Ireland is “made for anaerobic digestion (AD)” and Irish rural areas could reap the benefits of an effective bioenergy industry – but this can only happen with supportive regulations, according to an industry expert in the field of bioenergy.
In an in-depth interview with AgriLand, James Cogan, the EU climate policy analyst with Ethanol Europe – a firm also known as Pannonia Bio – said:
“Bioenergy is all about regulation, because it’s virtually impossible to compete with fossil energy unless the regulator is supporting you.
It is very hard to go into any sector and dislodge fossil energy unless the regulator is supporting you – and in Ireland the regulatory environment for bioenergy is not good at all.
The policy analyst said that the Irish Government is “not skilled and knowledgeable” in terms of how bioenergy works and the opportunities for it.
However, he believes this is beginning to change, adding: “We can see the first glimmers of hope, because bioenergy is inevitable if you’re going to transition away from fossils.
“There is simply no way that wind and sun are going to be able to cover it all; there is too much energy required and it’s required in too many different forms. So bioenergy in terms of liquid biofuels and gaseous biofuels – methane – are essentially all going to grow.
Many people don’t quite see it yet – but there is a very good future for biofuel in Ireland and everywhere else.
“We’d love to have a couple of projects up and running in Ireland and we’re actively working to promote a positive regulatory environment for it,” Cogan added.
Homing in on this country, Cogan said: “AD is the no-brainer – Ireland is made for AD. It’s going to come – if you do the math in terms of energy transition and renewables, AD is the easiest to produce.
The analyst noted that Ethanol Europe is building its first AD plant in Hungary – where its ethanol plant is based – at present this year with a separate large solar investment also on the go as of last year.
“We’re not just ethanol – we have three pillars to our renewable energy portfolio. We’d definitely love to be building AD plants in Ireland or other renewable energy plants.”
Turning back to Ireland, Cogan said: “In the immediate term, for bioenergy in Ireland, we really have two high-volume uses for bioenergy in Ireland at the moment, and those are the 5% ethanol in our petrol, and 7% used for cooking oil in our diesel.
If we were a bioenergy positive country, we’d be switching to 10% ethanol in our petrol instantly – because most other countries have already done it, it works, it doesn’t cost any more than sticking with regular petrol, and it’s good for the climate and good for air quality.
Looking at Ireland as potential bioenergy investors, the Ethanol Europe analyst noted that the first thing to spring to mind for his firm would be “if you don’t have E10 petrol it’s kind of a ‘red light’ about the country’s regulatory framework; it’s a very negative signal”.
“There are other negative signals; the fact that there is little or no policy support for AD development and the list goes on.
“But we’re working very hard to bring E10 petrol into Ireland and to foster a positive awareness among regulators.”
Cogan said that, according to the United Nations, biofuels will need to account for 15-20% of transport energy by 2050, because, according to their projections, “there is no way that electrical energy will reach the level of application that it will cover all of the renewable energy needs of transport”.
“In terms of getting a reasonable amount of progress, you’ve got a mix of electrical and bio, and that bio will be a mix of liquids, like ethanol, and gas, essentially,” he explained.
AD is the obvious thing for development in Ireland. We’ve got plenty of tillage capacity – untapped tillage farming capacity.
“There’s no shortage of bio feedstock in Ireland or in Europe for producing energy. The only shortage is regulatory support – and the fear of regulators going against fossil fuels,” Cogan concluded.