End of sugar quota could be sweet for biogas

Dropping of limits on EU sugar beet production could create additional bioenergy feedstock.

Tomorrow will see the end of sugar quotas imposed by the European Union on production within member states – a move that could be a boost for bioenergy production.

When the cap is officially lifted on 30 September the EU’s four main producers, France, Germany, Poland and the UK will be free to process as much sugar beet as they like for the first time since 1968.

Sugar beet production, especially in France and Germany has been linked with biogas production. Only last month, Germany-based EnviTec Biogas opened a plant in France, which will use beets as part of its feedstock.

A spokesperson for the European Biogas Association told ENDS: “Politically the UK, as well as the EU, is moving away from products and crops as feedstock for anaerobic digestion towards wastes and residues.

“With sugar beet in particular, it is also much easier to feed the pulp produced by the sugar factory than the raw beet: no soil, no stones, just in time delivery and easier storage. Therefore, the interest of the UK biogas industry in sugar beet residues is obvious.”

The EBA will also “pay particular attention to this trend and is looking forward to further developments”, said an EBA spokesperson.

UK-based trade body the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association’s chief executive, Charlotte Morton, said a lot depended on beet producers. If they continued putting beet crops straight into anaerobic digestion plants or whether or not they decided to sell it as a commodity, which could still allow for residues to be turned into biogas.

Morton told ENDS: “AD can either recycle sugar beet residues or convert whole sugar beet crops into renewable energy and biofertiliser. This allows farmers to heat and power their farming operations, restore nutrients to their soils and, in the case of sugar beet crops, rotate their crops. Whatever UK farmers decide to do with their sugar beet as a result of the removal of the EU quota, AD offers a reliable extra income stream.”

Overall, the EU is the world’s leading producer of sugar beet growing roughly 50% of the total, but this is only 20% of the world’s overall sugar production with the cane-derived variety dominating the market.

The European Commision said last October its sugar production in 2016/2017 was estimated to be at 16.66 million tonnes on an area of 1.4 million hectares at an average yield of 11.8 tonnes per hectare.

Between 2006 and 2010, the sugar sector voluntary reduced production by roughly 6Mt with the closure of about 80 sugar beet processing factories as the sector worked towards having the quota dropped.

However, a downside for increased sugar beet production could be that the deep rooting plant can cause “damage to soil structure” when harvested in wet conditions , according to UK agricultural ministry DEFRA.

Source: Ends Waste & Bioenergy

Read more here.