Clean energy from waste

Bio-gas facility built by Swedish Vireo Energy and operating on landfill gas, launched at solid communal waste facility near Vitebsk, saving almost Br1bn within few months
By Sergey Gomanov

Vitebsk Regional Executive Committee signed the investment agreement with the Swedish company back in 2011, with around $9m of investment planned, for constructing three bio-gas facilities. Two are already operational: in the Orsha District and near Vitebsk. During assembly, the Swedes used their own technologies and equipment, drilling holes in the waste rock mass, then pumping out and burning its waste bio-gas. Meanwhile, a gas piston engine drives an electric generator. 

Since late March, when Vitebsk’s facility launched, over 1,700,000kW/h of electricity has been generated from the site, notes the Head of Vitebsk’s Regional Department for Supervising the Rational Use of Fuel-and-Energy Resources, Alexander Kravchenko. He adds that over 470 tonnes of conventional fuel would have been needed to achieve the same figure with a traditional approach. “We’d have to spend around Br1bn to buy this electricity, so the bio-gas facility has helped us save money. Clearly, construction of bio-gas plants is important and profitable, while using waste gases,” he explains. 

Vitebsk’s facility produces a modest single megawatt of electricity per day; five or six similar plants would be needed to provide Vityaz TV Works with electricity. Only a couple of major facilities exist in Europe, able to generate 20-30 megawatts daily.

Vitebsk’s bio-gas generated electricity is collected by Vitebskenergo company, for distribution alongside energy produced from other sources. Interestingly, in line with a decision by the Economy Ministry, bio-gas generated electricity is purchased at a 30 percent higher price than usual, to encourage investors to master renewable energy sources. The question arises as to whether this may lead to increased tariffs and Vitebskenergo admits openly that losses are covered by consumers.

At present, energy produced from non-traditional methods accounts for a minor share of the total, so customers are unlikely to experience price fluctuations. Moreover, the Government is debating ways of reducing salaries for energy workers. 

A programme to set up more bio-gas facilities countrywide will include using not only landfill gas but meat processing waste, animal residues and corn to generate electricity. Our agricultural companies have enough raw materials but lack spare funds to set up equipment, so investors are sought desperately. Mr. Kravchenko notes that energy saving involves more than investment and technologies but a certain sense of personal responsibility, instilled from early childhood. He is keen to see citizens taught to use energy sensibly. The Year of Thrift will certainly be focusing on this aspect of the economy.

As Vireo Energy representatives in Belarus note, their facilities should pay for themselves within 7-10 years. Meanwhile, the company aims to bring ecological benefits rather than commercial profit. It notes that its plants avoid leakage of potentially inflammable and malodorous methane into the air, which would be dangerous to neighbouring towns. By 2014, Vireo Energy plans to launch similar facilities — producing over 2.5 megawatts daily — in Novopolotsk, Grodno and Mogilev.
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