Significant potential for biogas production in Estonia remains untapped

In a biogas plant, waste is broken down in a natural process called anaerobic digestion.
In a biogas plant, waste is broken down in a natural process called anaerobic digestion. Source: Kärt Kanger

Researchers from the Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMU) who examined the development potential of the circular bio-economy in south-east Estonia discovered that a substantial amount of biodegradable waste that could be used for biogas production is simply discarded.

Rando Värnik and his colleagues looked at the amount of byproducts and biodegradable waste generated by the agricultural, food and beverage industries in the counties of Võru, Valga, and Põlva.

The researchers examined what is currently done with byproducts and proposed a better practice of recycling of biodegradable waste generated in these industries.

The most useful byproduct in southeastern Estonia turned out to be liquid manure from dairy, pig and poultry farming, which is primarily used for fertilizing fields.

The researchers suggested that a steady supply of liquid manure throughout the year could enable the operation of 5,2 biogas digesters in Põlva County, 2,9 in Valga County, and 1,1 in Võru County with a capacity of 4,000 cubic meters each.

Straw is another by-product of crop production that is often left on the field as fertilizer.

Biodegradable waste from the food and drink industry includes end-of-life products and, depending on the production sector, other by-products and wastes. The researchers estimated that much larger amounts of whey, sewage sludge, fruit and vegetable peel, as well as berry pomace could be recycled as well. At present, the by-products and wastes generated are mainly handed over to a waste treatment company.

At the same time, it turned out that farmers, food and drink producers in southeastern Estonia are keen in recycling of their by-products and biodegradable waste generated on their farms.

55 percent of the companies polled were interested in more intense collaboration with other businesses to process these by-products.

The seminars held in Võru by the Võrumaa Development Center before and after the study confirmed this as well. Värnik and his colleagues said that participation from local entrepreneurs, governments and other interested parties was very high.

Farmers, in particular, are looking for ways to improve their permanent grassland meadows and improve their by-products and biodegradable waste on site, which is currently simply discarded.

Local entrepreneurs are actively developing two new biogas plants in the counties of Põlva and, in the future, Valga. The researchers said that also in northern Võrumaa a second biogas plant could be useful as well.

Värnik and his colleagues relied on national databases for their research. In addition, they conducted a telephone poll of the target group, set up a focus group discussion and several follow-up interviews.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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