Biogas embedded in the EU bioeconomy

How can the EU bioeconomy best contribute to the transition towards sustainable development and a climate-neutral economy by 2050? In April 2021, the European Commission published a report[1] presenting four scenarios for the future EU bioeconomy until 2050. One of the scenarios presented in the report is particularly encouraging for our sector as it forecasts a growth of the bio-based industry, sustained by an intense flow of imported (and certified) biomass. The production of biogas and biomethane can play a key role in a future sustainable circular EU bioeconomy.

In 2018, the European Commission has put forward an action plan to develop a bioeconomy that serves Europe’s society, environment, and economy. The 2018 EU Bioeconomy Strategy aims to develop a circular and sustainable bioeconomy for Europe, strengthening the connection between economy, society, and environment. It addresses global challenges such as meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations and the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement.

A performing EU bioeconomy for 2050 with biogas and digestate

In this context, the European Commission created an ad-hoc external Network of Experts for exploring possible scenarios towards the EU bioeconomy in 2050, with a focus on climate-neutrality and sustainable development.

One of the scenarios presented in the report is particularly encouraging for the biogas sector as it includes a growth of the bioenergy and biomaterials. Indeed, the European Commission forecasts that the bio-based industry will grow by 20% until 2030 and by 50% until 2050, sustained by an intense flow of imported (and certified) biomass. This scenario foresees a favorable framework for the development of advanced biofuels derived from domestic residues and wastes by 2050.

It also forecasts a 75% increase on biomethane production linked to animal farms by 2050, and a growth of the market for digestate of 67% during the same period of time.

Combining agricultural activities with renewable energy production through biogas has a threefold extra benefit: it helps farmers to manage their waste and residues efficiently to produce renewable energy and replace the use of fossil fuels, it avoids methane emissions from the decomposition of residues in open air, it improves soil quality and soil biodiversity in farmlands with the use of digestate as organic fertilizer, avoiding the carbon-intensive production of mineral fertilisers. The promotion of sustainable and efficient farming practices is an important driver of rural development.

The potential of digestate as biofertilizer in the EU farming sector

Digestate is the remaining part of the degraded biomass after biogas production: it is stable organic matter rich in various nutrients (N, P, K). Depending on the feedstock used for biogas production, the digestate may be directly usable as organic fertiliser. It can also be further upgraded to recover high quality mineral nutrients.

The use of digestate as organic fertiliser offers multiple advantages: it allows the reuse of nutrients and substitutes mineral fertiliser of fossil origin. Compared to raw manure, digestate is also sanitised, as the biogas production process neutralises most of the pathogens contained in the original feedstock, such as bacteria and crop diseases.

Digestate upgrading and nutrient recycling can therefore play a key role in developing a sustainable, clean, and resource-efficient EU bioeconomy.

[1] ‘Future transitions for the Bioeconomy towards Sustainable Development and a Climate-Neutral Economy – Foresight Scenarios for the EU bioeconomy in 2050’,