Thanks to its pigs, Denmark produces more clean energy
Denmark has become a leader in Europe in the production of natural gas renewable (GNR). The country relies heavily on this clean energy to succeed in its energy transition. And to ensure increased production of RNG, the Scandinavian country is targeting organic residues, including agricultural residues.
The droppings of millions of pigs are used to fuel Nature Energy factories in Denmark.
The Esbjerg region is considered by Danes to be a haven of peace. Some even say that it is a corner of the country blessed by the gods. Bordered by the North Sea on one side, it abounds in nourishing lands on the other. An ideal agricultural region to host the largest biogas plant in the world.
Located in the city of Korskro, the Nature Energy plant, a European leader in biomethanation, relies on various organic residues, including cow and pig manure, to fuel its green revolution. An abundant resource in Denmark, which has more than 13 million pigs for a population of 5.8 million citizens. It is one of the five largest pork producers in the world.
In this plant, more than 700,000 tons of organic, industrial, domestic and agricultural materials are converted, among other , renewable natural gas every year.
Denmark is one of the main pork exporters in the world.
The Danish government does not skimp on the aid granted and acts as a facilitator to develop the subsidiary of the GNR. Generous government subsidies, reduced administrative formalities, implementation of laws and regulations to prohibit organic waste in landfill sites and severe restrictions related to the spreading of certain more polluting fertilizers.
Already, 30% of the gas in the energy grid is renewable. And Nature Energy alone provides a third of RNG.
RNG reduces GHGs in two ways: by replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy and by avoiding carbon emissions. methane from the landfilling of organic waste and the storage of animal waste.
The raw material to supply the factories of Nature Energy in Denmark
A One of Kroskro's manure suppliers is Hans Juul Jenssen, a local pig producer. The farmer raises more than 100,000 pigs a year. Every Tuesday morning, he and his team get busy, as buyers come looking for pigs. Hans takes the opportunity to empty the underground channels where the slurry flows.
The liquid then leaks into pipes and then pours into huge tanks not far from the barn. A tank truck passes a few hours later to collect the freshly spilled manure. The material is then sent to the Nature Energy factory.
Nature Energy's production plant in Denmark
The residue is then deposited in gigantic tanks, called digesters, in which bacteria are added. The process takes about 40 days and produces not only renewable natural gas, but also carbon dioxide for soft drinks.
The residual material, called digestate, becomes a natural fertilizer, whose nutritional value is known to be of better quality than commercial fertilizers.
The digestate is returned in the same trucks to the farmers like Hans Juul Jessen so they can spread it in their fields. The producer says he is delighted with the product, which he finds less odorous and more efficient.
While pork production is often blamed by environmentalists for being polluting, Hans Juul Jessen is happy to know that there is a way to green his operations while making a profit.
“This is a win-win situation. In addition to being greener, I am diversifying my income! »
— Hans Juul Jessen, pork producer in Denmark
The trucks that circulate are therefore never empty. For farms to contribute to the project, they must be within a maximum radius of 25 kilometers from the factory.
The distance traveled by vehicles is thus reduced. Fuel economy is assured and, above all, the carbon footprint is improved, assures the president and CEO of Nature Energy, Ole Hvelplund.
Ole Hvelplund, President and CEO of Nature Energy
And the CEO also claims that Nature Energy's business model is based on the principle of circular economy.
“You can't sell an ecological product without being one ourselves.
— Ole Hvelplund, CEO of Nature Energy Ole Hvelplund
For the RNG giant, it is also imperative, for the sustainability of projects, to make farm owners real business partners. Farmers, often grouped in cooperatives, are invited to become shareholders of the factory where their residues are sent.
This ensures that the farmers feel involved and it also allows us to have a good understanding with the local community. Which is very important to us, says Ole Hvelplund.
Another major aspect of Nature Energy's success is that it manages to contain odors to a minimum. So as not to disturb the neighborhood, all odorous materials are treated inside. The outdoor site is immaculate.
The largest biogas plant in the world is located in Korskro, Denmark. 700,000 tonnes of agri-food and industrial waste are processed there each year.
Fully automated, their factories can be operated with as few as a dozen employees, including drivers. All Nature Energy factories are built according to the same model.
Ole Hvelplund likes to say that no matter which Nature Energy factory he will be in in the world, he will know exactly where to put his coat.
European environmental groups make certain criticisms of biomethanization. Among other things because these factories remain industrial installations that come with their share of dangers: explosion and spillage.
And a group of scientists in Europe, the National Scientific Collective Methanization Reasonable (CSNM) , is concerned about the possible presence of bacteria, parasites and drug residues in the digestate produced which could contaminate the soil.
Nature Energy production plant in Denmark
L he Danish company has 13 similar biogas plants in Denmark and one in France. And the CEO of Nature Energy does not hide his ambitions. He dreams of a biomethanization plant every 50 kilometers around the world to treat organic waste.
Quebec is also in its line of sight. In December 2022, Nature Energy signed an agreement worth more than a billion dollars with Énergir to develop ten plants in the province.
In Quebec, several criticisms of biomethanization are also formulated. For example, the David Suzuki Foundation deplores the increased traffic of trucks on the roads, which increases greenhouse gas emissions and fears that the small proportion of RNG injected into Énergir's network will give the public impression that natural gas is completely green. A form of greenwashing.
The province has a few biomethanation plants that mainly process domestic organic waste.
The cities of Quebec and of Saint-Hyacinthe have this type of plant.
The only plant that treats agricultural waste is located in Warwick, in the center of the province. The project is the realization of the Coop Carbone, a non-profit organization whose main mission is the reduction of greenhouse gases, with the participation of the local dairy producers' coop. The Coop Agri-Énergie Warwick plant produces 2.3 million cubic meters of renewable natural gas per year, enough to heat 1,000 homes in one year.