France. In the first ten months of last year, more than 120 were added there, the most of any European country. The other countries where the number of biomethane stations has grown fastest in recent years are Denmark and Italy. “There is a great tradition in the use of biomethane in Sweden and Switzerland, for example, while the second largest number of plants can be found in Germany,” said Jan Matějka, vice-chairman of the board of the Czech Biogas Association. He added that the association is trying to support the creation of optimal conditions for biomethane production and trade within the REGATRACE project from the European Horizon 2020 programme.

According to him, the situation in individual countries is mainly influenced by subsidy policy. This fact ultimately speaks to the current situation in the Czech Republic. “Until 2015, hundreds of biogas plants were built in the country, using biogas to produce electricity and heat, which was supported by operating subsidies. However, this is not in place for the production of biomethane, which creates an economic barrier to the creation of such projects,” said Petr Novotný of the Institute of Circular Economy, adding that the situation is slowly changing.

Martin Schwarz, head of the biomethane section of the Czech Biomass Association CZ BIOM, shares a similar view in this regard. According to him, the countries with the most developed injection of biomethane into the gas network have not only introduced financial support for biomethane producers, but have also reduced technical barriers to connection to the gas network. “In the Czech Republic, support for biomethane producers has not been announced and technical constraints still exist,” he said.

First projects in the Czech Republic

One of them this year should be a biomethane station in Litomyšl on the premises of the local agricultural cooperative. “The project will be unique in the Czech Republic in its scope. The current biogas plant used for cogeneration of electricity and heat should be used for the production of biomethane, which will be injected into a high-pressure gas pipeline. In addition, biomethane will be available for automotive transport within the CNG station,” said Monika Zitterbartová, Executive Director of Hutira green gas, which is responsible for the implementation of this project in cooperation with the parent company Hutira – Brno.

According to Jan Pechanec, the director of the Litomyšl Agricultural Breeders and Growers Cooperative, the main reason for building the biomethane and CNG station was to make meaningful use of the heat generated during electricity production. “Thanks to the upgrading of biogas to the quality of natural gas, we are able to use almost all the energy generated by fermentation at our agricultural biogas station. The treatment technology should bring some simplification and cheapening of the whole energy recovery process,” he added.

Share of biomethane in the gas grid up to 5 percent

The very fact that there is no efficient use for the heat at the moment of its production and it is wasted is typical of many other domestic biogas plants. “If biomethane is produced instead, it can be delivered to the grid and stored there, or used efficiently elsewhere. The problem is that not all biogas plants can be connected to the gas grid,” said Petr Novotný. According to him, however, by 2030 there may be around a hundred projects in the Czech Republic that will produce biomethane.

An even more optimistic view is offered by Martin Schwarz, according to whom all the current biogas plants in the Czech Republic, of which there are around 550, can produce biomethane in eight years. However, it will depend not only on whether meaningful financial support is set up for biomethane producers, but also whether it will be legislatively possible to inject biomethane into medium-pressure gas pipelines. According to Novotný, the total share of this medium in the domestic gas network reaches a potential of around five percent. Some European countries already have more than half the share of biomethane in their networks.

Situated near larger cities

Matějka says that whether there could be a complete paradigm shift in the future, so that biogas from biogas plants or wastewater treatment plants is primarily used for biomethane instead of electricity and heat production, will depend primarily on electricity and gas prices. If they are in the same range as at present, existing biogas plants will have no reason to change technology. “They will be used without operational support from the state and biomethane will be a question of building new plants,” he added.

According to Monika Zitterbartová, other biomethane stations in the Czech Republic will often be located near cities. “This is often due to the shorter distance for connection to the gas grid and the possibility to use biomethane as a fuel for public transport or waste collection. We therefore expect that further biomethane projects will be located mainly near larger towns, whether they are upgrades of existing biogas plants or the construction of new ones,” concluded the CEO of Hutira green gas.