The future of the EU industry is sustainable and circular

Energy-intensive industries (EII’s) are at the core of European industries and encompass steel, paper or food industry, among others. The role of these industries is crucial for our economy, as they are embedded in many strategic value chains and supply intermediate products to other sectors. Yet, they are heavily dependent on fossil fuels and significantly contribute to increase GHG emissions. The deffosilisation of EII’s is a key driving force for reaching EU climate targets and developing a sustainable bioeconomy in Europe.

The challenge is to lower emissions while keeping industry competitive. But every challenge comes with an opportunity, in this case, position our industry to exploit the huge potential for renewable technologies and services. Biogas is part of this ample range of opportunities for our industry. It provides solutions for industrial waste treatment, replacement of fossil fuels in industrial energy uses and production of alternative raw materials for the chemical industry.

Biogas production from industrial waste streams that cannot be re-used or recycled and have no other applications is well in line with the resource efficiency efforts promoted by the EU. The food industry is a good example for this. In beverage production, for instance, the stillage remaining after distillation can be recycled to produce biogas. Thus, the problems with the treatment of the residual stillage are solved by conversion into renewable energy. The production of green gas from sludge is also an optimal solution for the paper industry.

Additionally, biogas production allows energy-intensive industries to cut energy costs and replace fossil fuels. These industries make up more than half of EU’s energy consumption[1]. Among the different energy uses, heat makes up two-thirds of global industrial energy demand. It also constitutes most of the direct industrial CO2 emitted each year, as the vast majority of industrial heat originates from fossil-fuel combustion[2]. If we take again the example of beverage production, calculations show that in some cases, stillage utilization as biogas can cover almost the whole energy demand for heating the distillation process[3]. In the steel industry, biomass gasification is also an attractive option to replace the use of fossil fuels in heat-intense processes.

A less explored industrial application of biogas is the replacement of current fossil based raw materials  for the chemical industry to produce plastics, solvents, and synthetic fuels. As all other industries, the chemical industry will need to embrace sustainability and increasingly rely on alternative materials in the coming years. This forward-looking solution is fully aligned with the principles of an efficient circular economy.

Policy support for the further deployment of biogas, both for anaerobic digestion and biomass gasification, and its multiple industrial applications is detrimental to unlock their full potential. This support will contribute to shape a positive long-term outlook that provides investment security for the various stakeholders involved. Innovation and cross-sectoral collaboration are other driving forces of the green transition by stimulating the implementation of cutting-edge technologies and the development of new synergies and industrial ecosystems.





Published on 30 March 2021