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Croatia has gone further than any other country in the region when it comes to bio-waste management and treatment, but the youngest member of the EU is still at the beginning of the journey given its overall potential in this area. Let’s assume that Croatia fully uses its bio-waste potential of 400,000 tonnes. If so, it could produce 104 GWh of electricity per year, or 7.3% of the country’s total electricity production in 2021 from renewable energy sources, said Marko List, CEO of ConsultAre, a Croatian company that is making great progress in the management of bio-waste. in an interview with Balkan Green Energy News.

With the energy crisis in full swing and countries scrambling to secure their energy supply, bio-waste seems to be wrongfully excluded from mainstream deliberations on green energy and climate solutions. Bio-waste could play an important role in the production of clean energy from domestic sources, given that it accounts for 30-40% of all municipal waste in Europe and that responsible management of bio-waste reduces methane emissions , a gas that affects climate change 20 times more than CO2.

Looking for examples of good practice in the region, Balkan Green Energy News found one in Croatia. So far, the country has installed six facilities to convert bio-waste into feedstock for biogas plants that produce electricity and heat.

Biogas power plant in Croatia (photo: ConsultAre)

Although Slovenia and Hungary each have one installation of this type, Croatia leads in terms of the number of installations installed. This achievement, as with most new technologies, is due to six years of effort and enthusiasm of the Croatian company ConsultAre, leader in this part of Europe in biogas consulting and the distribution of technologies and bio-waste treatment equipment.

Croatia has been treating bio-waste for ten years

Croatia took its first steps in using biowaste in biogas plants, alongside their traditional feedstocks such as corn silage and animal manure, in 2012 and 2013, according to ConsultAre CEO Marko List. This included ordinary bio-waste, but also food from restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and farmers’ markets, he explains.

Collection of bio-waste Croatia

Collection of bio-waste in Croatia (photo: ConsultAre)

In 2013, as a new member of the EU, Croatia adopted a law on sustainable waste management in accordance with the European Waste Framework Directive, setting a waste recycling target of 50% by 2022 Some cities and municipalities have taken this goal seriously, and the goal has so far been achieved by Osijek, Prelog, Krk, Koprivnica, etc.

“In the beginning, when most bio-waste came from restaurants and hotels, it did not contain impurities, such as plastic, glass, metal, etc. However, when cities and municipalities started collecting bio-waste separately and became interested in biogas plants, they faced the problem of impurity disposal. So, in 2019, the first device was installed in a biogas plant, and it turned out to be a great success, easily overcoming the impurity challenge,” List explained.

Bio-waste management reduces municipal waste and brings financial gains

Bio-waste management is important for several reasons. This process is, as List says, a “combination of different factors”, but clearly everyone can benefit from it – some by reducing costs, as is the case with utility companies, and d others by making a profit.

Croatia bio-waste management

Bio-waste management in Croatia (Photo: ConsultAre)

Regarding cost reduction, the separate collection and treatment of bio-waste reduces the quantities of municipal waste, as required by the EU, allowing cities and municipalities to reduce the fees they pay to the State for failing to meet targets, according to List. Additionally, public and private utility companies in Croatia are looking for ways to profit from bio-waste management, not just reduce costs, and one utility company has already purchased a bio-waste treatment machine, says -he.

On the other hand, the private sector has spotted an opportunity to make a profit by processing bio-waste and selling feedstock to biogas plants. Faced with rising costs for their main raw materials, biogas plants are seeking to diversify their supplies and find new raw materials.

Available data shows that one metric ton of bio-waste produces an average of 130 cubic meters (m3) of biogas with a methane content of 55-60%, while producing 1 MWh of electricity requires around 500 m3 of biogas – which translates to 1 MWh of electricity from approximately 3.8 tonnes of bio-waste.

In terms of heat, List explains that 1 m3 of biogas produces 6 kWh of heat, which means that 1 tonne of biowaste produces 780 kWh of heat.

The treatment of bio-waste requires state-of-the-art machinery

Under European and Croatian legislation, producers are responsible for the management of all expired packaged food in supermarkets, which obliges producers whose activity does not include waste management to pay specialized private companies to to do work.

Before the Dutch company Mavitec rolled out its depackers, machines distributed in the region by ConsultAre, expired food was depackaged manually, which was very expensive and slow. Using Mavitec systems sped up the process, making it cheaper and more competitive, according to List. This technology, he explains, is equally effective in the treatment of municipal bio-waste, bio-waste from restaurants and bio-waste generated by the food industry.

Paddle Depacker technology for the treatment of bio-waste

Paddle Depacker technology for the treatment of bio-waste (photo: ConsultAre)

A big problem in the treatment of bio-waste is the content of impurities, which represent about 20-25% of household bio-waste in Croatia.

This, according to List, is the result of insufficient efforts by utilities to educate and raise awareness among customers, but also the negligence of some customers, who simply do not want to sort their waste. List recently posted an article on this topic to help resolve the issue.

The CEO of the pioneering company in bio-waste management in Croatia also explains that the machine, called Paddle Depacker, very effectively separates all impurities from bio-waste and other organic waste, as well as expired food packaging. The secret of the machine’s efficiency lies in its special fast-rotating blades and sieves, which separate the packaging from the organic matter. The purity of the organic soup, the end product of the treatment of bio-waste, reaches more than 99.5% and its quality is verified by analyzes carried out in laboratories in Austria and Germany. These analyzes are necessary so that the owners of biogas plants can be certain that the new feedstock is compatible with their technology and complies with the standards.

The device is available in two versions, one with a capacity of 5 m3 per hour and the other with a capacity of 30 m3 per hour.

City of Osijek leads the way in waste management

The Croatian city of Osijek is a good example of commitment to waste management, including bio-waste. In 2021, the city sorted and collected 51% of all waste generated. However, the case of Osijek also illustrates the serious challenges of setting up a system and ensuring that citizens continuously separate waste. Although Osijek has a history of good performance in waste management, it took several years of preparation and education for the city to secure the necessary infrastructure, build a bio-waste treatment facility and ensure the cooperation of the public service and citizens.

“Osijek is a commendable example – cooperation between city authorities, politicians, public service and citizens in action,” says List.

Great potential of bio-waste for electricity generation

ConsultAre conducted an analysis demonstrating the great potential of using bio-waste in energy production in Croatia. The untapped potential of 400,000 tonnes of bio-waste could be harnessed to generate 104 GWh of electricity per year, equivalent to 7.3% of Croatia’s electricity production in 2021 from renewable sources.

Currently, there are 42 biogas power plants in operation in Croatia, with a combined capacity of 47.9 MW, but only 11 of them used bio-waste last year (just over 17,000 tonnes). The potential is huge, but the lack of raw material collected by utility companies remains the biggest challenge given that, according to official data, bio-waste is not collected separately in 61% of Croatian cities and municipalities.

List also explains that major cities and municipalities should definitely consider building their own biogas plants. According to him, Zagreb intends to build a composting plant and a biogas power plant that will process bio-waste collected in the Croatian capital.

The city of Novska also plans to build a composting plant and a biogas power plant, with an annual capacity of 60,000 tonnes of bio-waste. The investment, valued at 50 million euros, will be financed by EU funds in the framework of a public call for the construction of treatment facilities for separately collected bio-waste, within the framework of the Croatian national plan of recovery and resilience 2021-2026, he said.

Small, medium and large companies are eligible to apply, while the grants will cover between 35% and 80% of investments in biological treatment facilities and separate collection of bio-waste. “In addition to solving the bio-waste problem and turning expenditure into income through investment, cities and municipalities could also have a positive impact on the economy as a whole and on the environment, by selling organic electricity and, in the future, biogas, heat and digested fertilizer,” says List.

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