Biomethane From Cow Dung Just Tip Of Ukraine Green Recovery

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The Wall Street Journal article set the Intertubes ablaze earlier this week, when they took note of a new biomethane initiative in Ukraine under an attention-getting headline that referenced 5,600 tons of cow dung.  That certainly got peoples’ attention. Meanwhile, though, Ukraine’s green recovery is sprawling in many other directions. That includes the Black Sea, where up to 250 gigawatts’ worth of offshore wind potential beckons in Ukrainian territorial waters.

A Green Recovery For Ukraine, Black Sea Edition

The European news organization CE Energy News took note of the offshore wind angle on Ukraine’s green recovery last November, when the new Black Sea Offshore Energy Federation launched with founding members Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

The World Bank estimates a potential for 435 gigawatts in offshore wind in the Black Sea and its northern extension, the Sea of Azov, with much of highest potential concentrated in Ukrainian waters.

In a recap earlier this year, CE Energy News cited Andriy Konenchenkov, chairman of board of the Ukrainian Wind Energy Association, who pegged Ukraine’s share of the total at up to 250 gigawatts.

Green Recovery & Distributed Wind Resources

The offshore wind resources of the Black Sea are a tantalizing prize, but utility-scale centralized wind farms are just one part of the Ukrainian green recovery picture.

UWEA also draws attention to the role of distributed energy resources in a green recovery. In a presentation to the World Wind Energy Association last May, UWEA board member Mykola Savchuk drew attention to the use of small scale wind turbines in wartime.

“The practice of using small wind turbines during the war in Ukraine (occupation zones, combat zones and other territories with unstable grid power generation) has shown that distributed generation from wind energy has made it possible to have available electricity for our own needs, sometimes even for our neighbors,” he said.

The wind industry has not had much luck pitching small wind turbines in the US, but they could play a significant role in a green recovery for Ukraine.

UWEA points out that small, local wind harvesting devices are a familiar part of the Ukrainian landscape. By the early 20th century, they point out, about 30,000 windmills were generating a total of up to 200 000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

The organization credits Ukrainian scientist and researcher Yuriy Kondratyuk with industrializing the small wind industry in Ukraine, beginning in the 1930s with a 100-kilowatt prototype and moving up to a bi-level windmill with a total capacity of 10 megawatts. After this promising start, UWEA describes a series of policy failures and miscalculations leading up to the early 2000’s.

On a brighter note, UWEA points out that the country’s small wind turbine manufacturing sector has been catching up in recent years, though Savchuk notes the manufacturing facility of the nation’s best known wind turbine, Flamengo Aero, was destroyed during the war.

More Distributed Energy For Ukraine

Small-scale distributed solar energy is also shaping up to become another important part of the green recovery. Last April, Ukraine Business News reported that the nation’s Ministry of Energy has been developing a formal policy on distributed renewable energy resources.

“The program’s purpose is to construct small renewable energy facilities – solar and wind power plants together with energy storage to provide electricity for domestic consumption by critical infrastructure facilities and households for at least four hours and enable sales of surplus production on the market,” UBN observed.

UBN cites small-scale installations of up to 500 kilowatts in capacity, along with storage, to provide energy for essential services at critical infrastructure, medical facilities, and residential buildings.

“Private farms would be provided with up to 10 kW. State and communal institutions can install small renewable energy facilities for their basic needs,” UBN adds.

Biomethane Blowout For A Green Recovery

The farm-based energy angle circles back around to biomethane, also called renewable natural gas.

Biomethane is a purified form of methane-rich biogas, which can be collected from manure and other organic wastes. Ukraine commissioned its first cow manure biogas co-generation plant back in 2010, right around the time that the US Department of Agriculture was beginning to focus attention on biogas resources in the US.

Unlike raw biogas, biomethane is pure enough to be used as a drop-in replacement for fossil natural gas. In terms of farm operations, locally produced biomethane could be used as a vehicle fuel in addition to providing heat or generating electricity.

Georgii Geletukha of the Institute of Engineering Thermophysics at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine took a deep dive into the topic last year. He noted that a Ukrainian biomethane industry could draw from all sorts of livestock manure including cattle manure, pig manure, and poultry litter as well as sheep and goat manure, along with crop residues and byproducts from food processing, among other sources.

Not wasting any time, in April of this year Ukraine hooked up its first biomethane plant to a regional gas grid.

In June, the country’s National Committee for Energy Regulation also approved biomethane for transmission through the national grid. If all goes according to plan, five additional biomethane plants are coming online this year. The nation’s agricultural stakeholders are reportedly considering another 36 plants as well.

A Nuclear (Green?) Recovery For Ukraine

As of this writing, Ukraine is still including a heavy dose of nuclear energy in its decarbonization planning. Still, the memory of the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (transliterated as Chornobyl from Ukrainian), and the wartime threats targeting the massive Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, suggest that nuclear energy may come to play a smaller role in the nation’s green recovery than currently anticipated.

One development to watch is Ukraine’s plans for a green hydrogen hub that would leverage both wind and solar resources to push renewable hydrogen from water with an electrical current, with a focus on exporting hydrogen to Europe.

A key motivator could be Ukraine’s industrial sector, which will have to make the pivot into green energy in order to maintain its share of the market for steel and other products. Last July, Reuters reported that the leading Ukrainian steelmaker Metinvest has incorporated green steel into its rebuilding plans.

Potential competition from regional neighbors could also help spur action on green hydrogen in Ukraine. In Kazakhstan, for example, a massive green hydrogen project is already beginning to take shape, indicating that this nation, like Ukraine, is seeking to pivot to the West, loosen itself from Russian influence, and diversify its energy profile beyond fossil fuels.

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Image: Offshore wind resources for a Ukrainian green recovery (courtesy of World Bank).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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