European biogas policies in the mirror of sustainability

The Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC (RED) prompts the Commission to report on requirements for a sustainability scheme for energy uses of biomass and biogas other than biofuels and bioliquids, and to provide analysis on biofuel sustainability with respect to indirect land use change (iLUC). The iLUC corresponds to the carbon stock release from the conversion of natural land such as rainforest or grassland into cropland that can result from an increased production of biofuels/bioenergy in Europe. For the transport sector, the current sustainability criteria aim at ensuring minimum greenhouse gas (GHG) savings when compared to fossil fuels as well as defining land criteria, e.g. avoid high biodiversity areas for raw material production. In October 2012, the Commission additionally introduced a proposal to further minimise the climate impact of biofuel production, including a 5% cap on 1st generation biofuels (crop-based) and reporting requirements on estimated iLUC emissions.

Biogas can be produced from a variety of feedstock and used for different purposes: electricity, heat and transport. Thus, the sustainability schemes for biomass and the GHG calculation of biogas pathways would need to take these into consideration. For instance, anaerobic digestion of manure greatly reduces the amount of methane that would otherwise be released in the atmosphere and enable therefore significant GHG savings. Biogas production also closes the nutrient cycle when the produced digestate, an excellent bio-fertiliser, replaces and thereby prevents the CO2 emissions from the production and use of mineral fertiliser. As for biofuels, the co-digestion of energy crops and manure has proved to be the most energy-efficient: one hectare of land used for biomethane production allows a longer running distance than with any other biofuel (graph of the Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V.).