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Sweden can benefit greatly from biogas – not least saving electricity

27 February 2024

A large portion of all new ships can run on it. It can also be produced locally in Sweden without consuming too much electricity. And most importantly – the Swedish shipping industry wants it! According to a new pre-study by the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) and Lighthouse, all that remains now is to build up the production and distribution capacity for biogas.

"I have never been involved in a project with such engaged stakeholders. They truly see this as a hope for the industry's future," says Desirée Grahn, project manager at the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

She talks about shipping companies, ports, biogas producers, and others who participated in the project Förnybar flytande biogas (LBG) till sjöfart i praktiken (Renewable Liquid Biogas (LBG) for Maritime in Practice) carried out within the framework of the Swedish Transport Administration Sustainable Shipping industry program, managed by Lighthouse.

"Those who have worked with biogas for a while can see all the advantages of it as a fuel," adds her colleague Karl Jivén.

He almost finds it tiresome to list them all in article after article but says it's necessary to reiterate them. So, first and foremost, the technology is mature, and all of the world's new LNG and dual-fuel ships can run on biogas. Another advantage is that biogas can be produced locally, for example, using waste that would otherwise emit methane, which can now instead be spread over fields as fertilizer after biogas production, reducing the need for imported, fossil-based mineral fertilizers. Domestic biogas production also reduces dependence on imported natural gas, increasing the country's supply security in uncertain times like now. Swedish production and bunkering of LBG can also provide economic benefits to our shipping industry as it can offer higher price stability and predictability compared to LNG and other fossil fuels.

"Moreover, and I don't think this has really been highlighted in the debate, very little electricity is needed to produce biogas. This means that if you produce biogas equivalent to 10 or 20 terawatt-hours instead of electrofuels, which require much more electricity to produce, the expansion of electricity production capacity does not need to be as stressed," says Karl Jivén.

With the Ukraine conflict and the changed security situation in the world, biogas has been highlighted as one of the replacements for natural gas, which has become less accessible in the West.

"For example, the German market wants a lot of biogas. But for biogas to be transported over longer distances, it needs to be converted into liquid form. So, many biogas producers are planning for that now. It means reaching new customer segments but also enabling the shipping industry to access larger volumes," says Desirée Grahn.

However, to achieve an industrial scale of production that can establish the use of LBG within the shipping sector in Sweden, new approaches are needed. Even if they want to, individual shipping companies cannot create a market themselves.

"We need new marketplaces that make it easier for actors to both sell and buy. There needs to be more transparency and communication between the parties," says Karl Jivén.

"And one of the most important things we take from this project is that we, for example, had workshops and ensured that biogas actors and shipping actors met to start getting to know each other," adds Desirée Grahn.

"Yes," says Karl Jivén. "Anyone who wants to establish a production facility needs a long-term customer, both to receive climate crisis support and to attract investors. At the same time, shipping companies need access to a fuel they can calculate with in the long term."

The development continues forward. Several biogas plants have progressed from planning to construction phase, and new policy instruments promote the production of renewable energy, conclude the researchers who identify the following conclusions and recommendations for future work:

  • The potential for biogas is significant and not fully exploited.
  • Shipping actors are very interested and see biogas as a strategic solution.
  • Continued dialogue between stakeholders (shipping industry, biogas producers, and transport buyers) is necessary to increase the use of LBG within Swedish shipping.
  • Distribution and logistics of LBG need to be improved to enable easier delivery to ships.
  • Long-term contracts are needed to stabilize prices for LBG.
  • A marketplace for LBG sales can facilitate for smaller producers and create a more transparent market.
  • The tax system may need to be reviewed to facilitate the transition between different states (gas/liquid) of biogas.
  • Biogas in shipping can help reduce the pressure on electricity demand and serve as a transitional measure towards electrification.

The pre-study "Renewable Liquid Biogas (LBG) for Maritime Practice" was authored by: Desirée Grahn, Anders Hjort, Karl Jivén, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute Ellinor Forsström, Jonatan Gehandler, Sixten Dahlbom, RISE

In collaboration with: Port of Gothenburg, Port of Gävle, Terntank, Furetank, Biogas Syd, Biogas Sydost, Swedish Gas Association (Energigas Sverige), Wallenius Sol, and Wallenius Marine.

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