California, Sweden agree to develop biomethane and other renewable fuels

In a ceremony held at the Ministry of the Environment in Stockholm, representatives of the Kingdom of Sweden and the state of California signed an agreement pledging the two governments and their related industries to work together to develop bioenergy, with a particular emphasis on biomethane.

“Through a strong working relationship between its industry and government, Sweden is showing how bioenergy can be developed in a cost-effective manner that benefits its economy and environment. We are extremely pleased to have signed this Memorandum of Understanding that will provide a basis for intensified collaboration between Swedish and California officials to develop a thriving bioenergy industry in California,” said Joe Desmond, undersecretary for the California Resources Agency.

In particular, Sweden has been a global leader in terms of converting biowaste, largely agricultural material and residues, into usable biomethane. This gas is then used to either generate electricity, residential heating, or as a transportation fuel. Roughly 50 percent of the methane used to power Sweden’s natural gas vehicles comes from biological sources.

“Signing this MOU was very consistent with the governor’s own bioenergy agenda and executive order. We can benefit from Swedish knowledge and technology to advance our own bioenergy industry here in California,” said California Energy Commission Jim Boyd, who also serves as chairman of the governor’s Interagency Bioenergy Task Force.

The MOU recognizes Sweden’s leadership in the field of bioenergy and identifies how the two governments can benefit from enhanced cooperation and interaction.

More than 8,000 vehicles in Sweden are powered by a combination of natural gas and biomethane. The vehicles include transit buses, refuse trucks, and more than 10 different models of passenger cars. There are more than 25 biomethane production facilities in Sweden and 65 filling stations. The Swedish biomethane industry has been growing at an annual rate of about 20 percent over the last five years.

Sweden was motivated to develop its biomethane industry because it has no natural gas reserves, to more efficiently manage its waste, and to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Accord. Since biomethane is developed from methane sources that would normally release into the atmosphere, it’s considered one of the most climate friendly fuels. Methane is 21 times more reactive as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Sweden is currently meetings its objectives and schedule as outlined in the Kyoto accord.

Biomethane is developed by heating up and breaking down biomaterials in a digester. Among other raw materials, Swedish operators feed their digesters with slaughterhouse waste, swine manure, and even grassy crops. After the materials breakdown over a 20-day period, technology is then used to remove the impurities and produce biomethane. Once cleaned-up, biomethane is 98 percent methane and easily meets the Swedish and California pipeline standards.

Sweden refers to its biomethane program as a way to “green” the pipeline. Once upgraded, renewable biomethane is in some cases injected into the nation’s natural gas pipeline network to augment supplies. The program is similar to the “green energy” program operated by some electric utilities in California.

The MOU between Sweden and California was signed after a tour of Swedish biomethane facilities by a delegation of California business and government leaders. Led by Undersecretary Desmond and Commissioner Boyd, the California delegation included leaders the California dairy industry and ranching industries, a gas utility, Volvo, as well as other key regulatory officials. CALSTART in partnership with the Business Region Gothenburg organized the educational tour.

“Going forward we will be working closely with Swedish and California government and industry officials to take concrete steps and develop the biomethane industry in California,” said CALSTART President and CEO, John Boesel. “California is leading the nation in terms of using natural gas as a transportation fuel. We now want to enter the next phase where we both that program and start utilizing biomethane,” said Boesel.

In addition to biomethane, Sweden is also taking a leadership position in the development of an ethanol refueling-network. Sweden has more than 300 E-85 stations. Among others, Volvo and Saab have developed cars that can effectively run on E-85. While in Sweden the officials toured one of the world’s few cellulosic ethanol plants where wood waste was being converted into ethanol.

The Memorandum of Understanding can be accessed on the California Resources Agency Web site at:

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