Agri decarbonisation challenge ‘a significant opportunity’ in Cork

The challenge of decarbonisation in Irish agriculture is also a significant opportunity to be realised, according to top brass in the field of renewable gas.

Ian Kilgallon, business development and innovation manager at Gas Networks Ireland, explained how the GRAZE Gas project is going about developing this opportunity in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork.

The ‘Green Renewable Agricultural Zero Emissions Gas’ project was recently selected as one of seven initiatives to receive investment under the Government’s Climate Action Fund, to the tune of €8 million.

Kilgallon spoke about the project, and the general topic of anaerobic digestion (AD) in an Irish agricultural context, to presenter Claire Mc Cormack on tonight’s episode of FarmLand.

Regarding the advantages of anaerobic digestion and biogas production, Kilgallon highlighted that the gas network is an existing infrastructure so there’s no new significant investment needed.

He noted that the domestic heating sector is already using gas efficiently, so in a scenario renewable gas can be injected into the grid, it’s essentially just a fuel swap.

“There’s a cost involved in producing it, and that cost is higher than the cost of natural gas out of the ground, but the cost to the consumer, there’s no other additional cost to the consumer.

In essence they are just dealing with a fuel switch. They wake up the next day, the fuel is now renewable, it’s fully decarbonised, and yet they can still achieve all the efficiency savings.

He noted that this could be extended from heating power in commercial factories to gas-operated heavy goods vehicles.

“This is actually going to be a cheaper fuel than diesel.”

Location

Commenting on the decision by Gas Networks Ireland to choose Mitchelstown for its Central Grid Injection (CGI) facility, Kilgallon explained the reasoning.

“For one thing we’ve a lot of customers in that area. The agri food beverage sector would be one of our largest client bases – they use an awful lot of gas.”

The manager said that agricultural stakeholders had approached Gas Networks Ireland to assist in their decarbonisation, adding that most of their energy – up to 90% or 95% in most cases – is gas.

“So the option for those guys to be able to switch to a low-carbon or zero-carbon alternative is a massive opportunity for them.

“But equally, they actually need the likes of ourselves to help them decarbonise, because their products – every kilogram of milk powder – has to compete on the European market; we’re relying on an export market.”

Kilgallon highlighted that driving decarbonisation solutions and decarbonising gas for such clients will allow them to be able to compete on a European level much more effectively.

‘Perfect storm’

He added: “And obviously the farming sector that is supplying them also has a great challenge to decarbonise as well. So I suppose you have a perfect storm.

“You have a lot of farmers with a lot of slurry for argument’s sake, in particular slurry, and that’s an opportunity in our mind.

Yes, the decarbonisation challenge in agriculture is a challenge but it’s also a significant opportunity – and actually doing it in scale and in a location like Mitchelstown area is probably an ideal location to be honest.

In terms of the challenges the company has had to deal with, Kilgallon explained that availability of a good mix of feedstuffs was essential in the selection of the facility location.

Requirements

“The AD facilities need to be located where there is slurry. So slurry is still the primary feedstock. So, for instance, we’ve pig farmers in the Mitchelstown area – they’re an ideal location for an AD facility.

“Typical dairy farmers, some of them are big enough to have enough slurry themselves but typically we would need to get a cluster or maybe mini co-operatives together to supply slurry into the one location.

And then in terms of the organic material – essentially it’s a co-digestion process – about 40% slurry and 60% other organic materials.”

The manager stressed that such organic materials must be sustainably sourced, adding that they cannot infringe on the fodder supply and must be complementary.

“So in the Mitchelstown area in particular, where we’ve seen that organic material is more likely to come from the tillage sector.

“So the tillage guys are able to grow a four-year rotation crop of red clover with rye.

That’s an ideal feedstock for this, and it also produces very high-quality fodder material actually, and in the event of scenarios like we’ve had this year where there are fodder crises, this product can be rediverted to supply fodder as well.

“Other sources would include sugar beet. They would probably be the two main feedstocks in that particular part of the country.

“If we were up in Mayo, for example, it would be quite a different story in terms of feedstock mix.

“We seem to have a very good complementary mix between tillage farmers, pig farmers, dairy farmers, between them all actually getting the feedstock together would seem to make sense.”