Renewable gases: grasping the opportunities of decarbonisation and the circular economy
Europe is determined to tackle the challenges of climate change. Before the end of 2019, the European Commission revealed the details of the Green Deal that will make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. This proposal is not just aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will also set out measures to protect biodiversity, reduce air and soil pollution, reform the agricultural policy from an environmental perspective and advance the circular economy. Those measures shall be supported by a revitalised industry which can deliver new green jobs. The current context is a major opportunity for untapping the potential of renewable gases.
There is a promising future for the upgraded form of biogas, biomethane. The production of this renewable gas will reach around 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) in the EU by 2050, equivalent to 1,200 TWh). Realising this full potential will require a significant acceleration of renewable gas deployment at competitive cost. Energy prices should reflect all climate and environment externalities, including, amongst others, contributions to the reduction of CO2 and air pollutants, protection of biodiversity or creation of green jobs. Renewable gases can, for instance, lead to a carbon negative Europe and create 600,000–850,000 additional direct jobs and 1.1–1.5 million indirect jobs by 2050.
In this context, ensuring the development of renewable gases is underpinned by a consistent investment strategy becomes crucial. The European Investment Bank (EIB) has initiated a transition to become a ‘climate bank’ and stop financial support for fossil fuels, including natural gas, from 2021. The upper limit for financing renewable energy projects was increased from 50% to 75%. In the course of this year, we will see how the new rules support renewable gases and what is the transition arrangement for the phase out of natural gas projects.
The next developments will also depend on the national context. There are different actions which can inspire the transition of the coming months and years. Countries like Germany with the ‘Gas 2030 dialogue process’ are already positioning themselves on the future of gas foreseeing a bigger role for hydrogen and biomethane. Some countries might follow the example of France and set a specific target for renewable gas. The number of biomethane plants in France has recently grown weekly and in early December already 115 biomethane units were in operation. Other might look to Italy or Denmark, which are making significant progress on biomethane deployment. In the transport sector, particularly the Nordic countries are making considerable efforts increasing the use of biomethane. Finland has recently hit a milestone of 10 000 gas vehicles and has set a national target of 50 000 gas vehicles by 2030.
The decarbonisation of the transport sector will indeed be key for the renewable gas industry this year. The new Commission will revise the Directive on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure, adding binding objectives to introduce a sufficient number of filling stations for alternative fuels like (bio-)CNG and (bio)LNG. The facts about bio-CNG’s low GHG emissions and positive climate effects are receiving increasing scientific support. A recent study compared the carbon footprint of the entire life cycle of compressed natural gas and biomethane vehicles to that of diesel, gasoline and electric vehicles and concluded that biomethane is the best transportation option to preserve air quality.
Biogas will benefit from the development of circular economy strategies, which will remain a key priority for the EU Executive in 2020. The approval of the Fertilisers Regulation last year was warmly welcomed by the industry, as it opened the door to the commercialisation of organic fertilisers. In the coming months, the Commission is expected to present a new action plan for the circular economy that identifies targets, tools and indicators for the food sector which should contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the loss of biodiversity and land degradation.
 Navigant – Gas for Climate report, ‘The optimal role for gas in a net-zero emissions energy system’
Trinomics for DG Energy report, ‘Impact of the use of biomethane and hydrogen potential on trans-European infrastructure’
 Navigant – Gas for Climate report, ‘Job creation by scaling up renewable gas in Europe’
 IFP Energies Nouvelles ‘Life cycle analysis (LCA) of vehicles running on NGV and bioGNV’