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Renewable gases: grasping the opportunities of decarbonisation and the circular economy

Europe is determined to tackle the challenges of climate change and prior to the end of 2019, the European Commission revealed the details of the Green Deal that will make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. Not just aimed at greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction, the proposal shows a promising future for upgraded biogas, biomethane. Ensuring the development of renewable gases is underpinned by a consistent investment strategy becomes crucial says the European Biogas Association (EBA).

Not just aimed at greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction, the recently proposed European Green Deal shows a promising future for upgraded biogas, biomethane (aka renewable natural gas – RNG). Ensuring the development of renewable gases is underpinned by a consistent investment strategy becomes crucial says the European Biogas Association (EBA).

The European Commission’s European Green Deal proposal announced in December 2019 is not just aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It will also set out measures to protect biodiversity, reduce air and soil pollution, reform the agricultural policy from an environmental perspective and advance the circular economy. Those measures shall be supported by a revitalised industry that can deliver new green jobs.

According to the European Biogas Association (EBA), the current European Green Deal context is a major opportunity for tapping into the potential of renewable gases. There is a promising future for the upgraded form of biogas, biomethane (aka renewable natural gas – RNG).

As indicated in the Navigant Gas for Climate report, ‘The optimal role for gas in a net-zero emissions energy system’.The production of this renewable gas will reach around 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) in the EU by 2050, equivalent to 1 200 TWh.

Accelerate deployment

However, the EBA notes that realising this full potential will require a significant acceleration of renewable gas deployment at a competitive cost. Energy prices should reflect all climate and environmental externalities, including, amongst others, contributions to the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) and air pollutants, protection of biodiversity or creation of green jobs.

The “Tuvan” municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in Skellefteå, Sweden has also a co-located dedicated food waste biogas plant. The shared facilities, all post-digestion, include biogas storage, upgrading, compression, and flare.

Renewable gases can, for instance, lead to a carbon-negative Europe and create 600 000 – 850 000 additional direct jobs and 1.1–1.5 million indirect jobs by 2050. In this context, ensuring the development of renewable gases is underpinned by a consistent investment strategy becomes crucial.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has initiated a transition to become a ‘climate bank’ and stop financial support for fossil fuels, including natural gas, from 2021. The upper limit for financing renewable energy projects was increased from 50 percent to 75 percent.

In the course of this year, we will see how the new rules support renewable gases and what is the transition arrangement for the phase out of natural gas projects, the EBA stated.

Also dependant on national contexts

The EBA points out that the next developments will also depend on the national context. There are different actions that can inspire the transition of the coming months and years. Countries like Germany with the ‘Gas 2030 dialogue process’ are already positioning themselves on the future of gas foreseeing a bigger role for hydrogen and biomethane.

Some countries might follow the example of France and set a specific target for renewable gas. The number of biomethane plants in France has recently grown weekly and in early December already 115 biomethane units were in operation. Others might look to Italy or Denmark, which are making significant progress on biomethane deployment.

In the transport sector, particularly the Nordic countries are making considerable efforts to increase the use of biomethane. Finland has recently hit a milestone of 10 000 natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and has set a national target of 50 000 gas vehicles by 2030.

The decarbonisation of the transport sector will indeed be key for the renewable gas industry this year. The new Commission will revise the Directive on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure, adding binding objectives to introduce a sufficient number of filling stations for alternative fuels like (bio)CNG and (bio)LNG.

In November 2018, M/S Tern Sea belonging to Gothenburg-based shipping company Terntank became the very first operator to bunker liquefied gas – liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied biogas (LBG) –  at a new bunkering facility at the Port of Gothenburg, Sweden.

In November 2018, M/S Tern Sea belonging to Gothenburg-based shipping company Terntank became the very first operator to bunker liquefied gas – liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied biogas (LBG) –  at a new bunkering facility at the Port of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Low LCA impact

The facts about bio-CNG’s low GHG emissions and positive climate effects are receiving increasing scientific support. A recent study by IFP Energies Nouvelles compared the carbon footprint of the entire life cycle of compressed natural gas and biomethane vehicles to that of diesel, gasoline, and electric vehicles (EVs) and concluded that biomethane is the best transportation option to preserve air quality.

EBA also maintains that biogas will benefit from the development of circular economy strategies, which will remain a key priority for the EU Executive in 2020. The approval of the Fertilisers Regulation last year was warmly welcomed by the industry, as it opened the door to the commercialisation of organic fertilisers.

Different national rules make it difficult for producers of organic fertilisers, such as digestate from biogas plants, to sell and use them across the EU single market. The new legislation, provisionally agreed by the EU Council and Parliament on November 20, 2018, and which will replace the current 2003 Fertilisers Regulation, includes all fertiliser types.

In the coming months, the Commission is expected to present a new action plan for the circular economy that identifies targets, tools, and indicators for the food sector which should contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the loss of biodiversity and land degradation.

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