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Time to view biogas as a fully-fledged renewable in EU’s energy transition

The European biogas market has grown steadily in the last years with a growth rate of 2 percent between 2018 and 2019. However, the most recent data also shows that the EU still relies heavily on fossil gas. The latest trends show a persistent increase in the use of fossil gas since 2014. In 2019, fossil gas consumption in the EU-27 was 23 times larger than that of biogas, according to a new Bioenergy Europe report published in collaboration with the European Biogas Association (EBA).

The latest trends show a persistent increase in the use of fossil gas since 2014. In 2019 fossil gas consumption in the EU-27 was 23 times larger than that of biogas in the EU-27 (graphic courtesy Bioenergy Europe).

For the third 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, in collaboration with the European Biogas Association (EBA), released the second chapter of its 2021 Statistical Report focusing on biogas and its upgraded version, biomethane aka renewable natural gas (RNG).

The 2021 Statistical Report Biogas dives into the recent trends of consumption and production of biogas in Europe. The accompanying Policy Brief presents the most relevant recommendations to promote the biogas sector as a key player in the EU’s energy transition.

The organizations stress that achieving the EU’s ambitious target of 55 percent carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions by 2030 will require “fundamental changes” to the energy sector. It is of “paramount importance to promote all sustainable fuels and their infrastructure. Biogas is a flexible and reliable renewable energy carrier, an enabler of significant CO2 emissions reductions and carbon removals.”

The report finds that the European biogas market has grown steadily in the last years with a growth rate of 2 percent between 2018 and 2019. However, the most recent data suggests that the EU still relies heavily on fossil gas. The latest trends show a persistent increase in the use of fossil gas since 2014. In 2019 fossil gas consumption was 23 times larger than that of biogas.

These findings urge for a radical shift in policy design and investments to promote the penetration of renewables alternatives such as biogas and biomethane offering a stable and viable substitute to fossil fuels.

A versatile renewable resource

Biogas is a versatile renewable fuel used mainly for electricity generation (57 percent) but has also proven to be a very effective solution for heat generation. Furthermore, when upgraded to biomethane, it can also be injected into the existing gas grid or used as a renewable fuel to support the decarbonization of the transport sector, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Compared to fossil fuels in the EU, biogas can save up to 240 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and biomethane up to 202 percent by eliminating methane from uncontrolled fermentation of organic waste and agricultural residues.

Methane is a potent GHG. Organic waste and landfills, and agriculture are the two most important sources of methane emissions. The use of digestate, a by-product of biogas production, reduces dependency on mineral-based fertilizers while increases material efficiency.

Different national rules make it difficult for producers of organic fertilizers, 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 fertilizer types.

Therefore, more should be done to promote biogas’ consumption complementing renewable electricity and recognize these avoided emissions.

Today more than ever it is time to capitalize on the current post-COVID recovery phase to promote a stable policy framework and secure investments to recognize the role of biogas as a fully-fledged solution in the EU energy system. Fossil gas, while growing significantly in the last years and probably in the coming years, is inconveniently not 2050 compatible. Therefore, special efforts to significantly increase the use of biogas and biomethane are of the utmost importance, said Jean-Marc Jossart, Secretary-General of Bioenergy Europe.

In light of the upcoming Fit for 55 packages, biogas should be recognized for its benefits as a key player in the transition to a low-carbon economy and an efficient circular economy. This includes the promotion of the production, market uptake, and system integration of biogas, with binding 2030 EU targets on-demand for renewable gases of at least 11 percent in terms of the energy content of the fossil gas.

Biogas is part of the solution to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050 in a swift and cost-competitive way. The development of a balanced renewable energy mix will be instrumental in our efforts to decarbonize the EU economy and drive the shift to circularity. The upcoming Fit for 55 legislations should embrace this approach and ensure relevant policy support for all renewable alternatives, said Susanna Pflüger, Secretary-General, EBA.

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