€1bn needed to reach the 2030 biomethane target and deliver unique benefits of decarbonisation and bio-economy – RGFI

It was ‘game on’ for the new agri based renewable gas industry - Biomethane - at the RGFI Biomethane Conference in Croke Park. Pictured were L-R: Dr Anne Marie Henihan, Centre Director, Dairy Processing Technology Centre with PJ McCarthy, CEO RGFI, Minister Eamon Ryan, Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) and Denis Drennan, President Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association (ICMSA). Picture Jason Clarke

300 industry delegates at the RGFI Biomethane Conference in Croke Park, heard about the Irish Government’s ongoing commitment to industry growth to achieve Ireland’s biomethane target of 5.7 TWh by 2030.

At the opening address, outgoing Transport Minister Eamon Ryan stated: “Achieving the Government target of 5.7TWh of indigenously produced biomethane by 2030 will require concerted cross-government action and continued engagement with key stakeholders and industry experts. Only through ongoing collaboration will we be in a position to realise this level of ambition and develop a successful, sustainable Irish biomethane sector. The RGFI and its members will continue to be central to this process and my Department will be working closely with them as we move to the implementation of Ireland’s Biomethane Strategy.”

The Conference, organised by RGFI, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, and KPMG, discussed the practicalities of implementing the recently announced National Biomethane Strategy, Ireland’s first major policy statement on biomethane.

AgricultureMinister Charlie McConalogue stated: “This event provides a timely stakeholder engagement opportunity following the publication of the National Biomethane Strategy just over two weeks ago which my department co-developed with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications. The National Biomethane Strategy is Ireland’s first major policy statement on biomethane and is an important milestone in the development of an indigenous sector. Government strongly supports the development of an Agri-centric biomethane industry in Ireland and has highlighted this through co leading on the publication of the strategy, along with the recent announcement of the capital grant for Biomethane plants which my Department secured.”

According to PJ McCarthy, CEO of RGFI, “Biomethane has the potential to progressively reduce emissions and reliance on fossil gas supplies both at a European and national level. We estimate that with adequate Government support, biomethane can provide up to 9.5TWh of the required Irish gas within 15 years. Our members are ready to develop 10 x 40 GWh anaerobic digestion (AD) plants within the next 18 months, supported by capital funding.

“While wind and solar power play crucial roles in our renewable energy portfolio, biomethane uniquely offers additional benefits such as significant decarbonisation and contributions to the circular bio-economy unmatched by other renewables. Anaerobic Digestion-producing biomethane is capital-intensive and therefore if Ireland is to achieve the 2030 target for biomethane and emissions reduction, this requires €1bn in future support to ensure the development of the additional plants needed.”

RGFI Chair JP Prendergast, said the Strategy, published on 28 May, is an important milestone in the development of an indigenous sector, heralding a new era where the production of farmer-centric, AD biomethane and its co-products, are placed at the heart of our national decarbonisation and nutrient management efforts. The role of farmers, and the rural economy, will be critical to the development of biomethane in Ireland.

“This is a crucial first step to meet Ireland’s biomethane target, supported by the Government’s initial €40 million in capital funding and underpinned by a renewable heat obligation, plus Government investment of up to €30 million in biorefinery piloting facilities over the next two to three years. We welcome the inclusion in the Strategy of other non-financial supports, as proposed by RGFI, such as non-contestable gas grid connections, the AD Charter to guide sustainability, as well as a communications strategy to socialise the socio-economic benefits of biomethane and biorefinery potential.”

Speakers at the Conference included beef farmer Brugha Duffy from county Meath who was granted permission for an agricultural anaerobic digester in 2022 and expects to inject biomethane into the national gas distribution grid and has potential to pursue the supply of CO2 to consumers and incorporate a digestate nutrient recovery facility.

Consensus call from delegates for rapid implementation of Strategy

The consensus from both speakers and delegates at the Conference was a call for the rapid implementation of the government’s twenty-five key strategic actions. This includes prioritising the development of the Biomethane Sustainability Charter and the need for dedicated investment in capacity building for the new Interdepartmental Biomethane Implementation Group.

“Delivery of the strategy will require concerted action across key government departments and agencies to ensure the necessary supports and infrastructure are in place to support an industry of scale. RGFI welcomes the establishment of the new Interdepartmental Biomethane Implementation Group and looks forward to working with the group on behalf of the industry,” said PJ McCarthy.

Some of the comments from speakers at the RGFI Biomethane Conference include:
Tom Arnold, Chair of Food Vision 2030 Strategy Committee

“The central objective of Food Vision 2030 is that Ireland should become an international leader in sustainable food systems by 2030. Delivering on this objective requires the agrifood sector to become more resilient and diversified and to offer more income opportunities for farmers. The Biomethane Strategy and the 2023-25 Bioeconomy Action Plan are important parts of the policy framework to provide these opportunities.

“If Ireland can deliver on its ambitious agenda for sustainable food systems, significant additional opportunities will open up on two fronts: economically, enhanced trade for our traditional food and drinks exports and also for a new generation of service exports associated with sustainable food systems: and politically, as a policy and thought leader contributing to international policy to meet the global existential challenges of producing enough sustainable food to feed nearly 10 million people by 2050 while doing so by meeting the climate target of reducing global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.”

Denis Drennan, President ICMSA

“Biomethane has the potential to deliver a possible diversification option for farmers while making a valued contribution to climate change and other environmental priorities, but the Biomethane Strategy needs to be reviewed and deliver a long-term pricing guarantee, a planning system that works for farmers and clarification and reality around the Governments various land use targets. Farmers won’t be fooled, the strategy needs to work for them or else it will fail.”

Niel Fuller, Agronomist (Sustainable Soils Guide UK)
“Biomethane is a fundamental component of any agri-focused climate action roadmap. It provides a fantastic opportunity to integrate clean energy generation and quality food production, with farming practices that provide a stack of environmental benefits. At the same time as enhancing food security and farm resilience, biomethane has the potential to transform supply chain sustainability and deliver genuine emissions reductions. Everybody wins.”

John Brosnan, Bioeconomy Executive, Irish Co-operative Organisation Society

“The co-operative structure has served the agri-food sector well and can do so in the coming years as we see AD plants and biorefineries come to fruition. We need to think about new and innovative joint venture structures and about how we finance and de-risk innovation. We can develop and integrate several innovative high value market opportunities, extracting high value proteins from feedstocks, processing digestate into biofertilisers, utilising captured CO2, incorporating biochar and preparing for the hydrogen era are all opportunities that we should be looking at, not just energy in isolation. From an agri-food perspective we need to see value created locally remaining in local regions, and a fair share in the hands of the farmers who provide the feedstocks. We also need to see the environmental benefits accrue to farmers and their co-operatives through related carbon farming or green sustainability certification.”

Launch of RGFI EBA Biomethane up-skilling programme

RGFI today also announced that it will launch a biomethane upskilling and training programme later this year in partnership with the European Biogas Association (EBA).

There is a knowledge gap in Ireland as to the socio-economic and environmental externalities of biomethane. We look forward to working with the EBA to deliver informative, science-based facts for civil society organisations and society at large and also to provide bespoke tailored training in response to market demand,” said PJ McCarthy, CEO, RGFI.

List of Speakers and Presenters

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine: Rebecca Chapman, and Redmond McEvoy

Department of Environment, Climate and Communications: Niamh Hamill

NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: Jonathan McFerran

KPMG: Russell Smyth, Philip Connolly and Gary Borland

Food Vision 2030 Strategy Committee: Tom Arnold, Chair of Food Vision 2030

ICMSA: Denis Drennan

IFA: Noel Banville

ICOS: John Brosnan and Damien O’Reilly

Teagasc: Dr Paul Crosson, and Dr Ciara Beausang

Environmental Protection Agency: Anne Lucey

Gas Networks Ireland: Karen Doyle and Padraig Fleming

European Biogas Association: Harmon Dekker, European Biogas Association

Dairy Processing Technology Centre: Dr Anne Marie Henihan

Irish Farmers Journal: Stephen Robb

Entrust Planning & Environmental: Kieran Tarpey and Matthew McRedmond

Flogas: Eoin Brennan

BioCore: James Russell

Nephin Energy: Tom O’Brien

Ara Partners: Teresa O’Flynn

Phoenix Energy: Jonathan Martindale