During the World Biogas Summit 2021 virtual conference, a presentation was given by Harmen Dekker, Director, European Biogas Association, during which he spoke about the importance of including biofuels in all modes of transport.
He also mentioned potential problems with the way the EU is dealing with cutting emissions and how it could possibly be improved. Making it clear that a decade ago the EU was emphasising the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) and discussing renewable energy, Dekker said that, at this point, the EU, despite looking at zero emission vehicles, does not look at zero emissions in a full lifecycle approach.
Discussing the limitations of this view, he said, “They [EU] only look towards the tailpipe and favour only one option, which is electricity. And so even when we are using 100% renewable fuels, we cannot compete with the electricity as it is being promoted right now. Biogas and and biomethane has an enormous potential to decarbonise the transport.”
“And we can really help, especially in the coming decades, to make an impact on that.”
Dekker then spoke about how fuel types relate to different types of emission, with fossil fuels promoting positive emissions, electric vehicles zero emissions, and biomethane and biogas having the capability of producing negative emissions. Negative emission fuels and vehicles have the ability to capture carbon, thereby eliminating CO2 from the atmosphere in addition to not producing it.
Referencing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he continued, “If we really want to make an impact on climate change and reach these one and a half degrees maximum, which we are after… the IPCC said that we actually have to remove carbon, so zero carbon or zero emission is not even enough.”
Considering a zero-emission initiative will not be enough, Dekker emphasised the need to push for biofuels for a negative emissions approach. Speaking about a GRC study from 2014, he noted that it examined emission amounts relative to different fuels. With the biofuel level stretching to just below zero emissions, he mentioned that the industry could go even further by using manure and other similar feedstocks within the anaerobic digestion.
With several studies mapped out to assess the potential of sustainable biomethane production within Europe, he mentions how that, in Europe, approximately 193,000 TWh (terawatt-hours), are produced, which is around 18bn m3 of energy.
Noting that it is not all methane just yet, Dekker said, “We predict that in the future we can go up to around 35bn m3 in 2030, maybe even a little bit higher up to around 125bn m3 in 2040.”
One particular remediation method suggested during the presentation was the idea of planting sequential crops. A sequential crop is when two or more crops are grown in sequence on the same field per year. The succeeding crop is planted after the preceding crop has been harvested, rather than growing lots at the same time. Thus, after planting and harvesting, a farmer could be approaching the time of year where seasonal influences do not permit growth of other crops for food to feed, so, according to Dekker, it is important for farmers to cover their land.
He explained, “If you cover your land, you will prevent emissions, especially nitrogen emissions which is, for example, in the Netherlands where I live, a very big problem.”
”And if you put in a sequential crop, you actually for a few solutions at the same time, one of these is carbon farming. The roots are actually looking for or looking after some soil health, it is allowing both to grow, it gives carbon in there and we need that for a healthy state of soil within Europe”
He then suggests applying minimum tillage, meaning two thirds is taken off the crop and taken off in such a way that the soil is not disturbed, then no further nitrogen emissions will be created. From this point, it is also possible to create organic fertilisers.
Finding a solution…
The first solution suggested was to harmonise the approach to CO2 emissions in all EU transport policies. This involves the EU creating carbon neutral and cost-effective solutions to reduce CO2 emissions in transport.
This can be achieved using a two-step procedure; the first step involves switching from Tank-to-Wheel (TTW) to the more science-based Well-to-Wheel (WtW) approach. The second state is given as adopting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach in EU vehicle legislation.
The presentation also stated that tailpipe emissions leave 93% of transport sector carbon emissions out of the calculation.
Another solution is to recognise the emissions reduction of biomethane mobility within the CO2 standards. Dekker suggests that this could be achieved by creating a crediting system for biomethane and other sustainable advanced biofuels or utilising a carbon correction factor as a function of the renewable fuel used.
The last solution presented was to replace fossil fuels with advanced biofuels. Speaking about this, Dekker said, “Let’s replace fossils fuels immediately and let’s replace them in a similar way as what is being done in California.”
“In Sweden they are now at 98% biomethane and the gas-powered vehicles and beside that, people forget as well that the ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles are built in Europe. We provide jobs within Europe; we don’t have to go to Asia for that.”
The presentation ended on a high note, with examples shown of positive recent developments in EU countries. In Spain there is now a Climate Change and Energy Transition Law, which recognises for the first time biomethane mobility as zero GHG emissions, the same as electric mobility.
And in Norway the Norwegian Parliament is asking the Government to change all goals and objectives for zero emissions transport so that biogas, along with electricity and hydrogen, is considered as zero-emission.