Over the last thirty years, the use of biogas as a renewable fuel source has not only become a well-understood field of expertise, it has also become an attractive investment as it fulfils many of the criteria laid down by legislation designed to meet International targets of reducing GHGs (Green House Gases). Even with the rise of scepticism on the part of influential legislators, the momentum, in terms of transposing the basis of our base energy supply, appears to be unstoppable. Biogas, and its use as a viable fuel, offers a small but important component within the armoury of weapons being deployed against the increasingly evident threat of climate change.
Biogas is generated by the degradation of organic waste produced by agriculture, or by the accumulation of organic material from urban waste in landfill sites. Traditionally, it is an environmental problem in that methane, a major component of biogas, is highly explosive and is more than 21 times more effective as a GHG than CO2. However, the many projects that have successfully used biogas to generate energy, mostly in the form of electricity, and thus reducing its uncontrolled release to the atmosphere, have clearly demonstrated that biogas projects are a viable alternative for both increasing renewable energy capacity and directly removing a highly toxic GHG from the environment whilst, at the same time, displacing the use of fossil fuels as a primary fuel for energy production.
Legislation for controlling biogas (or, to focus on its main active component, biomethane), which effectively legitimises its place within the spectrum of fuels that can be employed for the generation of energy, has been enacted at both national and international levels in many countries around the world. The purpose is not only to reduce environmental contamination but also to promote its use as a mechanism to ensure that legally binding environmental targets are met.
Indonesia’s reliance on fossil fuels to meet increasing domestic energy demand has made it among the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. Following ratification of the Paris Agreement, Indonesia indicated that it would be targeting a 26% and 29% GHG emission reduction rate by 2020 and 2030 respectively. This, unfortunately, is some way from being achieved as, over the past five years, energy generation using coal has increased by around 12.2 GW. This compares with only 1.6 GW of renewable energy and planned capacity additions for renewables have been slashed in favour of coal.
Indonesia produces a large amount of organic material that is currently being underutilised or simply dumped. There is little doubt that biogas offers significant environmental and social benefits as a locally generated energy source throughout Indonesia.
Like any other engineering project, a biogas-to-energy project should be subject to a thorough risk assessment prior to being developed. This generally falls into two sectors: technical and commercial.
In terms of the commercial side, renewable energy initiatives are indeed being developed by private companies in Indonesia but there is less investment in the biogas-to-electricity market mainly due to a generally unsupportive legislative environment for biogas-for-electricity projects. Biogas power plants have relatively high initial set-up and operating costs and, if there is no effective feed-in tariff or little possibility for a private purchase agreement between a power generator and a user, commercial incentives for developing such projects are low.
Because of the level of accumulated technical experience in developing biogas to energy plants, this type of project can be considered to be ‘low-hanging fruit’ in terms of the development of renewable energy capacity. Waste organic material is only set to increase, and it has been estimated that about 9,597 Mm3/year of biogas could potentially be generated from animal waste alone in Indonesia, a production that could be utilized to generate electric power up to 1.7 × 106 KWh/year.
With regard to the technical experience in the collection, treatment and preparation of biogas for use as a fuel, the technology has improved considerably since the days of sticking a pipe into a pile of rubbish and lighting the gas stream with a petrol-soaked rag. However, in terms of risk analysis, this type of project is not without its own peculiarities. It is now recognised that, in order to ensure that the technology risk of a biogas project is adequately mitigated, not only must the correct procedure for project assessment be followed, but appropriate techniques and equipment for treating and using the gas must be employed.
A biogas-to-energy project is one in which there are several subsets of expertise necessary. These include gas resource assessment, gas collection, treatment and preparation; as well as control, use and long-term operation of all equipment.
A biogas-to-energy project commences with resource assessment, a critical phase of the project in which all aspects are considered, and both financial and technical modelling are calculated, checked, and verified.
If the result of the assessment is positive, project planning proceeds to the technical aspects of gas management and energy production, two areas that whilst requiring differing technical abilities are not mutually exclusive. An experienced developer will ensure that the relevant skills are inbuilt into the structure of the project, as a lack of one area of expertise can lead to significant downtime and a concomitant loss of income.
Biogas to energy projects, indeed renewable energy projects in general, are of increasing interest not only as a mechanism of reducing GHGs but also as a means of mobilising local employment. It remains to be seen whether Indonesia’s local or national governments can be persuaded to see the benefits of this type of project, both in terms of social development through local employment and skill development, as well as the significant environmental advantages through a cut in GHG generation from using a potentially plentiful supply of waste biogas instead of fossil fuel in the production of electricity.
In many parts of the world, the treatment and use of biogas are now considered to be a mature field of technological innovation. Nevertheless, the potential of biogas as both an alternative fuel source and an effective mechanism of environmental amelioration continues to attract attention. To explore some of the aspects of this interesting sphere of engineering, Organics, partnering with Euroasiatic, will present a webinar focusing on biogas handling, processing and preparation, and will relate their experiences in equipment and engine management.
The webinar will comprise two components: in the first, Organics will look at how biogas is generated, controlled and prepared for use as a viable fuel; in the second Euroasiatic will address the use of biogas in gas engines. Their discussion will be highlighted with several of the many examples of successful projects that have been installed around Indonesia.
Click here to watch the webinar
 Biomethane is a naturally occurring gas which is produced by the so-called anaerobic digestion of organic matter. Chemically, it is identical to natural gas. https://www.biomethane.org.uk/
 Friedrich, J., Ge, M., and Damassa, T. (2015). Infographic: What Do Your Country’s Emissions Look Like? http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/06/infographic-what-do-your-countrys-emissions-look
 Climate Action Tracker. (2019). Indonesia | Climate Action Tracker. Retrieved 24 January 2019, from https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/indonesia/