"There is already a distribution battle today"

21 August 2019

Recycling Energie operates the largest biogas plant in Switzerland in Nesselnbach AG. In an interview with energate, Managing Director Werner Humbel explained, among other things, how he assesses the potential for biomass in Switzerland.

energate: Mr Humbel, the biogas plant in Nesselnbach has grown steadily over the years and now uses around a fifth of the food waste in Switzerland alone. How has the system developed recently?

Humbel: Today, we produce green electricity, biogas, waste heat, biodiesel and natural fertiliser and have an overall capacity utilisation of almost 100 percent.

energate: Is there an aspect that could be expanded?

Humbel: We would have enough waste heat to supply other customers, but cannot find any buyers in our catchment area. If there are any interested parties in the region, we would be happy to receive their enquiries. We still see potential for biodiesel, but we are currently concerned about the foreseeable end of the tax exemption for this energy source. This expires at the end of June 2020 and there is still no clear successor regulation.

energate: Is there a demand for biodiesel in Switzerland?

Humbel: The demand is there. We started producing biodiesel in 2002 and today the signs are generally different: Back then, nobody wanted to buy our biodiesel; today, the residual oils and waste required for production are considered raw materials and are in short supply.

energate: How many systems of the same size as the one in Nesselnbach could be realised in Switzerland using domestic biomass?

Humbel: There are around 130 biogas plants in Switzerland, seven of which are comparable to ours. As a rule, these plants utilise waste materials. Biomass is practically distributed throughout Switzerland. Nevertheless, the federal government has authorised a further 60 or so plants with feed-in tariffs. I assume that around half of these will be realised. Then waste utilisation in this country will be exhausted. There is already a distribution battle. So if more large-scale plants are added, the crowding out will begin.

energate: Will the domestic production of biogas in Switzerland be sufficient to meet the heating market targets of 30 per cent by 2030?

Humbel: In my opinion, one of the problems is that very few biogas plants are connected to the natural gas grid. This is often because no such network is available in the neighbourhood. Production is therefore also dependent on the conditions, not just the available raw materials. For our part, we were lucky enough to have a pipeline nearby and a large plant. This meant that the feed-in was profitable from day one. But even beyond that, the fact is that really large quantities of biogas in Switzerland will always be imported. On the production side, biogas will always remain a niche in this country in view of the total volume.

energate: What measures would be necessary from politicians with regard to biomass?

Humbel: In any case, it makes sense for Switzerland to continue to ensure that no food enters the biogas cycle in order to fulfil any targets, but only waste. Another important aspect is the expiry of investment subsidies in 2031, and we need to start thinking now about the time after that. In Swiss energy policy, the topic of renewable energies is treated very neglected even before this fact. Based on the current political situation, we at Recycling Energie AG would no longer produce electricity from biomass from 2031. Overall, we would like to see a longer-term energy policy that also allows for corresponding investments.

Source: energate-messenger.ch, 21.08.2019

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