Overview on key EU policies for the biogas sector

In our recently launched Annual Report 2018, we have prepared an overview on the key EU policies for the biogas sector, related to renewable energy production, achievement of climate targets, development of circular economy systems and promotion of clean mobility. Biogas and biomethane are important contributors to those policies and EBA has been actively involved in the relevant discussions ensuring the views and priorities of the sector are considered at EU level.

New Renewable Energy Directive

Following intensive negotiations, the EU institutions reached an agreement in June on a new Renewable Energy Directive for the next decade. The new legislation includes a legally-binding EU-wide target of 32% for renewable energy by 2030, with an upward review clause in 2023, as well as sector-specific objectives, including an annual increase of 1.3% for renewable energy in the heating sector and an end target of 14% renewables in the transport sector by 2030. The latter aims to promote the further deployment of electric mobility but it also includes a sub-target of 3.5% for advanced biofuels and biogas. In general, the Directive is certainly a positive step towards the large-scale take up of renewable gas in the next decade. It will facilitate the access of biomethane to the natural gas grid, extend guarantees of origin from renewable electricity to renewable gas, and make the cross-border trade of biomethane easier. The new sustainability policy will restrict the production of biogas and biomethane, however, by introducing sustainability thresholds for all energy sectors. Biogas and biomethane must reach 65%-80% greenhouse gas savings relative to the fossil fuel comparators. Sustainable feedstock types are listed in Annex IX of the Directive and Annex VI determines the default emission values for different pathways. The Annexes are kept under continuous review. Biogas nevertheless remains one of the most sustainable energy sources, able to reach over 200% greenhouse gas savings when the use of agricultural manure as a feedstock means methane emissions from manure are avoided. The Directive must be transposed into national law in all EU Member States by 30 June 2021.

Gas in the future EU climate and energy policy

In order to comply with the climate commitment made at the COP21 in Paris, the European Union will need to effect an energy transition in all sectors; this also applies to the gas sector. All gas supply in Europe must be renewable – or decarbonised – by 2050. The EBA contributed to the European Commission’s public consultation, entitled “Future climate and energy policy – a Strategy for long-term EU greenhouse gas emissions reductions”, by underlining the role of renewable gas across all sectors. It is an important pillar in sustainable sector coupling and sector integration and one of the very few technologies able to reduce emissions in agriculture. The outcome of the consultation was the European Commission’s “Clean Planet for All” package, which acknowledges the role of renewable gas in different sectors, as well as in various scenarios setting out the possible measures that could be taken in order to meet the objectives of the climate agreement. The EBA, together with natural gas and hydrogen associations, issued a welcoming response when the package was published. Their joint statement underlines the considerable potential for a transition to renewable and decarbonised gases, and points to the role of gas in complementing electrical energy supply and offering energy security and flexibility, as well as storage for renewable energy. Ahead of the gas market design legislation due in early 2020, the European Commission is running eight different studies that feed into the gas legislation, providing intelligence on different elements of the gas sector. The EBA was a member of the Sounding Board for the now completed study, “Gas Infrastructure 2050”, which evaluates the impact of decarbonisation targets on gas demand and infrastructure. Similarly, the EBA is a member of the Sounding Board for the forthcoming Sector Coupling study, which will identify factors that might limit the contribution of renewable gas and sector coupling technologies to cost-effective decarbonisation in the EU.

The contribution of digestate to the circular economy

Negotiators from the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission continued their inter-institutional negotiations (so-called trialogues) concerning the Fertiliser Regulation throughout 2018, until the 20th November, when they finally reached a compromise deal on the new piece of legislation. It will incorporate recyclable, bio-based fertilising products, thus contributing to the development of a circular economy – one of the EU’s key priorities – and should allow easier access to the EU single market for fertilisers made from organic or recycled materials. The EBA was an active member of the European Commission’s Technical Working Group from start to finish of the negotiation process for this Regulation and is committed to continuing work in future groups defining further technical details for digestate and STRUBIAS materials (included in the Annexes of the Regulation). Under the new EU Regulation, digestate will be recognized as a fertilising product; its exemption from REACH registration, however, is still an open question. The EBA has repeatedly requested that the European Com-mission process the request to exempt digestate from the registration requirements, similarly to compost, which is exempt. The European Commission has bilaterally given its unofficial agreement but a legally-binding exemption has not yet been issued. Another burden on digestate is the EU Nitrates Directive, which severely limits the spreading of nitrogen-containing manure, even if processed. These items will remain on the EBA’s political agenda in 2019.

Clean mobility package

Most EU regulations, from the Directive on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure to the Renewable Energy Directive, acknowledge the positive role of biomethane in both compressed and liquid form, particularly in the heavy-duty transport and machinery sector, which is challenging to de-fossilise. The third Clean Mobility Package, published in May, puts forward the first ever CO2 emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles. As such, this is welcomed by the EBA, as long as any regulation or support for the reaching of those standards is technology-neutral and produced in accordance with the policy direction established in other legislation. Focussing on tailpipe emissions does not allow fair competition between the different clean mobility solutions. The EBA, jointly with NGVA Europe, has issued statements calling for a well-to-wheel approach in order to take the benefits of renewable gas adequately into account. Consideration of the entire fuel chain including extraction, production, transport and use of the fuel or electricity would provide a more realistic comparison of the different options. The joint statements have received support from the European Parliament, with one MEP proposing a specific methodology for CNG and LNG applications, which would allow consideration of the effect of advanced and renewable gaseous transport fuel use in calculating average fleet emissions. As we enter 2019, the EBA will continue to push for a favourable regulatory framework for the use of biomethane in transport and is an active member of the Art (Alternative and Renewable Transport) Fuels Forum and the Sustainable Transport Forum, both European Commission expert groups.