Harnessing agricultural methane emissions

Interview with Victor Anspach, member of the Board of Directors of Ökostrom Schweiz

Victor Anspach (right) with Georg Müller, owner of the biogas plant in Steckborn, documented in pictures.

How do biogas facilities contribute to climate mitigation?

Typically, cattle and pig slurry and agricultural manure are stored in open systems such as slurry pits and manure heaps. This non-airtight storage allows methane to escape into the air, causing significant damage to the climate. Methane is one of the largest emissions from agriculture and is 28 times more harmful than CO₂. The significant climate mitigation effect is achieved by transporting the farmyard manure quickly to a biogas facility. This allows the methane to be captured and burned or otherwise used in a closed system.    

What are the benefits of the “Agricultural Biogas Facilities” climate mitigation programme?

The impact on the climate is measured effectively and the proven performance of the facility is rewarded appropriately at the end. Grants are an important contribution to the financing of such a facility. In addition, the programme makes farmers who still store their manure in open systems aware of the climate mitigation effect of a closed system.   

How many tonnes of emissions were reduced in the last year of the evaluation?

For the year 2021, there was an emission reduction of about 7,000 tonnes across 23 biogas facilities. For 2022, I expect around 7,500 tonnes from 29 facilities. 

Can climate mitigation be effectively measured with the climate mitigation programme?

The financial contributions of the climate mitigation programme are based on the verification of emission reductions. We have developed a monitoring system for this purpose. This allows us to measure the amounts of farmyard manure and other substrates that have entered a facility, as well as the value of the energy produced. This gives us an accurate picture of what a facility has achieved. To make accurate statements, we have defined a reference system based on data from a farm without an installed biogas facility. Data on methane emissions from a farm based on the data of the IPCC report are available for this purpose.     

How much would the number of agricultural biogas facilities have to increase to fully exploit the potential?

Around 22 million tonnes of farmyard manure are produced in Switzerland every year. At present, less than 5% of this is used for fermentation in Switzerland. This represents an untapped potential. In other countries, the percentage is much higher. In Germany, for example, it is 30% and in Denmark it is more than 40% of the total volume.

«Around 22 million tonnes of farmyard manure are produced in Switzerland every year. This is a huge untapped potential!»

Why is this?

Many projects fail because the economic viability is not clear. The cost risk is often too high for farmers. In addition, they do not currently receive any significant benefits, and profitability is not guaranteed. Regulatory hurdles, which often arise unexpectedly, increase costs. In addition, new requirements constantly create additional administrative tasks.

How can Ökostrom Schweiz support farmers in such cases?

We can handle some of the clarification work and administrative tasks. Ökostrom Schweiz is actively involved within the framework of the KliK Foundation’s climate mitigation programme. The funds are only paid out after the initial monitoring has been completed, which often takes two to three years after a facility is put into operation. We try to help by advocating for projects to be supported by the climate mitigation programme when they are put into operation.

Ökostrom Schweiz has turned biogas facilities into climate mitigation projects. How do you raise awareness of the programme?

We have managed to ensure that almost all new agricultural biogas facilities can participate in a climate mitigation project, whether on the free market or on the obligatory market with the KliK Foundation.

The KliK Foundation programme is aimed at all new agricultural biogas facilities. Interested parties quickly become aware of Ökostrom Schweiz and join us as members. We draw their attention to the climate mitigation programme as early as the planning phase. Ökostrom Schweiz provides support during the planning and implementation phases and ensures that registration for the climate mitigation programme takes place at a relatively early stage.

Agricultural biogas facilities
All agricultural biogas facilities that meet the eligibility requirements can participate in the Climate Mitigation Programme. The smallest facility participating in the programme has a capacity of 16 kilowatts and digests only the slurry of the associated farm and some manure. The largest facilities have a capacity of 1 megawatt and can process 50,000 tonnes. More than 90 systems have now registered for the programme.