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The EU’s 2030 biomethane target is within reach – interview with Harmen Dekker, CEO of the European Biogas Association

With the publication of the REPowerEU plan, for the first time, the European Commission has included biomethane as one of the tools to reduce the bloc’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels and diversify its sources of supply.

On the sidelines of the Flame conference, which took place in Amsterdam on 3-5 May, CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Harmen Dekker, CEO of the European Biogas Association (EBA) about the role played by biomethane in the EU’s decarbonisation efforts and what industries will benefit from it the most.

The Commission is seeking to speed up the rollout of renewable gases, including 35 billion cubic metres (bcm) of biomethane by 2030. Is the sector ready to deliver the required sustainable biomethane production?

“Currently, there are around 20,000 biogas plants in Europe so the Commission’s ambition is a challenge but a realistic one,” he begins.

“To reach the 35 bcm envisaged in the plan, we need to build 5,000 more plants, which might seem a lot but if we think about the fact that Germany has built 6,000 plants in 9 years, it is an encouraging sign that this can be done.”

Still, there are several challenges and Mr Dekker highlights the technological, regulatory and financial aspects.

From a technological point of view, purification is not an issue, however, Mr Dekker underlines how important is to ensure the same quality: the biogas injected in Denmark, for example, should be the same one injected in Spain.

“A good example is that there are still discussions about the oxygen levels as some storages are uncertain if they can receive higher oxygen levels. A pragmatic approach should be taken to ensure that only for those storages where oxygen could be an issue, special oxygen scavengers are placed instead at taking out oxygen at production level at every single biomethane plant which would be very inefficient and expensive,” he says. “And all countries should adhere to Europe’s specifications, to make it easier, as the LNG market works.”

However, Mr Dekker goes on by saying that more support from the EU and its Member States regarding the regulatory framework is needed.

“It is good that the REPowerEU mentions biomethane,” he points out. “Now we need to make sure it is anchored in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) or is being supported within the national Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) plans.”

“We are currently fighting to make sure that biomethane will have the right attention so that the Commission, Member States and the whole value chain can work together to ensure that we meet the targets.”

One of the sectors he mentions as a beneficiary of biomethane is agriculture. According to EBA, sequential crops should be included in the list of advanced feedstocks in recognition of the multiple environmental benefits they offer. This would allow sequential crops to count towards the advanced biofuels target.

“We can inject digestate into the soil, bring the carbon back and build up humus,” he explains. “Together with a reduction of chemical fertilisers, we could help restore the European soil and produce sustainable energy at the same time.”

Other than the agriculture industry, Mr Dekker cites those sectors that according to him are being forgotten, like waste, wastewater and landfill.

“There are still many landfills in Europe which creates landfill gas and in many countries, this is not being seen as renewable gas and therefore cannot be used. This results that most landfills are flaring this,” he highlights.

“Let’s use all the sources that come from waste in the best way possible.”

In this regard, the upcoming revision of the Waste Framework and Urban Waste Water Treatment Directives will provide an opportunity for the inclusion of regulatory drivers to maximise sustainable energy production potential in the waste and wastewater sectors.

Looking at the financial aspect, EBA believes that the contribution of anaerobic digestion to the transition to a circular economy should be recognised in the Environmental Taxonomy expected from the Commission by the end of this year. The criteria should be transparent and should refer to the digestion of biowaste, such as sewage sludge and landfill, as well as organic waste, agricultural residues and sequential crops.

“Let’s look at the medium-, long-term future,” says Mr Dekker. “Natural gas prices are not expected to fall down to the same levels as before the crisis and we are not even taking into account the ETS prices, which are also expected to rise. Currently, this [biogas/biomethane] is a very competitive industry and we need this message to come out to the consumers. In the Netherlands, instead of subsidising renewable energy, they are putting in place blending obligations to reach a blend of 2 bcm of biomethane by end of 2030. In case consumers are experiencing higher pricing due to the higher share of biomethane, what is not expected, the government looks for ways to compensate consumers.”

Asked about the possibility of introducing an obligatory quota, the CEO of EBA says that it could work in theory but there are too many variables to consider for all those countries that have a small gas network.

“Something that is still missing from the Fit for 55 is taxation at the lowest level, to be included in the tax directive,” he adds. “Then it is up to countries if they want to raise it. Now it works the other way around.”

“Biomethane must be seen as a sustainable option even if we need to build new infrastructure and pipelines to enable it,” Mr Dekker continues. “As an extra example of the versatility biogas offers, currently green hydrogen is in the spotlight. Many municipalities in Europe are thinking about investing in hydrogen, forcing bus companies to install hydrogen buses. However, most are calculating the price of hydrogen at the production level without taking into account the transportation costs which could make the final price 3-4 times higher. With biogas and biomethane you can convert and use hydrogen locally, without adding large extra costs,” the CEO of EBA concludes referring once again to one of the main advantages of biomethane: its cost-effectiveness.

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