Green gas: Net zero through corporate collaboration?


Philipp Lukas, MD and founder of Future Biogas, says collaboration is key to achieving net zero. Hence the firm opening up its labs to other anaerobic digestion producers.

With Australia burning and the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest accelerating, the urgency with which we need to reduce our carbon emissions to zero has never been clearer. Green energy is, of course, at the heart of this transformation. However, we will struggle to bring about the age of renewable energy in the time frame climate scientists deem necessary if we stick to the traditional business practice of keeping accrued company knowledge inhouse.

I believe that corporate collaboration within the renewable energy industry is key to the attainment of net zero. The goal is now collective, so the time has come for us to work together. The green energy revolution depends upon on us sharing our knowledge, techniques and expertise. Collaboration is the best and fastest way to raise the standards across each green sector – thereby making them more attractive to both private and government investment. It’s also how we maximise our environmental credibility. All businesses within a specific sector are damaged by just one company getting things wrong.

Green energy production lends itself well to a collective approach. Biogas production, for example, is a process that has occurred for millennia in the stomach of a cow. We haven’t reinvented the wheel and to pretend we have is disingenuous. What we must do is share our insights and experience around farming, biology and engineering, to ensure best practice comes as standard across the industry.

It is in the interests of experienced companies – like mine – to help their counterparts. Even though the AD industry is still in its infancy, there has still been enough time for its pioneers to have accumulated a wealth of specialist knowledge that start-ups or smaller operators may lack. We as a firm have reached a critical mass that allows us to employ specialists that a single farm operation will never be able to afford. When you couple this with the fact there simply isn’t time to let other companies go through the same learning processes we had to, the only option we have is to share.

Since I founded Future Biogas in 2008, the way we go about growing, ensiling and fermenting feedstocks to create biogas has changed dramatically. We have learned so much. In our Guildford head office we now have a laboratory with specialist biologists monitoring the digester contents of our AD plants. They are constantly taking and analysing samples of the fermenting biomass and exploring new feedstocks. They’ve honed an array of techniques to deal rapidly with any early signs of microbial imbalance that could endanger the quantity or quality of the gas produced.

For us, this biology team represents a not insubstantial investment. The normal business practice would be to keep such expertise under wraps. But on the journey to net zero, such an approach doesn’t make sense. That’s why we’re now opening up our lab to other AD companies. We have a common goal of making both government legislators and potential investors understand that – when done properly – AD is among the most reliable and deployable green energy sources there is.

Since setting up Future Biogas, I have strived to create an open house, community culture within both the company and the industry. It’s my hope that other green energy businesses follow suit. We’ve all got to be better. Working together is how we can do just that.

Future Biogas runs a portfolio of 13 anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. From April 2020, it will launch a subsidiary consultancy service – focusing on the biological expertise required to optimise AD plant efficiency. Called Fern AD, it will mean other AD plant operators will be able to harness Future Biogas biologists and its in-house laboratory.

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