Anaerobic digestion in Northern Ireland
5 October 2021
The future of anaerobic digestion in Ireland
5 October 2021

Bioenergy: The “sleeping giant” in decarbonising Ireland – IrBEA

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have recognised that bioenergy is the largest current contributor to renewable energy across the world.

The IPCC strongly highlights the role that bioenergy can play in carbon removal as well as in the development of bioenergy-based fuel alternatives for fossil fuels.

While bioenergy deployment in Ireland is significantly lagging behind Europe, the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA) strongly articulates the potential which exists. A blind spot exists in Irish policy and support towards bioenergy compared to other renewable technologies. There are multi-sectoral benefits associated with the sector which are not valued including rural development, indigenous generated energy, the bioeconomy, enhancing biodiversity and agricultural diversification. The Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH) supports renewable heat used in industry while ensuring that biomass is sourced through sustainable forest management as governed by strict criteria in the RED II Directive.

Fossil fuels can be displaced with indigenous resources such as biogas, bioliquids, energy crops, woodchip and firewood. To grow the sector, mobilising finance is a key enabler. Many stakeholders note that there is an abundance of capital available but that the Irish policy and regulatory landscape is seen as an impediment to the development of bioenergy projects.

The scale of the challenge in meeting emission reduction targets is enormous. None of the solutions proposed today will get us to where we need to be by 2050. There is a need to focus on pragmatism over ideology and recognising that all renewable technologies have a part to play. Specifically, a 40 per cent renewable heat target by 2030 should be enshrined in government policy as per the Renewable Energy Ireland (REI) 40by30 report. Solid biomass and biogas can do the heavy lifting in decarbonising heat across all sectors but particularly in the high temperature heat range. This can complement the ambitious targets for low temperature heat decarbonisation using heat pumps.

The Biofuels Obligation Scheme delivered 520,000 tonnes of CO2 savings in 2020. Biofuel blending levels in petrol and diesel fuels need to be significantly increased. Biogas can aid agricultural emission reduction, through capturing the gas produced by slurries and farm residues using Anaerobic Digestion technology and using the resulting digestate to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers. The policy and regulatory environment needs to assist in mobilising this industry.

With investment, support and the right policy framework the potential of bioenergy to assist in decarbonising Ireland can be realised.

Seán Finan B.E C.Eng MIEI