The potential for low-carbon renewable methane as a transport fuel in France, Italy, and Spain

Published: 2018.11.05

Chelsea Baldino, Nikita Pavlenko, and Stephanie Searle, and Adam Christensen

Renewable methane could conceivably displace natural gas for use in existing vehicle fleets, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as emissions of air pollutants like NOx. It is important that policy makers assess the realistic potential for renewable methane. The technical potential for renewable methane production may vary considerably from the volumes that are achievable at realistic levels of policy support. Constraints such as economies of scale, feedstock cost, and distribution all play important roles in determining the cost of production for renewable methane.

This study estimates the cost-effectiveness of and additional technical potential for using renewable methane from sustainable feedstocks in France, Italy, and Spain in 2030, relative to its current production. We also estimate the maximum total potential greenhouse gas (GHG) savings for renewable methane, as well as the GHG savings that could be achieved at realistic levels of policy support.

We find that 74 petajoules (PJ) of renewable methane could be produced in France, 25 PJ in Italy, and 69 PJ in Spain. That corresponds to 5% of 2016 natural gas consumption in France, 1% in Italy, and 7% in Spain. From a transport energy perspective, these potentials equate to 1.8 billion diesel litre equivalent (DLE) for France, 0.6 billion DLE for Italy, and 1.6 billion DLE for Spain. Our cost assessment indicates that it is highly unlikely any of the three countries will reach their technical potential for renewable methane production by 2030. By 2030, at a very high retail cost of €8.10/kg, Italy would be able to produce only half of its total potential for renewable methane, France only 25%, and Spain only 20%. At the same retail cost, only around 1 million tonnes of CO2e would be saved in Italy and Spain, while France would generate about 4 million tonnes of CO2e reduction annually.