Circular Economy – a healthy transition driven also by Biogas

Circular economy is an industrial system that promotes greater resource productivity, reduce of waste and pollution. Its implementation is necessary for the transition to a more sustainable society, and biogas is a meaningful driver here.

From ‘Take, Make, Dispose’ to ‘Make, Use, Return’

Environmental problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, air, water and soil pollution are the pressing factors for the transition to a more sustainable economy. Circular economy is an industrial system that promotes greater resource productivity, reduce of waste and pollution. It does that through the restorative and regenerative design of circulation of material flows. Circular Economy aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times – while distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.

Today’s economic model is based on linear ‘take, make, dispose’ – relying on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy. This model however, is reaching its physical limits. Circular economy is an alternative, that businesses have already been exploring today – biogas plants can be one of the examples.

What describes the circular economy is a continuous, positive development cycle, which optimises resource yields, minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows, thus preserving and enhancing natural capital.

European Union is closing the loop

EU is a good example of the policy maker supporter, the European Commission adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package. The aim of it is to stimulate Europe’s transition towards Circular Economy that boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs, bringing the benefits for both economy and environment.

The Circular Economy Package consist of EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy, which establishes a programme of action covering the whole product cycle – from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials. EU actions will contribute to closing the loop of the product lifecycles – through the improved recycling and re-use.

Key elements set by the Commission include improved recycling of municipal and packaging wastes, reduction and ban on landfilling (combined with promotion of economic instruments discouraging landfilling), economic incentives for producers to bring greener products to the market and promotion of re-use combined with industrial symbiosis – turning one’s industry waste to another’s raw material.

Biogas – link that allows circular economy to become reality 

In a circular economy, biogas plants are crucial link in the biological cycle. The biogas plants are transformers that change waste to energy and valuable products. The waste-to-energy supply chain ensure reducing environmental impacts to a minimal level and more efficient use of natural resources.

Typical feedstocks for biogas production are animal manure, municipal biowaste, organic residues (from i.e. food production) – wastes that if not treated would pose a hazard for the environment. Commonly, biogas plants produce electricity and heat by the combustion of produced biogas on-site, but anaerobic digestion can also be a source of a high quality fuel – biomethane. Biomethane is a purified biogas that can be injected to the gas-grid, it can also serve as a transportation fuel.

Not only the energy and fuel are produced in the biogas plants, another very important outcome of the anaerobic digestion is a high quality fertilizer – the digestate from the production is returned to the field (usually to the field of the farmers, who provided the feedstocks for the biogas production), in this way the nutrients are recirculated into the ground and become food. This is a great example of circular economy – providing resources and income in a close-loop system that is good for the society, environment and uses renewable resources.

There are plenty of examples of successful biogas plants within Europe – ten of such are presented and thoroughly described in a Biogas Action Brochure on Best Regional-Integrated Plants.