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Renewable gas could replace over 25% of Irish fossil fuel gas supply, SEAI study

A new study by Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) suggests that biogas and biomethane from animal manure, food waste and grass could provide up to 28 percent of Ireland's gas needs by 2050, provide 3 000 jobs and cut carbon emissions by as much as 2 million tonnes per annum.

SEAI has published a new study on the biogas and biomethane potential in Ireland (illustration courtesy SEAI).

SEAI has published a new study on the biogas and biomethane potential in Ireland (illustration courtesy SEAI).

Gas derived from renewable sources, such as food waste, “unglamorous” animal manure and grass, has the potential to replace up to 28 percent of the Irish fossil gas supply by 2050 according to a new study by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). Entitled “Assessment of Cost and Benefits of Biogas and Biomethane in Ireland” the study was overseen by a steering group comprised of representatives from a range of relevant Government Departments, regulatory bodies and academic experts.

The study, which looks at the availability of renewable gas sources and estimates the costs and benefits of expanding the sector, shows that using renewable gas could also reduce carbon emissions by as much as 2 million tonnes per annum and create 3 000 permanent jobs.

Renewable gas has an important role to play in Ireland’s energy future. Ireland’s aim is to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Everyday materials and by-products can be used to create valuable energy sources, and technologies are being developed to increase the potential of renewable gas even more, said Jim Gannon, CEO of SEAI in a statement.

The biogas can be burnt directly to produce heat and electricity or can be upgraded to a biomethane standard suitable for injection into the natural gas grid as a direct substitute for fossil fuel gas supply. Biogas and biomethane can also be used as a fuel to power adapted trucks, buses and cars. Currently, there are only a small number of anaerobic digestion (AD) plants in Ireland and an estimated 900 plants, of varying scales could be needed to fully utilise the available resources.

The study points out that a number of government bodies and departments in the areas of agriculture, transport, and environment and energy have a role to play in helping to lower the cost of renewable gas and to maximise the carbon savings available. Actions could include maximising the use of food and animal waste and increasing biomethane production to inject renewable gas at accessible points on the gas grid.

According to the study, significant potential exists to utilise surplus grass silage produced on farms, which represents 86 percent of the renewable gas potential. Grass silage has a production cost that makes the energy produced more expensive.

Farming practices that balance cost and emissions will help to improve the overall benefits as we access this resource. If further action is taken now to develop this sector then we can derive significant benefits from it in the future. This means we will use less fossil fuel, including natural gas. Renewable gas can help with the decarbonisation of the gas network and could play an important role in Ireland achieving its overall targets, said Gannon.

The study also notes that further research into gasification and Power-to-Gas (PtG) technologies can offer ways to increase biomethane supply substantially and to reduce costs whereas PtG can also help the electricity system to become more flexible.

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