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Biz & SDGs Experience
Title

The biomethane production and the biorefinery 2.0 of Hera Group

SDGs Coverage
Year of Publication of the Experience: 2017

Abstract

Hera Group is committed to fight climate change and reduce fossil fuels in all its operations. The project that better address the challenge of goal 7 “Affordable and clean energy” is the creation of a fully integrated biorefinery in Sant’Agata Bolognese. The biodigester will be able to process 100,000 tons/y of organic waste and 35,000 tons of green waste from separate waste collection. It will lead the Group to produce from 2018 about 20,000 tons of high quality fertilizer and more than 7.5 million of m3/y of biomethane, which can directly reach homes after being fed into distribution networks. Moreover, the annual production of biomethane will avoid the use of more than 6,000 toe of fossil fuels and 14,600 tons of CO2 emissions.

The Experience

Sustainability is a key priority for Hera’s strategy and approach. Ever since its establishment the Group has been geared towards integrating sustainability in business activities, planning and control systems. The pathway defined in 2002 took another step forward in 2016 with the definition of the “Hera approach” to creating shared value (CSV). For Hera, the creation ofshared value is the result of all those business activities that generate operating margins and meet the global agenda drivers, i.e. those “calls to action” for change in specific fields, set out in global, European, national and local policies. Hera’s approach to CSV will also be a new source for steering the future strategy in every single businesses managed, a strategy that already fully integrates sustainability aspects consistently with the goals for sustainable development defined in the 2030 UN Agenda. This long-established approach already allows the Group to develop projects and activities geared towards CSV.

The answer of Hera to the goals and the challenges related to them is represented by the projects developed and the internal targets set up for future. Hera’s contribution concern 10 goals of the 2030 UN Agenda, predominantly in: sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, affordable clean energy, climate actions, decent work and economic growth, and industry, innovation and infrastructure.

The key commitment that the Hera Group assigned to energy efficiency and to the use of energy from renewable resources is concrete, real and continues during the years with different activities and projects implemented in order to improve the use of renewable energy and, at the same time, reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.

In this way the “Affordable and clean energy” goal of the 2030 UN Agenda has been identified as an opportunity for the Hera Group to further enhance this commitment and to answer to one of the “calls to actions” for change, set out in global, european, national and local policies. To this extent the Group is carrying out different activities, both internal and external, that involve our daily operations but also our clients and customers activities and lifestyle.

Our contribution to fight climate change and to reduce fossil fuels has improved over time. Following the decision, taken in 2017, to use only energy from renewable sources for all the activities managed in Emilia-Romagna region, Hera launched a project focused on energy production: the creation of a fully integrated biorefinery in Sant’Agata Bolognese. The biodigester will be able to process 100,000 tonnes per year of organic waste and 35,000 tonnes of green waste from separate collection. It will lead the Group to produce from 2018 about 20,000 tonnes of high quality fertilizer and more than 7.5 million of cubic meter/year of biomethane from organic waste, which can directly reach homes after being fed into distribution networks. The annual production of biomethane will also avoid the use of more than 6,000 toe of fossil fuels and CO2 emission of 14,600 tonnes.

Moreover the Group undertook many activities to help our customers in reducing their emissions by using better tools to control their consumption or by implementing energy saving measures.

The use of renewable sources and cogeneration plants in energy production for internal and external use has always been a strategic issue for the Group and, in 2016, it reached 72.6% of total electric energy produced. Hera has already been producing biogas for years, using biodigesters and landfills, to produce electricity in order to fully exploit all the synergies deriving from its “multi business model”. At the same time the use of bioenergy and biofuels have been strongly supported by governments and public authorities to reach the important targets set by the European Union 2030 strategy and by the national energy strategy (SEN). In this direction the new plant in Sant’Agata Bolognese meets all the requirements of the circular economy producing renewable energy from waste and at the same time recycling material.

Innovation has a crucial role in developing a fully integrated biomethane plant and an innovative biorefinery in terms of processes and technologies adopted.

Indeed, Hera started researches targeted to produce advanced biofuels obtained by processing grass cuttings and pruning material collected in the served area. Currently, these waste materials are used in composting or energy recovery processes but, in the future, they will be used to produce biomethane in the Sant’Agata Bolognese new plant or bioethanol in other future plants. Both these fuels can be labelled as “advanced” because they are produced from waste materials and not from dedicated energy crops potentially destined to the food market. To be able to obtain these fuels from ligno-cellulosic waste, pre-treatment are required, such as steam explosion (a particular thermal treatment with high pressure steam), that makes the material readily degradable by bacteria, enzymes or yeasts, in anaerobic digestion processes or alcoholic fermentation.

Also, technologies used in the plant are the fruit of research, studies and european competitions that have led Hera to choose the best of what is now available on the market. The plant is in line with the best technologies envisaged by the European Union for a circular economy and with regional guidelines for treating the organic portion of waste.

The Innovation department of the Group, along with Herambiente, carried out all the preliminary steps and the realization of the project. More than 20 people have been involved in technical studies, operations, analysis of national and European legislation and in commercial activities. Members of the Hera Group also have been involved in national consultations to support the definition of laws and rules for biofuels market in Italy and in working groups to define the best features of the biomethane to be used in public network.

In the Sant’Agata Bolognese biomethane plant, a process with great potential has begun: thanks to the implementation of new and improved anaerobic digestion and up-grading technologies (respectively developed by Kompogas in Switzerland and Malberg in Sweden), biomethane will be produced without relinquishing the recovery of materials and the production of compost for agriculture. Its dimensions is also significant, requiring an overall investment of roughly 30 million euro.

The project has already become a benchmark for the Italian market and will undoubtedly act as a reference point for the entire country. Bearing in mind that new national legislation will promote this type of plants as a source of renewable energy, above all by encouraging biomethane production for use in automobiles, further impetus will certainly be added to projects like this. This is therefore an initiative that, if replicated, may offer an important contribution to national energy strategy and towards achieving the 2030 European targets. The Sustainable development goals framework help companies like Hera Group to foster innovation and sustainability strategy in order to create better solution and increase commitment to all stakeholders. They give also the opportunity to reflect on impacts and externalities of business activities and to better measure their effects.

HERA
The Hera Group is one of the major multi-utility companies in Italy: it offers the sustainable management of several public services to 4.4 million citizens in 349 municipalities spread over 5 Italian regions (Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Marche and Tuscany). Hera operates mainly in Environmental services – waste collection and treatment –, Energy services – distribution and sale of electricity and gas – and Water services – waterworks, sewerage and purification –, with strong roots in the areas in which it operates and deep focus on sustainability.
«Hera Group react to the goals and the challenges related to SDGs with projects and the internal targets set up for future. Hera’s contribution concern 10 goals of the 2030 UN Agenda.»
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