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Oireachtas JC report fails to recognize the potential for biogas and bioliquids in decarbonizing transport – IrBEA

In the Republic of Ireland, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action recently published its report on “Reducing emissions in the transport sector by 51% by 2030”. The Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) is "disappointed and dismayed" that the report fails to recognize the potential and role of bioliquids and biogas as part of the technology and fuel mix to decarbonize and reduce transport emissions by 2030. 

In the Republic of Ireland, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action recently published its report on “Reducing emissions in the transport sector by 51% by 2030”. The figure shows carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018, the projected increase by 2030 due to changes in population and economic growth, projected emissions reductions due to measures in the Climate Action Plan 2019 and the remaining gap to achieving a 51% reduction in transport emissions by 2030 relative to 2018. The projected growth in emissions by 2030 (reported in the Climate Action Plan 2019) due to transport activity growth are estimated to be offset by calculated emissions savings associated with the increased electric vehicles (940,000) and biofuels blending (10 percent ethanol and 12 percent biodiesel). The Climate Action Plan 2019 projects total transport emissions by 2030 as 7-8 million tonnes by 2030, and contains other measures, including carbon tax and improved engine efficiency. The associated 4.7 million tonnes emissions savings are more difficult to replicate (than for EVs and biofuels) and these are calculated here as a residual and captured in the figure as ‘other CAP 2019 measures.’ Responding to the report, the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) is “disappointed and dismayed” that the report fails to recognize the potential and role of bioliquids and biogas as part of the technology and fuel mix to decarbonize and reduce transport emissions by 2030 (graphic courtesy Oireachtas Joint Committee).

However, the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) notes that the significant role and potential of bioenergy including biogas and bioliquids including bioethanol and biodiesel have not been considered in the “Reducing emissions in the transport sector by 51% by 2030” report at all despite their significant contribution to date and the continued overwhelming dominance of combustion engine technology in Ireland’s transport system.

The report title is promising and the ideas are great including the ending of road building, reverse urban sprawl, free public transport, reduced need for travel, cycling superhighways to name but a few. However, there is no further mention of 51 percent or 2030 after the title and no mention of cost or feasibility. That’s where the report falls short. We believe that the report should have aimed for more of a balance between a vision for a better Ireland and what’s actually doable to get 51 percent emissions cuts in 8 years, said James Cogan of Ethanol Europe and Chair of the IrBEA Transport Committee.

The Biofuels Obligation Scheme (BOS) was first introduced in 2010 and requires suppliers of road transport fuels to include a certain percentage of environmentally sustainable biofuels across their general fuel mix. The BOS has resulted in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 savings and emissions reductions annually.

Seán Finan CEO of the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) expressed his surprise over the absence of BOS in the report.

Considering the important role that the BOS has played in the last decade in transport emissions reduction, we are surprised the BOS has not been mentioned once in the Oireachtas Committee report. This shows a complete and utter lack of awareness and understanding by the political establishment of the current emissions reduction policy instruments deployed by the state”. IrBEA calls for the further development of the BOS and for the broadening of the BOS to ensure that it is a central vehicle for the development of an Irish biogas industry. We reiterate our call for the immediate increase in substitution rates of Ethanol from 5 percent up to 10 percent in petrol (E10) and of biodiesel from 7 percent to 12 percent in diesel (E12). With political will, the increased biofuel substitution measures can be introduced immediately, at no cost to the consumer or exchequer, and with no need for investment in fuelling infrastructure. The introduction of E10 in Ireland alone would follow the recent announcement of its introduction in the UK and would result in the cutting of carbon emissions in the transport sector by 200 000 tonnes annually, bringing the same reduction as approximately 100 000 electric cars at no cost to the exchequer, said Seán Finan.

The Committee report favours the re-engineering of living patterns and reductions in travel demand as the solution – a welcome measure but which extends way beyond the 2030 timeframe – seemingly to the exclusion of existing available technologies such as biogas and bioliquids. According to IrBEA, it is “undisputed by world climate experts” that all measures will be needed to the maximum extent possible.

Mentions hydrogen potential but omits biogas

The report mentions the potential for hydrogen which is not yet commercially available and for which there is no infrastructure. The report fails to consider biogas, which is a mainstream technology deployed across Europe with huge potential to be used to decarbonise the heavy goods vehicle fleet.

Biogas utilises farm and industrial wastes and residues. It provides economic and employment opportunities to farmers and waste reduction solutions to industry.

The report reaffirms the welcome introduction of one million electric vehicles (EVs)in the fleet by 2030 but omits to note that all expert evaluations of this measure to date point to (a) a risk that the target may not be reached due to the costs involved and (b) that if reached, while the measure will certainly help prevent further rises in transport emissions, it does not result in significant emissions reductions, as the economy and population continue to grow.

IrBEA issued a full briefing note to the Environment and Climate committee in April 2021 as they were preparing their report. Our note clearly highlighted the bioenergy options for decarbonising transport, with associated emissions reductions. We are acutely surprised and disappointed that the committee is turning a blind eye to the contents of that briefing by failing to recognise the potential for sustainable liquid and gaseous biofuels. Given the scale of the challenge that exist there are simply no grounds for it, while all solutions and fuels need to be on the table, said Seán Finan.

It may sound like a tired mantra by now, but it is still the case that “all climate measures in transport are vital”.

Right now we’re still increasing by 1 – 2 percent the amount of fossil fuel used each year in transport, like a couch potato putting on more weight. So let’s start by making an actual plan to turn this into a 1 percent reduction in oil use per year, starting this year. And if that’s doable then try doubling it to 2 percent per year, and so on, like a couch to 5k challenge, concluded James Cogan.

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