The role of biogas in the European Union energy transition

Secure, sustainable, low-emitting. Biogas can be ​the ally in the decarbonization of the European economy and for the European energy transition, as demonstrated by countries such as Italy and Germany​.

The fight against climate change has become an integral part of the international political agenda following the enforcement of the Paris Agreement. Consequently, it is now at the center of an international political debate. In order to achieve the goals under the agreement, it will be necessary to further reduce emissions in the energy, transportation and construction sectors, as well as throughout the industrial sector. Generating energy from renewable sources and energy efficiency appear to be the way forward. Analysts and scientists agree that it will be crucial to rapidly stimulate these sectors in order to attain the set goals. According to a joint study recently presented by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), energy-related CO2 emissions could be reduced by as much as 70% by 2050, by focusing strongly on decarbonizing the energy economy. But to achieve these objectives, the agencies warn that “a deep transformation of the way we produce and use energy” would need to occur. According to the report, $ 29 trillion of investment will be needed from now until 2050.

However, such investments will have a positive impact in terms of:

– Boosting global GDP by around 0.8% by 2050

– Generating new jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors which, according to estimates, will more than offset job losses in the fossil fuel industry during the transition period, and

– Above all, improving global human welfare through reduced air pollution, together with undoubted environmental and health benefits

Biogas will itself play a decisive role in this scenario. Furthermore, according to IRENA’s “Remap 2050” program (which determines the potential of countries and regions to increase their renewable energy share in order to ensure an accessible and sustainable energy future), renewable energy use in 2050 will be four times higher than it is today (renewables currently account for around 15% of the global primary energy supply). Around 40% of renewables will be used for power, while heating and other uses will account for 44%. The biogas industry therefore has the potential to carve out a sizeable share in both the electricity production and transport sectors. In addition, the transport sector alone (including civil aviation) accounts for around 23.2% of European greenhouse gas emissions. Taking only heavy-duty transport into account, this percentage falls further to 5–7% of total EU emissions​​.


Jan Stambasky: “The biogas industry is now mature”
Reducing climate-altering emissions, promoting sustainable mobility and a circular economy: these are the positive implications for the development of this sector, and not just in Europe. Jan Štambaský, President of EBA (the European Biogas Association), explains.

How can the biogas industry contribute towards meeting the climate goals laid down in the Paris Agreement?
The main advantage of the biogas industry is the wide range of possible applications, particularly in those areas where emissions are effectively reduced. Biogas plays a vital role not only in the energy sector, but also in agriculture, where biogas production favors the effective treatment of various effluents and products that are unsuitable for further treatment. This is a great opportunity to work toward the global climate goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. Of course there is the biogas itself, an energy carrier widely used in combined heat and power production, but also as a vehicle fuel. This is a unique characteristic of biogas compared with other biofuels.

What is the current and future role of biogas in reducing transport sector emissions?
Biogas can be further processed to produce biomethane, which is technically equivalent to natural gas, but generates fewer emissions. Biomethane could therefore power CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) vehicles. It has no mixing restrictions or special infrastructure requirements. Biomethane is the easiest biofuel to produce on a large scale. Of course, the use of biomethane in transport must be accompanied by the development of an infrastructure and a CNG fleet.

The sector’s industry is therefore a perfect example of a circular economy, by taking advantage of otherwise underused resources to create new value. 
That’s right. Biogas production is a perfect example of the circular economy, especially when talking about its full life cycle. Biogas can be produced from a wide range of biomass sources, while the fermentation residue, called digestate, is in turn a perfect organic fertilizer containing all the nutrients originally present in the biomass. So, we can see two complete cycles:

  1. The carbon cycle, which starts with atmospheric carbon dioxide and soil carbon converted into living matter, which in turn is subsequently converted into biogas and digestate. The use of biogas energy releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while digestate compensates for the lack of carbon in the soil.
  2. The cycle of nutrients in the soil used by living biomass which, after all the transformations, are released back into the soil by the digestate.

Germany and Italy are currently the leaders in Europe. What is the situation outside the confines of the EU-27?
The biogas industry is growing on a global scale. In general, we are seeing the biggest progress in urban and agricultural waste treatment applications, where biogas production offers numerous benefits. Let’s also remember the United States and the countries of south-eastern Europe, where rapid development is taking place.

From the CNH Industrial website
By Rudi Bressa – Environmental journalist