Government’s biomethane strategy finally gets off the ground

Plan for establishing up to 200 anaerobic digestion plants by 2030 would save a lot of CO2, but what will it mean for farmers?

The strategy arguably relegates farmers to the roles of feedstock suppliers and digestate users, making it nearly impossible for them to own the industry. Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

The Government has got around to publishing its long-awaited biomethane strategy. The delay is inexplicable given the technology is proven and, with agriculture core to the economy, its widespread deployment in rural Ireland ticks a lot of boxes. It entails a new biogas supply chain, reduces emissions and water pollution while providing an alternative to chemical fertilisers.

Perhaps the calamitous “cash for ash” scandal in the North made the public servants trying to fashion the right supporting policy proceed with extreme caution. The botched renewable heat incentive scheme proved to be shockingly costly.

The strategy envisages establishing 140-200 anaerobic digestion (AD) plants by 2030 – from a standing start of just three. There is €40 million in initial capital supports from a potential EU pot of €1 billion.

There will be no feed-in tariff or long-term support schemes similar to those for wind and solar. Clearly, the new market is being targeted at commercial developers in the belief that there will be big demand for the clean gas, especially from heavy industries requiring extreme heat from non-fossil sources and data centres eager to switch to renewables for their power supply.


Arguably, it is relegating farmers to the roles of feedstock suppliers and digestate users, making it nearly impossible for them to own the industry. With an estimated cost of €15 million per plant, the feedstock is likely to be sourced from within a radius of 25km with outputs fed into the national grid.

The policy seeks to generate 5.7 terawatt hours (TWh) by decade end, equivalent to 10 per cent of current gas demand. It envisages the average AD plant will produce 4 gigawatt hours (GWh), enough to supply gas to 6,500 households. This means big land use change as it is estimated 2,000 acres of silage will be needed per plant.

The potential carbon return is not insignificant; each plant would need some 30,000 tonnes of slurry as feedstock. All told, having 200 ADs would save about 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually. To nudge the market in the right direction, the Government will introduce in the autumn a new obligation in the heat sector to use biomethane.