The project we will feature next will implement a biogas plant in the city of Harmonia, in Rio Grande do Sul, for the production of energy and biomethane by means of agricultural waste, including swine waste. The initiative is a partnership between Brazilian Arquea Biomass Energy and Swedish Host Biogás, which has expertise in the development of technologies for the digestion of organic matter for conversion into energy and upgrading from biogas to biomethane. Through the adaptation of European technology to the Brazilian market, it will be possible to treat 600m³ of waste daily and produce 9,000 m³ of biomethane.

Check out our interview with Francisco Tomazoni, geologist and founding partner of Arquea Biomass Energy.

1 - Arquea Biomass Energy joined Swedish Host Biogas for the production of biogas in Brazil by means of the treatment of agricultural waste. Could you tell us about the importance of the Low Carbon Brazil technical assistance phase in the project's development and maturation process?

Host is a Dutch company founded in 1999 and has several projects around the world, focusing on the European market. By means of Low Carbon Brazil, Host saw the possibility of expanding its business to Latin America and saw Arquea as an important partner for this. As Arquea had already matured the Harmonia Project (Production of biogas and biomethane from swine manure in the Vale do Cai region, state of Rio Grande do Sul), it was a quick synergy, as it could be a good opportunity for the kick off of Host in Brazil, through a mature project with broad government support and investor interest.

I dare to say that without the technical assistance phase of Low Carbon Brazil we would not be at the maturing level we are now, with the technical-financial project concluded and raising funds and investors. The support given by the Low Carbon Brazil program was fundamental for us to be able to present the final study to the State Government of Rio Grande do Sul, through its Environment and Infrastructure Secretariat, gaining positive support from the government, as well as CIBiogas.

2 - The city of Harmonia will be the first to benefit from the biogas production solution. Are you aware of other biogas plants operating in the state? Do you have a mapping of the amount of agricultural waste in Rio Grande do Sul?

There are several biogas plants in the state, but none in commercial operation, as is the proposal of Harmonia. Even today, the Harmonia project is already approved in the second phase of the public notice of the Gas Company of the State of Rio Grande do Sul (Sulgas), with a view to providing, through a long-term firm contract (> 10 years), initial production of 6,500 m3/day of biomethane, reaching 9,000m3/day biom. from the fourth year of operation, or 11,500m3/day of biogas up to 15,000m3/day of biogas respectively.

There is a mapping of biomass that was carried out in a partnership between the Secretary of Mines and Energy of Rio Grande do Sul, together with Sulgás, supported by the technical staff of Universidade do Vale do Taquari (Univates), a reference in biogas in the southern region of Brazil. In this survey (Atlas of Biomasses of the State of Rio Grande do Sul), some scenarios are proposed. In a first general scenario, a potential of 85MM tonnes of biomass per year is calculated, which can generate 9MM m3/day of biogas (not including landfill gas). In a second scenario, only what can be technically collected and effectively transformed into biogas is taken into account (without considering extensive livestock, in this case), reaching figures in the order of 2.6MM m3/day of biogas.

3 - What will be the plant's waste processing capacity? And the production capacity of biomethane? Is there a possibility of selling by-products generated through the biogas production process?

Figures have changed considerably due to a new engineering and financial arrangement. We decided to prospect some of the technology on Brazilian soil, in order to reduce the project's CAPEX. In partnership with a German company that has been operating in Brazil for some years, we will obtain results very similar to those European equipment, at a very low cost, due to not paying an import tax, in addition to being able to have greater flexibility for financing lines specific to Renewable Energy in Brazil, which would be much more difficult with imported equipment.

The project we are submitting the third phase of the Sulgás Public Call for acquisition of biomethane revolves around R$ 13.5 M of CAPEX, initially treating 600,000L of waste per day, for an initial production of 6,500 m3/day of biomethane, reaching at 9,000m3/day biom. from the fourth year of operation, or 11,500m3/day of biogas up to 15,000m3/day of biogas respectively. The potential for electricity generation is around 24MWh/day.

As for the by-products, we did a detailed market study for them. We have mapped biofertilizers, including early conversations with possible partners, and CO2 itself, in the case of upgrading to biomethane. However, CO2 is not included in the financial analysis (as well as carbon credits), as it is a market that deserves a slower entry, after the start of production.

4 - Are there other customers, and which ones are projected for the construction of the next biogas plants? When are the next facilities expected?

We have two more projects in progress, but we are in the scope study phase. We are not yet able to disclose the names at the customers' request, but we intend to finalize the feasibility studies by the middle of the year to base the choice of entrepreneurs and investors.

5 - Could you share the investment value for energy and biomethane production through the solution?

The project we are submitting the third phase of the Sulgás Public Call for acquisition of biomethane revolves around R$ 14.2 M of CAPEX, initially treating 600,000L of waste per day, for an initial production of 6,500 m3/day of biomethane, reaching at 9,000m3/day biom. from the fourth year of operation, or 11,500m3/day of biogas up to 15,000m3/day of biogas respectively. The potential for electricity generation is around 24MWh/day.

6 - Do you have an estimate of how many jobs could be generated for the operation of the biogas plant?

Biogas and/or biomethane plants operate with few people. In Europe, for example, it is common for rural producers themselves to be trained and thus operate cooperative plants. In the Harmonia project, we are counting 4 fixed positions.

7 - What is the estimated impact of technology in reducing CO2 emissions and the cost of treating effluents? What are the other advantages in environmental and socioeconomic terms?

In environmental terms, the use of biodigesters for regions with large swine production, I would say, is not an option, it is probably the only economically viable option. Currently, we see a worrying scenario in relation to waste, as there is a nominal increase in strengthened squad, mainly by the Chinese market, which directly increases the volume of daily waste, without the producers or municipal entities being able to treat and dispose of this biomass. Thus, it creates a situation in which the producer is unable to provide adequate treatment, the city halls, in turn, have budgetary limitations in order to assist this producer in the treatment and disposal, which ends up being dumped in natura into the environment.

At first it shows itself as a great organic fertilizer, but soon due to the great demand due to the little space of land available for disposal, it ends up being an environmental problem, as nutrients are saturated in the soil, even being able to percolate to groundwater levels, causing contamination of soils and water media. Thus, biodigesters use the waste to generate biogas and/or biomethane, making a primary treatment of the waste by the action of bacteria, followed by the commercialization of the dry phase of biomass and treatment in ETE of the liquid phase, generating income for producers, plant, municipality and treating waste correctly, within a circular economy line.

For the local population, the constant unpleasant smell and disease vectors will no longer be felt, especially on rainy days, where there is water saturation of the soil and the impossibility of trucks reaching the fields for disposal of waste.

An annual reduction of 19,850,132.00 kgCO2eq is estimated.

8 - What is the main differentiating factor of this technology in relation to the solutions commonly used in biogas plants in Brazil? What technologies, equipment or components are not manufactured in Brazil and need to be imported into the Biogas and Biomethane sector?

In Brazil, the covered lagoon system is very common, with very limited use of biogas, high operating cost and low production safety.

For the system of digestors in the Harmonia project, reactors of the type CSTR (Continuous Flow Stirred Tank Reactor) were chosen, usually used for substrates with a total solids (TS) content of up to 15%. The system must work at the mesophilic temperature (35 - 40 °C) with semi-continuous feeding. CSTR reactors can be used in sequence, where different stages of the biodigestion process occur in each reactor, for example, hydrolysis in the first reactor, metagenesis in the main reactor and depending on the energy value of biomass, a third reactor for post digestion. The construction of this reactor is relatively simple and has easy operation and maintenance, it is one of the most used systems in large-scale plants in the world, considered safe with process stability and efficient in the production of biogas.

Currently, 100% of the equipment is found in Brazil through from suppliers. The choice of type and model (Brazilian or imported) will depend on some pre-operation and commissioning tests.

9 - How do you see the Brazilian market in terms of maturity to take advantage of this type of solution? What do you consider the main challenges and specificities of its implementation?

Today we see the Brazilian market waking up to the issue of biogas. Compared to the European market, for example, we are still babies. On the one hand it is bad, due to the low current contribution to the energy matrix, but on the other hand it shows the immense market we have to explore, with almost inexhaustible potential. We must remember Brazil is an essentially agrarian country, with one of the strongest agribusiness markets in the world and equipped with high technology. This facilitates the implementation of energy recovery from biomass (mainly biogas generation), as the rural producer is aware that technology and the environment go hand in hand, and outside this context there is no room for growth. On the other hand, we still have very high taxes, a lack of state subsidies and even public policies for biogas (a situation that is changing a lot, especially in the three states in the southern region of Brazil).

Today we see the issue of landfill gas recovery growing, we see natural gas concessionaires opening space for the acquisition and injection of biomethane into the network, we see an increase in the supply of national technology for biogas and biomethane, we see the concern of waste growing within a new national health policy, we see the circular economy starting to take over sustainable development discussions. Even so, we have great difficulty in implementing large projects for biogas and biomethane.

Lack of infrastructure on the part of gas concessionaires, three-phase electricity distribution lines in rural areas, roads for the collection of biomass, and the price of natural gas make economic models for biogas plants truly financial engineering works, where the will of the producer or investor is simply not enough, but it has to be an arrangement between public and private initiative, incentive laws, in addition to operating state public policies.

We are undoubtedly moving towards this new national biogas scenario, but we still need a vote of confidence from investors to open up, once and for all, the biogas market in Brazil. Several companies, state governments and investment funds have already glimpsed this landscape and started conversations and movements to integrate the National Biogas System, which will create more and more successful cases in the near future.

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