Gas with ‘bio’ additive
[b]Belarus interested in alternative energy sources[/b]Dependence on a single (no matter how reliable) source can create problems. Accordingly, in recent years, the state has been seeking out alternatives — including new routes for the delivery of oil and the construction of a nuclear power station.
Dependence on a single (no matter how reliable) source can create problems. Accordingly, in recent years, the state has been seeking out alternatives — including new routes for the delivery of oil and the construction of a nuclear power station. Belarus lacks a climate as sunny as that of Israel, has no North Sea strong winds and cannot rival Iceland’s geothermal geysers. However, it has limitless bio-gas possibilities, so the first steps have now been taken to harness this natural resource, with good results. The next stage envisages the mass launch of bio-gas plants, with investors being attracted.
Waste transformed into revenue
Snov agro-farm, in Nesvizh District, is a flagship of Belarusian agriculture; both Belarusian and foreign specialists travel there to learn from local experience. Snov vividly demonstrates how resources can be reused, having launched the latest bio-gas facility. Seven plants of the same kind already operate in the Republic, with Snov becoming the eighth. In 2009, a joint enterprise was set up jointly with Swiss TDF Technology Holding. The farm provided land for construction works, and assisted with organisational issues; our foreign partners financed construction and purchased equipment, investing around 7m Euros. A 15 year agreement was signed whereby the farm provides raw materials for the bio-facility while receiving fertilisers, heat and electricity.
“It’s a good solution to the farm’s need for energy,” asserts the Chairman of Snov’s Board, Nikolay Radoman. “The farm has a lot of cattle, producing 19,000 tonnes of meat and 24,000 tonnes of milk annually. Of course, ecology is a concern. We process some waste into meat-bone flour, while the bio-gas facility will allow us to process the remainder. Heating for our farm will become 20 percent cheaper than at present and we hope that the complex will pay for itself within 5-7 years. We also plan to build greenhouses for vegetable growing nearby, providing our own tomatoes and cucumbers...”
The same investor also helped launch the first Belarusian complex to produce bio-gas from solid communal waste in 2011, located at Trostenets field near Minsk. It supplies electricity and hot water to 50,000 families.
The Director of the Swiss investor company acknowledges that there are huge prospects for further co-operation with Belarus in the field of alternative energy, as the Republic has some major animal-breeding enterprises and enough raw materials. In Germany alone, over 5,000 bio-gas plants operate.
Economy and ecology are related
The potential of Germany’s bio-gas industry is estimated at 100bn kW/h of energy by 2030: satisfying around 10 percent of the country’s energy needs. In Asia — including in rural areas of India, Vietnam, Nepal and China — small, ‘family’ bio-gas facilities are being built, with gas used for cooking. According to the Chinese Agricultural Ministry, a third of all Chinese farms use bio-gas energy.
Bio-gas energy is considered to be one of the most promising branches of the global economy. IBM’s annual list of the five most anticipated innovation spheres for the coming five years, ‘Next Five in Five’, includes green energy. Bio-gas production is energy efficient and eco-friendly, reducing emissions of methane into the atmosphere (reducing the ‘greenhouse effect’) and soil and water contamination. Animal breeding farms are also now turning their waste into organic fertilisers.
Belarus well understands the advantages of bio-energy. The governmental strategy of attracting direct foreign investments (running until 2015) — adopted this year — prioritises alternative energy. In mid-April, Economy Minister Nikolai Snopkov attended an international conference in Moscow, voicing some figures. By 2020, a Belarusian nuclear power station should be operational (built jointly with Russia). This will diversify the country’s fuel balance and will allow Belarus to substitute 25 percent of its natural gas use. By this time, Belarus could be covering up to 20 percent of its energy needs independently — if it receives sufficient financing.
Wind facilities, solar energy and hydro-electric stations are steadily being built countrywide, with bio-gas a priority. According to Mr. Snopkov, new pilot projects are planned for coming years: generating bio-gas from communal waste and sewage; and collecting bio-gas from communal waste storage.
In line with our programme promoting alternative energy (adopted by the Council of Ministers), Belarus is to launch 39 bio-gas facilities, able to generate 40.4MW of electricity. To drive this forward, Belarus has joined the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and has set up its own Renewable Energy Association. The Government has adopted a law ‘On Renewable Energy Sources’, creating the economic foundations for developing alternative energy: the ‘green face’ of the future Belarusian economy.
Scientific approach to economic problem
Scientists and experts agree that Belarus’ many animal breeding farms present an opportunity for generating bio-gas fuel. At present, slurry (water and manure) is spread across local fields in high concentrations: ‘burning’ the land. Meanwhile, hydro-drainage is perfect for making bio-gas.
Belarusian farms annually produce 30m cubic metres of sewage, which must be disposed of. As the Head of the Energy Efficient Technology Department at A.D. Sakharov International State Environmental University, Vasily Pashinsky, notes, the country’s bio-gas potential stands at 4bn cubic metres (from animal breeding farms). In 2011, Belarus bought 20-21bn cubic metres of natural gas from Russia but, in reality, animal breeding farms could independently satisfy their own needs for heat and electricity via bio-gas facilities. Moreover, they could supply neighbouring villages with heat and electricity.
Slurry could also be used correctly as a wonderful fertiliser. While chicken manure is too strong for this purpose, harming plants’ roots, it’s an ideal source of bio-gas (producing a great deal of methane). Poultry farms are another obvious place to construct bio-gas facilities but there are plenty of other potential sources: waste from food production and agricultural processing; city sewage; and timber processing waste. Bio-gas facilities would be able to turn all such waste into fuel.
Naturally, it’s most efficient to use bio-gas locally, directly supplying nearby consumers — following global practice. Small sized facilities are essential to serve animal breeding and crop based farms. While equipment is mostly imported from abroad at present (particularly from Germany), there is no reason why Belarus shouldn’t construct its own; the technology is relatively simple. The Research and Information Centre of Bio-Mass is being launched in Dzerzhinsk District in May (at A.D. Sakharov International State Environmental University’s Volma Training-Scientific Complex). The University’s Pro-Rector for Scientific Work, Sergey Poznyak, tells us that the project aims to enhance the efficiency of Belarus’ existing bio-gas facilities. To ensure full-capacity operation, the composition of fuel must be controlled. At present, raw materials are being tested in Germany but local tests will help save time and money.
Investor needs impetus
Of course, investments are needed to build bio-gas facilities: financial and intellectual. Not long ago, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development gave Belarus a loan of 18m Euros to reconstruct purifying facilities in Vitebsk and to build bio-gas facilities at purifying stations in Baranovichi and Slonim. With help from the EU, a bio-gas facility has been put into operation at Lebedevo agro-farm, near Molodechno (using European money).
The strategic task is to create conditions for attracting private investors, as Mikhailo Salnikov, the Scientific Director of Kiev’s BEROC Research and Outreach Centre, explains. Belarus needs to enhance its competitiveness on its energy market by stimulating private and small sized electricity generating companies. Clearly, the branch needs to be encouraged via economic and legal support. Already, Belarusian renewable energy producers can join state energy networks, with the state guaranteeing purchase of all energy — at rates higher than those paid in the EU.
Some experts express the revolutionary opinion that the introduction of bio-gas facilities could eventually make Belarus completely independent of Russian gas. Of course, this may be too optimistic but we should certainly take alternative energy seriously, giving bio-gas the respect it deserves.
By Igor Slavinsky