Biomethane would replace 10% of gas supply under new plans

Draft strategy sets objective to scale up indigenously produced biomethane to 5.7 terawatt hours annually by 2030

Publication of a long-awaited national biomethane strategy proposes replacing 10 per cent of Irish gas supplies by biomethane generated from agricultural feedstocks and food waste through a network of up to 250 anaerobic digesters by 2030.

The draft strategy, released by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan, sets an objective to scale up indigenously produced biomethane to 5.7 terawatt hours annually by 2030; equivalent to a tenth of Ireland’s current overall gas use.

Producing this level of biogas would also help ensure the agriculture sector adheres to legally binding sectoral emissions limits, it finds. The European Commission through REPowerEU has allocated €37 billion of targeted investments to support development of new capacity and infrastructure in Europe “to accommodate biomethane into the gas grid and create energy communities”.

The strategy highlights the suitability of biological feedstocks, including food waste, sewage sludge and agricultural feedstocks such as animal manures and grass silage. The anaerobic digester process produces biogas from feedstocks through decomposing of organic material by microorganisms in large oxygen-free tanks. Biogas typically comprises 60 per cent methane and 40 per cent carbon dioxide and can be used locally for heating or for combined heat and power production. It can also be upgraded to sustainable biomethane to replace natural gas.


Europe has a very well-established anaerobic digester sector with more than 20,000 plants, “but it is a relatively new and unknown technology in Ireland”, the strategy notes. “This has the potential to lead to confusion and inconsistent decisions being reached by different local authorities due to varying levels of understanding around AD technology.”

Biomethane production has the potential to generate up to 1,800 direct jobs and 4,400 indirect jobs “across the rural economy ... helping to stimulate and sustain rural communities,” it adds.

Mr McConalogue said: “Development of an indigenous biomethane industry will provide diversification opportunities for livestock farmers, reduced emissions from animal wastes, biobased fertiliser that will replace chemical fertiliser as well as a unique opportunity to improve water quality in Ireland.”

It will focus on supply of sustainable feedstocks, Mr Ryan said, while enabling decarbonisation of Ireland’s energy mix. “The increased availability of an indigenous, renewable gas in Ireland will also assist in the long-term security of our energy system,” he added.

Pat Smith, managing director of Local Power, welcomed the finding that a biomethane sector would deliver big benefits for the farming community. “These will include helping Irish farming reduce emissions and profitable diversification opportunities, including reducing reliance on expensive imported fertiliser purchases.”

The document, however, lacked clarity on the form and amount of government supports offered to underpin development of the industry and a timeline of when these would be likely to be available, he said. The kilowatt-hour payment level required to make agri-based anaerobic digester plants work economically was also “seriously understated”.

“Government needs to come forward with realistic capital grant supports that will allow economically scaled projects to proceed. Grant supports of 40-50 per cent will be critical to ensure biomethane projects can be financed and banked within the country. These levels of supports will also help in reducing the costs for businesses who will have to purchase the biomethane produced to meet their renewable heat obligations,” he said.

Supports were needed to be put in place immediately as further delays and uncertainty will undermine development of any indigenous biomethane industry for years, Mr Smith said. “It will also force multinational companies with operations in Ireland to go abroad to meet their renewable energy and climate action obligations. This would be a travesty, not alone for the country but for the farming community, which stands to gain significantly from an indigenous biomethane sector.”

The consultation is open until February 27th.

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times