Biomethane industry could cut Irish emissions by four million tonnes per year

Gas made from farm and food waste could replace more than 25% of natural gas on network and create new agri-income streams, says Gas Networks Ireland

Ireland has the potential for a biomethane industry which could reduce emissions by four million tonnes per year, or 6.5 per cent of Ireland’s total emissions, according to a new report by Gas Networks Ireland.

The report found that Ireland’s potential biomethane industry could replace more than a quarter of natural gas on the network, and create “significant” new agri-income streams.

Biomethane is a carbon-neutral renewable gas that can be made from farm and food waste through anaerobic digestion. It is structurally identical to natural gas and is fully compatible with the national gas network and existing appliances, technologies and vehicles.

The national gas network operated by Gas Networks Ireland supplies more than 30 per cent of Ireland’s total energy, including 40 per cent of all heating and almost 50 per cent of the country’s electricity generation.

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Gas Networks Ireland first introduced domestically produced biomethane in 2020, and last year transported 41 gigawatt hours of biomethane in the national network.

The Biomethane Energy Report identifies 176 projects throughout the country that have the overall potential to produce 14.8 terawatt hours (TWh) of biomethane annually, or 26 per cent of Ireland’s current gas demand.

The report identified Cavan, Kildare, Limerick, Cork and Monaghan as the top five counties in terms of prospective biomethane production volumes.

Gas Networks Ireland said it was “confident” that with the right structures and policies in place the Government’s target to produce up to 5.7 TWh of biomethane by 2030 was “not only an achievable ambition, but potentially even a conservative one”.

Gas Networks Ireland chief executive Cathal Marley said that “the appetite is there” to produce more biomethane and that Ireland had a “real opportunity to develop a biomethane industry at scale”.

He said this would help decarbonise Ireland’s energy system and economy, as well as offering numerous benefits for the agricultural economy through decarbonation of the agri-food sector.

“However, a new biomethane industry in Ireland, as with any emerging sector, will face challenges that must be overcome. While the first Irish policy support for biomethane is in development, it is essential that it provides a framework that delivers long-term price certainty for biomethane producers and ensures that the planning and permitting process is aligned to the specific needs of the sector,” he said.

Gas Networks Ireland has said the next “significant step” it will take towards growing the biomethane industry will be the development of a contract and tender process for the procurement of biomethane for its own use. It has said it aims to replace up to 50 per cent of the gas it currently uses in Ireland to operate the system.

The Biomethane Energy Report is based on responses to a market-testing request for information issued by Gas Networks Ireland to current and future biomethane producers in October 2022.

The report is set to be launched by Gas Networks Ireland on Thursday at the Irish Renewable Gas Conference 2023 in Dublin.

Ellen O'Regan

Ellen O’Regan

Ellen O’Regan is a former Irish Times journalist.