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The rapid development of AD represents ‘enlightened self-interest’ on climate change and coronaviruses


  • There is a causal relationship between climate change and emerging infectious diseases, say the WHO

  • Biogas and biomethane can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 1,000 million tonnes, says IEA Special Report

  • AD can reduce GHGs in India by 24 million tonnes annually, says US EPA market report for technology providers and developers


Two important reports have been released that act as a timely reminder to countries to include biomethane in their climate action plans. Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement must be delivered ahead of COP26 (still currently scheduled for November in the UK.)

As the UN has been at pains to emphasise in recent weeks the coronavirus – while devastating, deadly and destabilising – is temporary, climate change is permanent. And the two have a causal relationship. If we want to prevent the emergence of such viruses we must act on the latter.

Coronaviruses and climate change

Coronaviruses (CoV) are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.  Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. The current strain CoVID-19 is at this time believed to have originated in bats.

According to the United States Agency for International Development, “nearly 75 percent of all new, emerging, or re-emerging diseases affecting humans at the beginning of the 21st century are zoonotic”.

“Today, worldwide, there is an apparent increase in many infectious diseases… this reflects the combined impacts of rapid demographic, environmental, social, technological and other changes in our ways of living. Climate change will also affect infectious disease occurrence,” the World Health Organisation wrote in 2014.

Both reports outline how the adoption of biogas and biomethane is critical role to mitigating climate change. And, the International Energy Agency (IEA) Special Report notes, will mitigate the need to burn biomass in developing countries. It is this necessity which results in many people encroaching into previously undisturbed habitats to collect firewood.

In the current coronavirus crisis, it is evident the global roll out of biogas and biomethane would represent ‘enlightened self-interest’ and the reports detail the very great impact such a strategy would deliver.

Biogas and biomethane have a critical role to play

The report from the International Energy Agency is entitled Outlook for Biogas and Biomethane: Prospects for Organic Growth, which is a World Energy Outlook 2020 (WEO) Special Report.

The WEO report established a sustainable development scenario (SDS) for global energy supply.

The Special Report states, “Biogas and biomethane have the potential to support all aspects of the SDS, which charts a path fully consistent with the Paris Agreement by holding the rise in global temperatures to ‘well below 2°C … and pursuing efforts to limit [it] to 1.5°C’, and meets objectives related to universal energy access and cleaner air.”

Biomethane in the SDS avoids around 1,000 million tonnes (Mt) of GHG emissions in 2040.

From a detailed bottom up study of the worldwide availability of sustainable feedstocks it says biogas and biomethane could deliver 20% of today’s worldwide gas demand.

“Every part of the world has significant scope to produce biogas and/or biomethane, and the availability of sustainable feedstocks for these purposes is set to grow by 40% over the period to 2040”, the report says.

Biogas improves health and economic outcomes

The largest opportunities for development are in the Asia Pacific region, where natural gas consumption and imports have been growing rapidly in recent years, and North and South America, Europe, and Africa.

It forecasts “the overall potential is set to grow rapidly over the next two decades, based on increased availability of the various feedstocks in a larger global economy, including the improvement in waste management and collection programmes in many parts of the developing world.”

Biogas also has a critical role to play in delivering the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The report says, “In developing countries, biogas reduces reliance on solid biomass as a cooking fuel, improving health and economic outcomes. In the SDS, biogas provides a source of clean cooking to an additional 200 million people by 2040, half of which in Africa.”

It concludes, low-carbon gases are essential to the energy transitions required to keep global warming below 1.5C and calls on governments to introduce supportive policies to unlock the potential for biogas and biomethane.

While currently more expensive than its fossil counterpart the report projects the cost gap will narrow over time as biomethane production technologies improve and as carbon pricing in some regions makes natural gas more expensive; “recognition of the value of avoided CO2 and methane emissions goes a long way towards improving the cost-competitiveness of biomethane”.

Great potential for biogas in India

The second report profiles the role biogas and biomethane can play in decarbonising agriculture in India. It serves to emphasise the very real impacts biogas and biomethane can deliver.  In agriculture alone, the report says AD has the potential to cut 24.2 million tonnes of CO2(e) annually and deliver energy of around 231 TWh per year.

It was commissioned from the US Environment Protection Agency by the Global Methane Initiative, which encourages the use of anaerobic digestion to reduce methane emissions and generate renewable energy from the treatment of manures.

The GMI commissioned the report, entitled, Market Opportunities for Anaerobic Digestion of Livestock and Agro-Industrial Wastes in India, to inform “project developers, policymakers, and other interested stakeholders about the potential for biogas capture and use in India.”

India is creating an enabling environment for AD

The GMI says it was spurred to write the report because of recent developments in the country, which include:

Increasing energy demands and growing interest in using renewable energy sources to meet that demand

Environmental concerns associated with manure and agro-industrial waste management

New and/or modified national policies supporting AD and renewable energy development, and

Opportunities for potential “green” job growth as a result of an expanding AD market.

The report offers a comprehensive insight into the potential for AD, addressing the:

Uses of Biogas and Digestate, biogas as an energy source for multiple purposes, including cooking, transportation, heating, and cooling; and the digestate as soil amendment, fertiliser, or compost product.

Current Biogas Policies and Incentives, adopted in India that create an enabling environment for biogas project development. These include improved manure management, reduced dependence on oil and gas imports, and improved sanitation at the village level. Each of these policies help promote the development of biodigesters to use agricultural waste to produce biogas.

Biogas Potential from Agricultural Feedstock, which provides an overview of the various agricultural feedstocks in India that can be used as input into AD systems and estimates the potential for methane emissions reduction and methane production for use as an energy source. The sectors discussed include dairy farms, sugarcane processing, distilleries, fruit and vegetable processing, cornstarch production, tapioca production, and milk processing.

Technology Options, which identifies the current anaerobic digester technologies used in India to helps technology providers and project developers understand the technology landscape in India so they can consider deployment of alternative technologies used in other countries that may be appropriate for India.

There is also a section on Business Models and Case Studies, to highlight successful business models adopted (primarily) in India.

The reports clearly support the World Biogas Association view that there’s no net zero without biogas and indeed echo the conclusions of its report The Global Potential of Biogas. The emergence of Covid-19 has devastatingly emphasised the need to act now, and fast.

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