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Fostering the biogas sector is essential to ensure EU's decarbonisation

The European biogas market is well established and mature. Although biogas consumption has grown almost 26 times since 1990, its full potential is far from being exploited representing only about 1 percent of the total gross inland energy consumption of the EU-28 in 2018 according to a new Bioenergy Europe report published in collaboration with the European Biogas Association (EBA).

A farm-based biogas plant outside Cremona, Italy that uses cattle manure as feedstock and provides electricity to the grid.

For the second time since its launch in 2007, the 2020 Statistical Report published by Bioenergy Europe (previously known as AEBIOM) is being split into different publications, each one covering a different aspect of bioenergy. Bioenergy Europe has released the second chapter of its Statistical Report 2020 focusing on biogas and its upgraded version, biomethane aka renewable natural gas (RNG).

Biogas a versatile renewable fuel

Like last year the report was produced in collaboration with the European Biogas Association (EBA) and it looks at biogas consumption and production in the EU and provides an in-depth and up-to-date analysis of the sector’s state of play.

Biogas is produced through the anaerobic digestion (AD) of agricultural residues, energy crops, sewage sludge, and biodegradable wastes or captured from landfills. It is a versatile renewable fuel that can be used to produce heat, electricity, or both in combined heat and power (CHP) plants.

It can also be upgraded to biomethane (RNG) for injection into the existing gas grid, used in industrial processes, or as a transport fuel as compressed biomethane (bioCNG) or liquefied biomethane (bioLNG).

The report notes that the European biogas market is well established and mature – biogas consumption has grown almost 26 times since 1990. In 2018, 18 802 plants produced a total of 16.67 Mtoe which is approximately 1 percent of the total gross inland energy consumption of the EU-28.

Biogas consumption has grown in the EU almost 26 times since 1990 yet its full potential is far from being exploited representing only about 1 percent of the total gross inland energy consumption of the EU-28 in 2018 (graphic courtesy Bioenergy Europe).

In addition, biomethane production – the upgraded version of biogas with the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other impurities removed and ready for injection into the existing grid – has tripled since 2011, with up to 610 plants in 2018 in the EU, UK and EFTA countries and accounting for 1.9 Mtoe, equivalent to 0.5 percent of the natural gas consumed in Europe.

Full potential far from realised

Considering the real potential of biomethane and the figures above, its market uptake remains a necessary condition to foster EU decarbonisation. Despite being a stable and mature technology, its full potential is far from being exploited. Biogas is a flexible and renewable enabler of decarbonization and offers several environmental and socio-economic benefits.

Biogas is ready to play a key role in helping Europe to make the transition to clean energy and carbon-neutrality by 2050 but we need aligned and technology-neutral policies as well as a clear commitment from the EU to green the gas supply, said Susanna Pflüger, Secretary-General of the European Biogas Association (EBA).

According to both trade bodies, efforts at EU and national levels should concentrate on how to fully promote the deployment of this technology through comprehensive incentives and supporting measures.

To decarbonise all economic sectors, a holistic approach to carbon pricing and the phasing out of subsidies for fossil fuels must accompany the uptake of renewables. This should be addressed in the Strategy for Smart Sector Integration and the Decarbonisation package.

These policies should be accompanied by a set of procedures facilitating the injection of RNG into the gas grid: clear rules regulating the relationship between grid operators and biogas producers are important to enable its scaling-up.

The full deployment of biogas can create new business opportunities at the local level and fosters the concept of a circular and bio-based economy, in particular in rural areas.

The full deployment of biogas can create new business opportunities at the local level and fosters the concept of a circular and bio-based economy, in particular in rural areas such as this compressed biogas (bioCNG) filling station in Finland.

Biogas represents a profitable slurry management solution and energy and materials recovery in the waste treatment should be fully integrated into EU and national energy strategies.

Moreover, it offers a concrete solution to reduce emissions from manure and landfilling while limiting dependency on mineral-based fertilizers and critical raw materials such as phosphorous, drastically reducing the costs of operations and negative environmental effects.

The socio-economic benefits and environmental advantages of biogas and biomethane should be fully recognized and supported broadly. These renewable energy sources are of utmost importance to achieve climate targets but are also key to achieve a circular economy and promote local socio-economic development, remarked Jean-Marc Jossart, Secretary-General of Bioenergy Europe

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