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EBA e-Conference discussed the huge potential of biomethane to accelerate Europe's Green Deal

The European Green Deal is a great opportunity to enable the direct scale-up of biomethane, an industry with an enormous available potential to deploy renewable gases, help the development of rural economies and drive an efficient circular economy as over 200 participants concurred during the 2020 virtual edition of the European Biogas Conference.

Organized by the European Biogas Association (EBA), the European Biogas e-Conference 2020 was, on account of the corona (COVID-19) pandemic, held online-only at the beginning of September (image courtesy Jerry D. Murphy).

Over 200 participants and more than 30 speakers, including high-level industry representatives, policy-makers, researchers, and journalists, attended the 2020 edition of the European Biogas Conference ‘Green Gas for a Green Deal’. Held as an online-only event, four morning sessions showcased the opportunities and challenges of the renewable gas sector and the expectations for the coming years.

The high participation rates and the quality of the speakers present at the conference this year prove the increasing interest in the positive advantages of our industry, noted Harmen Dekker, EBA Director.

Significant GHG reduction potential

Globally, the biogas sector has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 12 percent. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) outlook for biomethane released earlier this year and also presented at the conference, biogas, and biomethane (aka renewable natural gas – RNG) will play a key role in a low carbon energy transition, especially in hard to abate sectors, and as a means of clean cooking in developing economies.

The IEA estimations depict a positive scenario with an enormous untapped resource potential to scale up biogas and biomethane production. The IEA expert present during the conference recalled that biogas and biomethane offer wider benefits like waste management and enhanced security of supply, and cannot be judged solely on their production costs, higher than fossil alternatives, such as natural gas.

At the European level, the results of two recent reports on renewable gases published by Eurogas, and the Gas for Climate initiative, both presented at the conference, confirm the large potential of biomethane to defossilise the EU economy. Gas for Climate, for instance, estimates biomethane production potential to be 120 billion Nm3 (bcm) by 2050.

Industrial applications for biogas and biomethane can also be found in heavy energy-intensive industries such as iron and steel. Tomas Hirsch from Swedish steelmaker SSAB AB discussed the benefits of biomethane in the company’s ambition to reach fossil-free steel by 2040 and the first products out by 2026 (image courtesy Jean-Marie Gauthey).

In the pathway to 2050, the sector can grow exponentially by 2030 and reach a production potential of approximately 39 bcm. This is the estimation provided by the conference attendees when inquired about the potential of the sector in the coming years.

This figure is also in line with some of the latest reports estimating the potential of biomethane by 2030. The amount could be achieved with the construction of 9 900 biogas plants above the 18 000 plants, with an average size of 500 Nm3/h of biomethane. The share of biomethane would be coupled by increasing shares of hydrogen to gradually replace fossil fuels in the future energy mix.

Policy support needed

In addition to the potential for the coming years, the need for policy support was often mentioned as a key driver for the deployment of the sector. This mechanism provides greater certainty for investors and is proving positive for the deployment of other renewable gases, notably green hydrogen, which is not yet available in Europe.

Multiple industry experts urged policy-makers to recognise the important role of sustainable biogas and biomethane towards GHGs reduction and the implementation of an efficient circular economy. There was also a wide consensus among conference attendees on the need for an ambitious target for renewable gases as a key policy instrument to scale-up the sector.

Liquefied biogas (bio-LNG aka LBG) stands out as the “new product of the future” according to a quick poll of the e-conference attendees. Not least as a means of “defossilising” the marine and heavy-duty transport sectors (image courtesy EBA).

Beyond the future potential, the current situation shows that biomethane is already cost-competitive compared to other low carbon options if the avoided methane emissions from biomethane production is taken into consideration.

The further deployment of this renewable gas can also be driven by factors such as the further industrialisation of the sector or the use of intermediate crops as a sustainable feedstock for biogas production, as some experts pointed out.

How the future of biogas and biomethane will look like will depend on the policy framework and the ability of our industry to strengthen its competitiveness in the coming years. This is a key moment for the development of renewable gases with the revision of existing legislation and many new political initiatives in the pipeline to contribute to carbon neutrality, remarked Harmen Dekker.

Crosses multiple sectors and provides multiple benefits

Biomethane will play an essential role in the decarbonisation of all energy sectors, including transport or buildings. It will also bring many positive benefits and economic opportunities to a variety of different sectors, including agriculture, heavy industry, or waste management.

In agriculture, biogas offers a tremendous potential to produce renewable energy carriers, reduce methane emissions, dependence on fossil fertilizers while improving soil conditions (image courtesy EBA).

One of the key takeaways of this conference was the need to ensure that all positive advantages of biogas and biomethane across sectors are recognised and exploited. COPA-COGECA, speaking on behalf of EU farmers and agri-cooperatives, encouraged the development of biogas plants to produce renewable energy from manure contributing to the EU renewable energy targets and mitigate methane emissions in the livestock sector.

Our industry can immediately scale-up its production and is committed to untap its full potential and work towards a carbon-neutral economy. This will bring benefits to many other sectors and will ensure the protection of our environment and our future generations, ended Harmen Dekker.

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