The first of ALFA’s research activities studied the conditions affecting the use of biogas and biomethane in the project’s six target countries: Greece, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Slovakia, and Belgium. The study looked at social, economic, legal, and policy factors that currently impair the use of biogas production technology in livestock farms. Understanding these factors can help experts design better services and promote more use of these technologies in farming. But let’s move to each country separately:
- Greece: Greece generates plenty of agricultural waste originating from crops and livestock. While it has enormous potential for biogas production, most biomass remains unused, and biomethane is not commercialized yet in Greece. Biogas producers in Greece mostly use anaerobic digestion for producing energy that will be utilised for electricity and heating. An interesting aspect of Greek agriculture is the representation of women, which reaches 40% of the agricultural workforce, but women still do not have key roles in decision–making. Moreover, Greek society is skeptical towards the establishment and wide usage of bioenergy resources. Greece is majorly dependent on fossil fuels, due to the lack of a comprehensive framework as well as the lack of proper financial incentives for biogas investments.
- Spain: The Spanish agricultural and livestock sector represents one of the most dynamic sectors in the Spanish economy, as agriculture activities occupy more than half of the country’s land. Despite being the second largest country in the EU with land dedicated to agriculture and having great potential for biogas and biomethane production, Spain’s biogas generation remains relatively low in comparison with other European countries. The Spanish government recently established a Biogas Roadmap for addressing the unsatisfactory biogas production, which is mainly hindered by lax regulations that do not sufficiently include biogas in their frameworks and the perception that biogas is just a RES issue, rather than a livestock or agricultural one. Moreover, there is a lack of technical expertise and training among farmers regarding the benefits of biogas technology, while the farming industry is male-dominated, and there is no evidence of incentives for women in agriculture.
- Italy: In Italy, the establishment of biogas plants met a significant increase between 2008 and 2012, as the Italian government launched a subsidy for the foundation of small renewable energy plants. However, the establishment of new biogas plants has been gradually hindered by the long and complex authorization processes and social barriers such as opposition from local communities and relatively low knowledge about renewable energy sources among farmers. To support the energy transition process, there is a need for increased awareness of the benefits of biogas and clear guidelines for implementing new plants. Raising awareness campaigns could help highlight how biogas could be used as a complementary source to other renewable energy sources.
- Denmark: Denmark has one of the densest livestock infrastructures in the world. In addition, it is surrounded by a vulnerable ecosystem, the Baltic Sea, which requires particularly environmentally friendly management of manure. The country achieved to establish innovative ways for producing biogas from manure, achieving a rapid expansion of the sector since 2012, and succeeding in covering more than 30% of gas demands by biomethane. Biogas is widely used for heating, transportation, industrial processes, and electricity production, and it is expected, by 2035, to represent almost 100% of the gas used in Denmark. The dense availability of 35 million tones of livestock manure acts as a catalyst for the optimization of its usage for renewable energy generation, as it provides improved quality and distribution of nutrients. In addition, the Danish government supports biogas incentives through several schemes.
- Slovakia: Slovak agriculture is based on a dual farm structure, as there are a large number of small farms and a small number of large farms. However, the agricultural contribution to the local economy is relatively low, as it represents only 1.74% of the country’s GDP. There is an increasing trend in biomass exploitation; however, particular logistic barriers hinder the exploitation of biogas. Additionally, even though the country counts 109 biogas plants, they are not fully functional due to financial issues, deriving from the lack of appropriate state support. On an institutional level there is no clear framework for the rules and the conditions for biogas operation, while in the private sector, there is hesitance due to the lack of guarantees on reimbursing their investments and the limited potential of profiting from energy selling, which both further hinder the biogas production potential in the country.
- Belgium: In Belgium, there are significant variations in agriculture types and the energy–related policies between the country’s regions. In Flanders, manure is the predominant feedstock; at the same time, Wallonia mainly relies on agricultural residues. In addition, obtaining a permit to install a biogas plant on a farm is a much more arduous process in Flanders. Moreover, an interesting aspect of biogas utilization in Belgium is the existence of more than 70 micro-scale biogas digesters, In general, renewable energy sources constitute only 7.8% of the country’s energy demand, with biomass dominating 70% of the total renewable energy supply. The data about Belgium indicates that even though there is great potential for biogas uptake – Belgium ranks fifth in the EU-27 in livestock per capita, challenges remain, for instance from regulatory issues and from financing the biogas plants.