November 1, 2019
Climate Action – Sustainable Development Goal 13 – is the number one priority of Asia Biogas, a partner of Finnfund in Southeast Asia. For us, it is the most important goal because failure to take radical climate action will make it impossible to achieve or sustain progress on the other 16 Goals.
In the tropical climate of Southeast Asia the production of biogas from the anaerobic digestion of waste has the most direct and positive impact on climate action. While many technologies and processes can help tackle climate action, we have found none that can match the impact and value-for-money offered by anaerobic digestion of agricultural waste.
Organic waste with archaea and bacteria
Let us start with a simple biology lesson. One of the simplest forms of life are microorganisms known as archaea. Although they look similar to bacteria the internal biochemistry of archaea is similar to eukaryotes, the branch of life to which plants, animals and fungi belong. Archaea are our oldest friends and have existed for billions of years. They thrive in warm and dark oxygen-free environments filled with organic matter e.g. waste water ponds. Provide the right conditions, and a supply of organic waste, and the archaea will work away quietly alongside bacteria to degrade organic waste. Eventually a branch of archaea will produce methane. Welcome to a biogas production project!
Southeast Asia – the biggest biogas factory
And now a geography lesson. Southeast Asia is blessed with a tropical climate, fertile soils and a large agricultural sector. It is the ‘rice bowl’ of the world and the largest producer of rice, cassava, vegetable oil and many sources of fruit. All of this primary production generates organic waste much of which is left to decompose in anaerobic conditions such as waste water ponds and flooded fields. The organic waste is food for the microorganisms that produce biogas. We have a choice: do we manage this organic waste so that we can capture the biogas, or do we allow the biogas to escape to the atmosphere? One way or another Southeast Asia is the world’s biggest biogas factory.
Biogas technology exists – let us use it
Finally, a chemistry question: why does biogas have such an important role in climate action? Biogas contains about 60% methane. Methane has 28 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. The climate crisis is caused in part by global warming from methane emissions. Asia Biogas and Finnfund are active in delivering biogas solutions in Thailand which is a leader in biogas production from agro-industrial waste water. Most Thai cassava starch factories use biogas as their primary source of thermal energy, a dramatic change from 2002 when Asia Biogas completed the first biogas project using cassava starch waste. Many of these factories also use excess biogas to generate renewable power. Our strategic focus is now the palm oil industry in Indonesia where we estimate only 10% of palm oil crushing mills capture biogas from their waste water. We are working to bring biogas to the palm oil industry where we estimate the greenhouse gas emissions from waste water exceed 40 million tCO2e per annum. That is more than 70% of Finlands total annual emissions (2017). The biogas technology and operational know-how exists already – it just needs to be applied. A biogas power plant also delivers more reliable electricity than inconsistent solar or wind power.
Apart from climate action (SDG 13), biogas also has a very important role delivering other Goals including clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12) and sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11). In Southeast Asia we believe no other source of renewable energy comes close to biogas in terms of positive impacts on all 17 Goals.
CEO, Asia Biogas
The author is an experienced renewable energy and carbon investment professional. Joined Asia Biogas in 2012 and lead management buy-out in 2013. Previously led Trading Emissions plc team that registered 50 carbon credit projects. Worked at KPMG Climate Change advisory.