My Department recognises the potential environmental and economic benefits of using anaerobic digestion, including climate mitigation, water quality and air quality, as well as supporting diversification of income for farmers. Research suggests the biogas produced from anaerobic digestion could potentially play a significant role in the heat and transport sectors, in particular.
The anaerobic digestion industry in Ireland is at an early stage of development compared to the more established industry in many European countries. Potential for the growth of the anaerobic digestion sector in Ireland is strong, but it should be seen as a long-term development. The main support for the development of anaerobic digestion will be through the pending support scheme for renewable heat operated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. The scheme will provide ongoing operational support for anaerobic digestion biogas boilers or biogas high efficiency combined heat and power heating systems.
My Department supports research, development and demonstration in this area. As recently as October 2018, two projects were approved for funding from the European Innovation Partnerships Initiative under the rural development programme. The Biorefinery Glas small-scale, farmer-led green biorefineries and the Irish BioEnergy Association's small biogas demonstration programme have each been awarded funding of over €900,000. In addition, my Department has a key regulatory role to play when using animal by-products as feedstock for anaerobic digestion. We encourage the use and recovery of these by-products in a safe and protected manner and look forward to the growth of the sector and the opportunities it can provide for rural Ireland to meet renewable energy and carbon and emissions targets. There are 12 anaerobic digesters producing biogas in operation nationally that are approved by and operating under licence from my Department. The capital costs of such anaerobic digestion systems are quite significant and challenges remain in the sustainable supply of various feedstocks for anaerobic digestion. My Department continues to work closely with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the lead Department in this area, to ensure the supply of domestic fuels available in the forest and agriculture sectors will be mobilised to support green energy generation from a range of bioenergy technologies, including anaerobic digestion.