As a first step of the project, targeted desk research was conducted and complemented with a round of expert interviews in each of ALFA’s 6 target countries: Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Slovakia, Greece, and Spain. In the present stage, we have built upon that research and improved our knowledge of framework conditions acting as barriers or enablers of biogas market uptake in livestock farming in the EU. In addition, we have assessed the needs and awareness levels of agricultural biogas stakeholders, as well as the current levels and (mis)perceptions of EU citizens regarding biogas production from manure.
To that end, we conducted two large surveys of, on the one hand, 3,000 EU citizens and, on the other hand, 270 experts and stakeholders directly involved in the agricultural biogas value chain, including livestock farmers, advisors, biogas plant owners, researchers, policy-makers, etc.
We have found that EU citizens exhibit a relatively low level of knowledge and familiarity about biogas, its production process, and its uses. However, they have, on average, positive views on the potential environmental and economic benefits of biogas production from manure, although some misperceptions exist. For instance, they remain concerned about the health impact on people living near biogas plants and the safety of biogas production technology and often hold the belief that treating manure to produce biogas can increase bad smells and contribute to the devaluation of property values in the plants’ neighbouring areas.
More specifically, the average level of familiarity with biogas among the European society was rated at 3.89 out of 10 on a scale, indicating a relatively low level of familiarity. Despite this, they generally have positive views on the environmental and economic benefits of biogas production from manure, for example concerning the impacts of investing in biogas production from manure on effective nutrient and waste management, on creating an optimal energy mix in their countries, on the respective reduction in energy supply costs, and on local employment rates. On the other hand, over 25% of the participants believe that the installation of a biogas plant will devaluate the nearby properties. The figure below shows citizen perceptions on the impact that biogas plants using manure can have on different economic aspects.
Nevertheless, the current level of social acceptance in the EU could be considered moderate: for instance, while the 3 thousand citizens in our sample rated biogas production as 67 out of 100 on average, few would be satisfied with a biogas plant that uses manure being constructed nearby their homes, even if compensated by a discount on their electricity bill.
Thanks to the consultation of regional experts and stakeholders, we identified the most important barriers at the technical, financial, institutional, socio-cultural, environmental, and gender inequality levels. Financial feasibility and uncertainty of return, followed by complex authorisation processes, were considered the primary challenges. For instance, among the most identified barriers are the high investment costs of biogas plants along with the absence of financial support and subsidies. This can be seen in the figure below, which shows the number of responses received for a sample of possible economic barriers.
In addition, experts and stakeholders emphasized the importance of setting renewable energy targets and regulating digestate processing and manure management, as well as offering knowledge to farmers, as significant matters towards the uptake of biogas systems in livestock farming.
ALFA’s prospective research will include the design of more specific support services that the project will offer to farmers and biogas plants in later stages. Such support services will be designed by involving experts in co-creation workshops organised in each of the project’s target countries. The results from the present report will serve as valuable input and baseline for this work, with the ultimate goal to help promote the adoption of biogas in the European livestock farming industry, especially across the project’s 6 target countries.