What is the role for renewable methane in European decarbonization?

Published: 2018.10.16

Stephanie Searle, Chelsea Baldino, Nikita Pavlenko

Renewable methane blended in the fossil gas supply is seen as a potential long-term decarbonization solution in the transport, power, and heat sectors in the European Union. It can be produced from anaerobic digestion of livestock manure and sewage sludge, gasification and methanation of sustainable biomass, and using power-to-gas technology with renewable electricity. This briefing paper summarizes two working papers: The potential for low carbon renewable methane in heat, power, and transport in the European Union and The potential for low-carbon renewable methane as a transport fuel in France, Italy, and Spain.

Renewable methane can deliver strong climate benefits if produced from sustainable feedstocks that are not used for food or livestock feed. It is also important to minimize methane leakage through the feedstock conversion process because methane, as a strong climate forcer, can offset climate benefits when released uncombusted to the atmosphere. Our analysis finds a modest potential for renewable methane in the European Union (EU) in the 2050 timeframe: at most, renewable methane could offset 12% of projected total gas demand. It could supply 7% of projected energy demand in transport, or 10% of residential heating, or 3% of power generation in 2050. This projection of renewable methane potential is much lower than those in published industry-led studies (see figure). We find that policy incentives will be needed to make renewable methane economically competitive. However, roughly half the technical potential of renewable methane, from livestock manure, cannot be economically delivered to the gas grid for use in transport or heat even with very high policy incentives equivalent to €4 per m3 or roughly €4 per liter transport fuel (diesel equivalent). Renewable methane can contribute to decarbonization targets, especially in the power sector, but it will be important for European governments to support other carbon reduction strategies in each of the transport, power, and heat sectors.

biogas potential in the EU by 2050