Scientific project funded by the EU applying microbiology to foster energy independence

  • The European Commission recently announced plans to ramp up biogas production to a volume of 20% of current Russian gas imports by 2030.
  • Micro4Biogas project aims to increase biogas production by optimising the microbial communities involved in the process.
  • The goal is to improve the digestionof widely available organic waste, stabilising the production of sustainable fuel and supporting intermittent renewable sources.

Madrid, xx/09/2022 – Biogas plays a central role in achieving EU energy security but its potential as a renewable fuel remains untapped. To optimise biogas production, turning it into a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels, the international research team of the Micro4Biogas project is developing tailored microbial communities. Removing chemical and biological obstacles inside biodigesters, Micro4Biogas is working to increase the efficiency of biogas plants, helping Europe achieve the ambitious goals outlined in the REPowerEU action plan (which aims to end the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels and to tackle the climate crisis).

Biogas is not new. Recycling organic waste to produce this renewable fuel is a widely spread practice in European countries. Germany, the largest global biogas producer, is home to approximately 10.000 biogas plants and is pushing for the construction of small, decentralised facilities. But building more plants is not the only solution to tackle the current energy crisis. The scientific strategy developed by Micro4Biogas instead aims to optimise the processes that happen inside existing biodigesters — more biogas will be recovered without increasing the amount of organic waste required as a substrate for microbial digestion. “We aim to increase the yield of biogas, its quality, the speed of production and the robustness of the whole process” explains Micro4Biogas coordinator Manuel Porcar from the University of Valencia (Spain).

To achieve this goal and stabilise biogas production, “the challenge is to uncover the complexity of anaerobic digestion”, explains Christian Abendroth, chair of circular economy at the Brandenburg University of Technology, Germany, and partner at Micro4Biogas. Scientists from the project have already collected microbial samples from multiple biogas plants and they are analysing them to create microbial colonies that are optimised for biogas production. Inside biodigesters, these complex microbial communities ferment organic matter releasing methane as a renewable fuel. Gaps of knowledge remain regarding the biochemical interactions taking place, but ultimately efficiency and yield “depend on how microbes perform,” Abendroth explains.

Optimised biogas can be distributed in the existing gas infrastructure replacing natural gas in all scenarios and preventing energy supply disruptions. “While both photovoltaic and wind energy have the disadvantage of depending on the weather to generate electricity, biogas can be stored and consumed whenever it is needed,“ explains Carlos Roldán, electrical engineer from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, and the expert in charge of the practical implementation of the results of Micro4Biogas in the Valencian municipality of Aras de los Olmos, Spain.

The results from the Spanish pilot plant „will be directly applicable to any other facility,“ Roldán adds. „We are particularly interested in the use that Aras de los Olmos wants to make of this energy as a source of electricity production together with other renewable systems to supply the municipality itself”. The possibility of storing biogas and using it on demand helps stabilise the electricity grid, facilitating the widespread use of intermittent renewable sources.

About the MICRO4BIOGAS project

The MICRO4BIOGas is an EU-funded project (H2020, grant agreement number 101000470) working to develop tailored microbial consortia to increase biogas production.

Gathering 14 institutions from 6 countries (including universities, companies, and the local government of one Spanish town where a cutting-edge biogas plant will be built) the project aims to increase the yield, speed, quality, and reproducibility of biogas production, consolidating this renewable energy as an environmentally, politically, and economically viable option.


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