Nature Energy – Fuelled by Nature
Denmark-based Nature Energy is a leader in the green transition and a biogas pioneer.
“Biogas is a great example of a circular economy. Biogas is produced by the conversion of what we don’t want into what we need. The process allows us to transform food waste, organic fertiliser and other organic waste into climate-friendly green gas. This enables us to solve the problem of waste in society, while at the same time creating important green energy that can be passed on directly to the many sectors requiring biogas within the green transition.”
This summary on Nature Energy’s website of what biogas is about, is a crystal-clear explanation of the company’s core business and the philosophy behind its establishment, fully in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Starting to operate as a new entity focused solely on biogas only a few years ago, initially with just 5 people, the company has grown into a business of more than 260 employees, operating 11 biogas plants around Denmark with several new ones underway, as well as plants in Northern Ireland and France.
“Ours has been a quick but fantastic journey,” says CEO Ole Hvelplund. “Supported by committed investors, the business has experienced a huge expansion, not just geographical but also financial – starting from zero in 2016, the revenues in 2021 are forecast at EUR 200 million.”
The business model
Nature Energy is one of the world’s biggest producers of biogas. Its biogas plants will treat more than 4 million tonnes of biomass – waste from agriculture, industry and households – in 2021, converting it into more than 165 million m3 of green gas. That much biogas could fuel 8,000 lorries driving 30,000 miles per year, or heat 57,000 homes. All of this is CO2-neutral as well as replacing fossil fuels.
“We collect and deliver biomass from businesses, agriculture and households and return the degassed biomass to agriculture to recycle the nutrients. This is the circular economy at its best. At the same time, we always make sure that the surrounding community remains as undisturbed as possible by transport and odours,” says Ole Hvelplund.
He explains that the company’s business model is based on large-scale production that achieves more and cheaper biogas. The economy of scale and replicability are key – all the plants are green-field investments, designed to the company’s standards.
“Our plants are large and very similar to each other, reducing the investment costs. The plants are built within 25 km of organic waste sources, i.e. agricultural and industrial facilities as well as residential development. This model is not very common in the biogas arena – usually, the plant is attached to a single farm, for example. What we do is much more industrialised and professionalised.”
“Large-scale production is a key condition for us to be able to supply more biogas to society in a fast and cost-effective manner. We pursue the sole objective of optimising and reducing our production costs, thereby making biogas cheaper. Large-scale production plays a vital role in this area.”
The perfect circle
“One of the things that make us different is that we have investors who believe in our strategy. That is of course a huge advantage and one that pushes our expansion,” admits Mr Hvelplund, adding that although the development has financial support, it is not without its challenges.
“Biogas plants are connected with local societies, processing their wastes and sending the final product back into society. It is a perfect circular process, but maybe not so generally known to the public. Society has to realise that renewable energy is not only about solar and wind but just as much about waste and its processing in, as far as possible, a natural manner.”
A good relationship with neighbours and making sure that biogas plants do not disturb the surroundings is crucial. Nature Energy engages in the local community and is open to sponsoring local associations, and uses local workers when possible. Its biogas plants are among the most modern in the world, which means that odour emission to the surrounding communities is reduced to a minimum.
Nature Energy is already making a big difference in the green transition, but it doesn’t stop there. The company is investing intensively in research, including its own laboratory at its head office in Odense, focusing on refining the technology as well as doing research in new biomasses for the production of green, CO2-neutral energy in the future.
In expanding its footprint, the company has just recently secured feedstock partnerships and started construction of a new large-scale biogas plant located in the southern part of Jutland, Denmark with planned commissioning in April 2022.
On a different front, last year Nature Energy entered into a major agreement to sell biomethane to Shell Energy Europe Limited. The long-term agreement is the largest of its kind and demonstrates the important role that biomethane can play in Europe’s transition to a lower-carbon society.
“This agreement is a commercial breakthrough for biomethane. The size of the agreement also gives us more strength to realize new biomethane projects. We have ambitions to build several large-scale biomethane plants in Denmark, North America and other parts of Europe, and the agreement with Shell is a crucial step for both Nature Energy and the energy transition,” Ole Hvelplund states.
“We will continue the growth path that we have followed over the last four years. There is huge potential out there, with ideally one biogas plant per every 50 km. So if we do 5-10 plants a year, that represents a huge task in Europe and in North America,” Mr Hvelplund muses. “The fact is, society needs green gas. And Nature Energy will grow in line with the growing demand for our products.”