Biogas As Fuel Or As City Gas?

I was interviewed by TV Tokyo for a program about biogas in Sweden, to be shown on the air on September 11, 2010. Biogas has gotten a lot of attention because municipalities can easily invest in factories that convert methane from sewage or food garbage (生ごみ、namagomi) into a efficient fuel for city buses, garbage trucks, and even ambulances. This means less dependency on fossile fuels: not having to use imported gasoline or diesel is seen as a very important policy.

There are some efforts in Japan to produce biogas. Kobe started providing biogas to buses in April, 2008 and Biogas Net Japan was established by 11 major corporations in January 2008:

The establishment of Biogas Net Japan follows a series of trials carried out by the Biogas Network Consortium (established in 2005 under the aegis of The Japan Research Institute by some 30 energy related companies and plant & equipment makers with a view to making efficient use of the biogas produced by organic waste matter). These trials have reached the stage at which biogas supply can be developed as a commercial business. The Biogas Network Consortium has conducted extensive research into business models for biogas distribution that make use of sewage sludge, food waste, industrial waste, and livestock waste. It has succeeded in developing a) technologies that allow biogas to be refined to the point where it becomes equivalent in quality to town gas or natural gas and can be used in ordinary gas equipment, and b) technologies that allow the refined biogas to be put into pressurized containers and transported so that it can be used by consumers in urban areas, far from the place where it is produced.

Should biogas be used as a fuel for vehicles or rather be used to heat buildings? In Sweden, there is almost no use of gas as a heating fuel, while Japan has much infrastructure that would allow homeowners and others to use methan/biogas for heating in winter. Biogas could also be used to heat bath water without much trouble.

Depending on the conditions, biogas seems like a flexible, carbon-neutral fuel that can be used instead of oil, gasoline, or diesel, and at least to some extent help us make the difficult transition to an era when cheap oil is no longer an option.

Not everyone likes biogas, however. In Kamakura, there has been opposition to plans to build a biogas plant, as farmers worried that the many garbage trucks running back and forth would create pollution. They also seem to have little trust in City Hall, having been let down previously by other schemes. Eric L. Due and Eric Prideaux covered this story in a good article for The Japan Times back in March 2008:
Kamakura farmers hit food-waste plan
Public market vendors urge City Hall to trash planned biofuel facility

(Image: Kobelco Eco-Solutions Co.)


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