The main goal of the featured project is to build the first Mobile Biomethane Update Unit, which produces biomethane from the biogas available in the region of Paraná, to replace Diesel, using agricultural waste and benefiting small and medium producers.
The Low Carbon Brazil team spoke with Rodrigo Régis, CIBiogás president, an association formed by 27 institutions that develop and support renewable energy projects, and which has, in its structure, a biogas laboratory in the Itaipu Technological Park (PTI), in Foz do Iguaçu, and 11 biogas production units in Brazil. We have also consulted Georg Wagner, managing partner at Spirit Design, an Austrian company leader in strategic design. Headquartered in Vienna, the company has, since 2013, a subsidiary in Brazil and holds the intellectual property rights of the mobile biomethane upgrade unit at the Technical University of Vienna.
The development of the "Mobi" prototype, of the Mobile Biomethane Upgrade Unit, will contribute to increasing energy efficiency, reducing the emission of pollutants produced by the burning of Diesel and the reuse of agricultural waste. Check the interview.
1. Can you explain how the partnership with Spirit Design arose and about the importance of Low Carbon Brazil in this process?
Rodrigo Régis (CIBiogás): Spirit Design was one of the first European institutions to believe in the Brazilian biogas market. This allowed the development of several researches and technologies together. One example is the CH4PA project presented to Low Carbon Brazil. The Low Carbon Brazil initiative brought this project closer to the Brazilian reality and also strengthened the cooperation between CIBiogás and Spirit Design.
2. In regions with small and medium biogas producers, the Mobile Biomethane Update Unit could pave the way for greater use of biomethane in mobility and a reduction in Diesel consumption. What are the main challenges in transforming Biogas into biomethane in Brazil?
Rodrigo Régis (CIBiogás): The main region today is the South of Brazil, especially the West of Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul states. The biggest challenge today is scalability because, unlike in Europe, biogas plants in Brazil are small-scale, usually associated with small rural producers.
3. Is membrane permeation technology for upgrading biogas, which allows biogas to be transformed into biomethane, something new in Brazil? How was the process of developing the technology used in the prototype of the Mobile Unit?
Rodrigo Régis (CIBiogás): Yes, because there are no other companies operating with this technology in the national biomethane market. Development is always a four-handed process, which means that we work together the whole time to overcome the challenge.
4. What are the economic and social advantages for the small and medium Brazilian biogas producer when using a Mobile Biogas Upgrading Unit in biofuel?
Rodrigo Régis (CIBiogás): It is this type of solution that brings competitiveness to the rural producer, since the demand for biomethane, in large centres, is generally far from the point of production. Biogas valorisation has a direct impact on the profitability of the end activity, and we have already observed an impact of 40% for pig farming, for example.
5. How do you assess the demand for biofuels in Brazil and why does Biogas not have a greater participation in Brazil's energy matrix?
Rodrigo Régis (CIBiogás): The demand is growing and we can go further! Brazil can have a totally sustainable energy matrix. As for biogas, we have worked hard over the last 6 years to structure the current chain of products and services and the dissemination of knowledge. The result is here: we observe a 130% growth in the number of biogas plants from 2015 to 2018.
6. What are the main challenges related to the regulation of this type of activity in Brazil?
Rodrigo Régis (CIBiogás): In fact, the main challenge is precisely the lack of regulation, especially in the sense of encouraging the distributed production of biomethane.
7. What were the main factors taken in consideration for the creation of the Mobile Biomethane Upgrading Unit “Mobi” prototype in Paraná?
Georg Wagner (Spirit Design) Biogas upgrading technology is still a very new technology but in a fast development in Brazil. Paraná, with its very intensive agriculture and local players such as CIBiogás – our partners - are leading this development. We found a gap on the market for the strategy of agricultural biomethane mobility: small and medium biogas producers cannot afford to invest into a big, professional upgrading to produce biomethane as a fuel. Small upgrading plants still do not really work, even though there are big efforts in this field, especially in Europe. This gave us the idea to develop a mobile upgrade with a professional size and technology that can travel from one biogas producer to another to upgrade the biogas to biomethane and, in this way, to share the investment costs and make biomethane mobility affordable for a whole region.
8. What are the financial benefits of using a mobile unit for biomethane production for small and medium farmers?
Georg Wagner (Spirit Design) Co-ops upgrading biogas of their members can sell it to their members/farmers without taxes. This is a very interesting approach and should have, as a result, that the costs for biogas as a fuel are 50% lower than Diesel or gasoline.
9. Please, explain the reasons why Spirit Design chose a mobile biogas production model and how it will benefit small and medium producers.
Georg Wagner (Spirit Design) Small and medium farmers who operate in the framework of a co-op with a radius of, for example, 15km, produce their own biogas from their own waste materials (manure, etc.). Until now, they flare it or produce electricity, but no biomethane. The mobile biogas upgrading unit “Mobi” works like a milk truck: in regular sequences it comes to the farmers’ biogas plant, which is equipped with a storage, and upgrades the stored biogas to biomethane and stores it compressed in gas bundles. With these gas bundles the farmer can fuel cars, pickup trucks and tractors or the co-op can fuel their trucks. But also, bigger biogas plants can use the “Mobi” to upgrade parts of their biogas to biomethane. Especially in the beginning, there are only a few vehicles to work with biomethane. As soon as enough vehicles running on biomethane are available, bigger plants can install a stationary upgrading and “Mobi” will move on to another region to develop the biomethane mobility business model.
10. How did the technical team of the University of Vienna contribute to the project?
Georg Wagner (Spirit Design) The technical University of Vienna/process engineering is specialized on different fields such as power-to-gas, hydrogen, and biogas-upgrading. The existing upgrading technologies such as water scrubbing and PSA are too heavy to make them mobile, so we chose the membrane upgrade to develop “Mobi”. The TU Vienna not only developed the 2-stage cleaning process, modelled and simulated it, we also developed a techno-economic simulation model, to find the right scale for “Mobi” and see under which conditions the economic model can work. Prof. Harasek has helped to develop a patented solution for the membrane upgrading units that run on the biggest biogas plants in Austria and other parts of Europe.
11. Brazil is a country with great potential to benefit from biomethane production. What is the importance of the Mobile Unit prototype for taking advantage of this feature and increasing the use of biofuels?
Georg Wagner (Spirit Design) “Mobi” concentrates on regions of Brazil where there is no gas network. In regions without a gas network, the market for Natural Gas does not work, because the transportation costs in heavy gas bottles are too high. In those decentralized biomethane regions it will be possible that “Mobi” will develop such markets, as also Truck producers (Scania, VW, Volvo...), Tractor producers (CNH), pickup truck producers or even car producers such as Audi are looking for regions with a stable support with Methane, in this case Biomethane, which makes the mobility not only cheaper, but also environmentally friendly by saving up to 100% of CO2 emissions compared to a Diesel vehicle.
12. Is the generated biomethane expected to replace the use of other fuels such as Diesel, mostly used in the agricultural sector? How could this impact farmer mobility in remote or isolated areas in Brazil?
Georg Wagner (Spirit Design) Diesel in the centre of Brazil is very expensive. The reason is that transporting it into the centre of the country is long and the tankers have to return empty. We believe, as well as our feasibility studies and also other studies showed, that biomethane mobility is the best usage and business model for Biogas in Brazil, especially for such remote and isolated areas, which can profit from Biogas in all its ways: to produce electric energy (energy security instead of Diesel generators), to produce heat, fertilizer and biomethane for transportation.