Harnessing the Power of Biomethane

Accelerating the move to a decarbonised future cannot wait, that’s according to Brett Ross, CEO of RiverRidge.

As the impact of carbon emissions is increasingly being felt by communities, Northern Ireland needs to urgently turn its intent into action if it is going to reach 83% carbon reduction by 2050 – a target acknowledged by the Climate Change Committee in its 2023 report, ‘The Path to a Net Zero Northern Ireland’.

Northern Ireland’s leading waste and resource management company, RiverRidge, is spearheading the action as it continuously strives to improve how it uses resources, having set its own environmental goals and ambitions. The company is committed to finding solutions to help decarbonise its own operational waste processes, as well as its vehicle fleet.

RiverRidge is currently focussing on the use of biomethane, a renewable gas, that it believes can be used as a fundamental part of decarbonising Northern Ireland’s energy networks, as well as utilising it as an alternative fuel for vehicles.

Brett Ross, RiverRidge CEO, explains how biomethane can be harnessed; “Northern Ireland has certainly faced its challenges over the past few years and apart from the obvious political issues that have plagued us, our primary issue has been that the UK has been slow to adopt decarbonisation of its energy infrastructure.

“A key area for concern is the UK’s reluctance to embrace renewable heat infrastructure which has meant we are lagging Europe. Energy accounts for two thirds of emissions and 50% of energy consumption is used for heating.

“The UK, and in fact Ireland, have done very little to develop a renewable heating infrastructure. There are some valid reasons for this but by and large, a cohesive policy to ensure we use our resources to generate renewable heat has been very slow in coming.

“A prime example is the fact that Europe has already recognised the importance of renewable gasses such as biomethane and has invested in developing and supporting this sector.  Gas is the most suitable form of fuel for heating and Europe recognised this some years ago. It has embraced anaerobic digestion and the generation of biomethane – between 2018 and 2020 an additional 483 biomethane plants were constructed.

“Europe’s target for biomethane production by 2030 has recently doubled to 342Twh. Here in Northern Ireland, there are a number of established facilities that are harnessing biomethane through the anaerobic digestion process, but the availability of food waste is limited. However, Northern Ireland produces household waste and around 40% of this is suitable for the production of biomethane.

“Biomethane is produced from decomposition or combustion of organic materials and is very similar to natural gas. Organic waste is used instead of simply being disposed of. Crucially, biomethane is capable of injection to NI’s existing gas network and usable in most gas appliances.

“At RiverRidge, we are aiming to bring a world-class anaerobic digestion facility to market by 2025, which once operational, will generate 145,000MWth of biogas each year for injection into the grid. This £50m construction project will provide a viable alternative to the combustion of waste which is critical to net-zero aspirations and also to the financial viability of Northern Ireland’s local authorities.

“The next few years will see the introduction of the Emission Trading System (ETS), and energy from waste facilities are likely to have carbon capture installed. This means additional gate fees, taxation and rising costs in the waste sector if an alternative is not found.

“Biomethane is that alternative. It is recognised in Northern Ireland’s own energy strategy, The Pathway to Net Zero, but there is much work to do, not least a gas injection point.

“Northern Ireland needs to embrace solutions to decarbonise our future and it is very clear there is not only an environmental imperative but a financial one.”

RiverRidge continues its commitment to taking action to help decarbonise the region and a recent joint acquisition by Cube Infrastructure Managers and Equitix Investment Management for a majority stake in the company will accelerate its plans.