We interviewed David Newman – president of the World Biogas Association

“It’s time to end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and to allocate those subsidies to renewables.”

“Spain, like many other countries, is financing the oil industry and denying financing to the renewable industry to the extent that they need it.”

In the framework of the VII Gasnam Conference in 2019, David Newman spoke to us about his perspective on the current reality of biogas, future expectations and the measures that would facilitate its implementation.

David Newman, president of the World Biogas Association, Francisco Repullo, president of the Spanish Biogas Association, Bernat Chuliá, Bioenergy Business Development Manager at Genia Global Energy

Transcript of the interview

Why does biogas deserve to be supported as an alternative and sustainable energy in the future?

Biogas is a unique industry because it does two things. First, it treats a large amount of waste such as sewage sludge, food waste, animal waste, farm waste…and it uses them to generate a product.

No other industry does this, the fossil fuel industry does not do this. So, on the one hand, biogas gives you the solution to treat a wide variety of waste; and on the other hand, it produces renewable and clean energy. That is why we must foster it.

How can biogas help alleviate global warming?

Biogas, if you go to the World Biogas Association’s page, you will see a report that we published on biogas, on the role of sustainable biogas development, the role of biogas in climate change, and you will see that biogas has extremely great potential in reducing those emissions.

We forecast that we will treat all of the biogenic and biodegradable waste around the world to make biogas. We can reduce greenhouse gases by 10% to 15%, and I don’t know if many industries can say they can achieve that. And that is why we must support the biogas industry on a large scale, here in Spain too.

What measures facilitate its implementation?

There are several measures. First, we live in a society where we don’t understand, but I do, and that’s why I’m telling you that we finance the oil and gas industries five times more than we subsidise renewable energy.

Spain, in particular, but most European countries heavily subsidise the oil and gas industries.

Why don’t we simply move those subsidies and give more subsidies to renewable energy, including biogas, but also to wind and solar energy?

We will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we will also drastically reduce the pollution that gas produces right now, and stimulate these industries.

But this isn’t just about money, it’s also about connectivity. It’s about being connected, about selling electricity and being able to do that. It’s about having the right standards, and it’s about having the right scale.

Spain, like so many other countries, is financing the oil industry and denying financing to the renewable industry to the extent they need it.

It is time to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and it is time to give those subsidies to renewable energy.

Is this technology only for large industries, or does it have a variety of industrial applications? Could you give some examples?

China has about 20-25 million small-scale biogas facilities, and they are community-or farm-level facilities, serving 10, 50 or 100 people.

And, around the developing world, there are small-scale biogas units. They can be found in Africa, in Southeast Asia, and little by little, we are finding them in Latin America as well.

Having said that, in heavily populated urban centres, it is necessary to have large plants to treat all that waste. You can’t treat the waste from a million or two million people in small-scale plants. It takes industrial plants to do that.

Some of the largest industrial plants at the moment, for example in Milan, are treating more than half a million tons of food waste in just one plant, most likely the scale size of of the future.

The future of biogas in Spain

This technology is a universal technology that can be applied in any country in the world, especially in Spain. Spain has a fantastic and rich agricultural sector, and a large amount and variety of agricultural waste. You have a population, and everyone produces organic waste and sewage sludge, and right now you’re not really treating any of this material through anaerobic digestion to produce biogas.

I truly believe that Spain, in Europe, is one of the countries where this industry will grow the fastest in the coming years.

How do we trust a technology that is not yet a reality in Spain?

It’s normal, when you have new technologies available, people do not know them and have doubts about them. But biogas, people forget that the Assyrians had the first biogas plant 4 thousand years ago. And 2 thousand years ago, the Chinese used biogas to heat their homes and cook. This is a technology that, in essence, is extremely simple and has been around for a long time.

You can visit biogas facilities throughout Europe. Germany has more than 10 thousand, Italy has more than 7 thousand, Great Britain has more than a thousand…and these plants are running daily treating waste and producing energy from it. These are mature technologies, on a large scale as well as on a small scale, and our association together with Genia would be happy to arrange a trip to visit some of these plants to show you how this technology can be trusted.

Final reflection

When the governments tried to remove the lead from oil, you are too young to remember, and many of you are too young to remember, there was lead in oil. And when I was young we could pay against it. And the oil industry said that if the lead was taken out of oil, the world would come to an end. The asbestos industry said that if we stopped using asbestos, all of the buildings would catch fire. The tobacco industry said that tobacco didn’t cause cancer. And we can go on and on.

Progress is constantly changing things, and biogas is one of those disruptive industries that forces change, not just in the way energy is produced, but in the way millions and millions of tons of waste are treated. And people sometimes have a hard time understanding this, all disruptions are difficult to understand in some settings.

In his speech at the Congress, he denounced the limited achievements of the countries towards achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement.