The extent of the Republic’s food industry waste and farm feed stocks means it stands out in the EU because of its suitability for biomethane production, according to a senior official with the European Commission’s Energy Directorate-General.
The agriculture industry produces a lot of residues that are “ideal feedstocks” for anaerobic digester technology generating biomethane, the DG Energy policy officer, Malcolm McDowell, told the European Biomethane Conference in Dublin on Thursday.
In the Republic’s case, it has a population of more than 4 million, yet its agrifood sector output has the potential to feed 40 million people, he added. Moreover, with large livestock numbers, especially pigs, the State is generating “a hell of a lot of manures”, which was ideal for biomethane production.
Mr McDowell pointed out Ireland is likely to miss its 16 per cent target on renewable energy by 2020 under its climate change obligations by as much as 3 to 4 per cent. The potential of biomethane in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is realisable, though incentives are not yet in place and the Government has to fully recognise that potential, he said.
Biomethane generates 8 per cent of the EU's total renewable energy sources and accounts for 4 per cent of all gas use, he told the conference which was hosted by the German Energy Agency and the Renewable Gas Forum Ireland.
If available feedstock resources in Ireland "are maximised then biogas/biomethane could potentially contribute to 28 per cent of gas supply by 2025", said Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Michael Creed.
The anaerobic digestion industry in the Republic, however, is at a nascent stage of development compared to the more established industry in many European countries, he said. “Potential for the growth of the AD sector in Ireland is strong but it should be seen as a long-term development.”
Mr Creed said his department is working with the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) “to examine potential options to support biomethane grid injection”.
He acknowledged the multiple benefit to farmers in monetising their waste and residue streams by diversifying their income streams, and thereby contributing to decarbonisation of the agriculture sector and the gas grid.
Cooking oils for fuel
Calor Gas chief executive Gino Vansteenhuyse said his company was playing a leading role in supplying customers who were not on the gas grid, and scaling up its adoption of renewable gas, notably in the form of its new product BioLPG. Made from cooking oils and renewable vegetable oils, it reduces carbon emissions by up to 80 per cent.
Calor is already almost half way toward a target of supplying 10 per cent of its 40,000 customers by 2020 with BioLPG which was launched earlier this year.
Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) innovation and business development manager Ian Kilgallon confirmed discussions were continuing with the DCCAE with a view to having biomethane included in the new Support Scheme for Renewable Heat and "early-stage demonstration projects" in place generating gas by 2021.
GNI is gearing up to support the building of 250 anaerobic digesters for the agriculture sector using food crops and food wastes to generate biomethane capable of being injected into the national gas grid. Separately, it is expected that the waste industry will generate 10 per cent of the gas using commercial wastes over the following decade.
Guillaume Virmaux, head of European affairs with GRFF, France's gas distribution network, said the country had 65 biomethane built plants since 2013; 57 of which were injecting the renewable gas into the grid – with a new site currently coming on stream every three weeks. A total of 49 plants were using agricultural feedstocks. While biomethane was more expensive than natural gas, it was renewable and cheaper than wind and solar.
Renewable gas including biomethane would eventually take over from natural gas, he predicted, which was possible in France by 2050, and was shown to be economically viable.
Jesper Bjerg of the European Renewable Gas Registry said it was hoping to be approved shortly by the European Commission to co-ordinate registries of biogas suppliers across Europe to enable transfer of biomethane across borders for use as a fuel, especially in transport.