Work begins on Flanders’ first biogas power station


The new energy source in Antwerp province will power the entire Merksplas site and up to 1,000 homes a year

Green gas

Construction is underway on Flanders’ first bio-methane power station, near Turnhout in the Kempen region. “We hope others will soon follow this example,” said Bart Tommelein, Flemish energy minister, when he formally launched the project on Monday.

The work will transform a composting operation between the towns of Beerse and Merksplas into an “energy conversion park”, where organic waste will be fermented to produce methane before it goes into the composting process. This will maximise the usefulness of the waste, which is collected from households across the Kempen region.

Most of the methane will be used to supply heat and power to the Merksplas colony. The 19th-century heritage site was once a settlement for controlling vagrants and now comprises a prison, a centre for asylum seekers and a number of protected buildings.

“It’s unique that an historic, protected site should get its energy from modern, sustainable technology like this,” said Merksplas mayor Frank Wilrycx. “This will have a huge impact on the ecological footprint of the penitentiary, the asylum centre and the town’s tourist project.”

Surplus methane not needed by the colony will be cleaned and fed into the natural gas network. To do this, network operator Eandis has installed about one kilometre of new pipes and built an injection station to bring the methane online.

A first for Belgium

It will also check the quality of the gas beforehand, and add a fragrance so that it smells like natural gas. The bio-methane is considered as a green source of energy since it will come from waste rather than fossil fuels. “Cleaning the gas to produce green gas and injecting it into the natural gas network is a first for Belgium,” Tommelein noted.

The total investment for the project amounts to more than €15.5 million, with co-financing from the government of Flanders and the European Regional Development Fund. According to Paul Macken, director of operating company IOK Afvalbeheer, the ultimate aim is to produce enough methane each year to meet the needs of 1,000 households.

Photo: Part of the former Merksplas colony