The EU’s 2050 long-term strategy outlines the bio-economy as one of the strategic priorities in the road to a climate neutral economy. A National policy statement on the bio-economy was published in 2018, and the First Progress Report of the Group was published in September 2019. The importance of the bioeconomy is also recognised in the Government’s Climate Action Plan and other cross-sectoral policies including Future Jobs Ireland. The Government recognises that the bioeconomy is crucial for sustainability while also providing an impetus to rural development and employment. The Action Plan for Rural Development (2017) underlines how the bioeconomy can contribute to decarbonisation, sustainable growth and job creation in the agricultural, industrial and technological sectors in rural areas. With Kilkenny’s large rural economy, the potential for the bioeconomy to boost employment in County is clear.
Bioenergy is energy extracted from biomass which includes biological material such as plants and animals, wood, agricultural residue and waste. Bioenergy is produced through many different processes: combustion and anaerobic digestion being the most common and widely used. Combustion is the energy conversion process whereby biomass (for example wood chips) is burned to produce process heat or to heat space or hot water. Anaerobic digestion involves the bacterial transformation of biomass (for example animal manure) upgraded to Biomethane or biogas. The biogas can be used to fuel a stationary gas engine or gas turbine to produce electricity or burned in a boiler to provide heat or to raise steam. Biogas can also be compressed and used as a transport fuel. The majority of current biomass-derived energy comes from wood combustion to produce heat.
Biofuel is often used to refer to liquid or gaseous fuel extracted from biomass. Biofuel and bioenergy are the same, both mean energy derived from biomass. Biofuel has become associated with transport fuel in Ireland; bioethanol is used in petrol spark ignition engines and biodiesel is used in compression ignition diesel engines. Biofuel produced from vegetable oils/animal fats can be used in unprocessed form or converted to biodiesel. Bioethanol is produced from the fermentation of organic materials such as sugar beet and cereals.
Bioenergy offers significant opportunities for rural communities to diversify into clean energy. In 2010, the Government introduced a biofuel obligation on suppliers of petrol and diesel to ensure that a set percentage of their supply is composed of biofuel.
The percentage is currently set at 8.69% by volume per annum but this rate is expected to be increased over time. This obligation on fuel blenders will be a key component in achieving the national target of 13.4% renewable energy in the transport sector by 2030 as set out under the NECP 2021 – 2030.
Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is the simultaneous production of heat and power. CHP is the most efficient option for producing electricity with total efficiencies of 85% or greater possible. A modern power station has an efficiency of up to 35% with a further 10% of power generated lost in transmission. CHP technologies based on biomass combustion represent a great potential to reduce CO2 emissions since they are based on utilisation of renewable energy sources (for example forest residue, wood fuels or sawdust). They also have the potential to increase local employment as fuel is sourced locally. Recycled timbers also form a waste management solution and a particular CO2 net benefit when used in power or heat production.
A district heating system provides heat from a central heating source to more than one building and is an alternative to providing separate heating systems for each building. A district heating system consists of a central heat source, a heat distribution network of insulated pipes and heat exchangers in each building or multi-unit buildings. District heating can offer reduced capital cost and increased energy efficiency. The combination of CHP and district heating is very energy efficient.
Biomass district heating has many advantages. It can:
- Contribute towards the national target of 24% for renewable heating and cooling by 2030
- Significantly reduce CO2 emissions and help combat climate change
- Combat fuel poverty by delivering lower cost heat to low income homes
- Create employment and sustain jobs by providing lower cost heat to customers
- Provide a secure heat supply from locally sourced biomass fuel.
The key objectives of the Plan are to increase the contribution of bioenergy to the region’s energy balance, reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels, decrease the carbon footprint of the region in terms of GHG emissions and promote rural development and sustainable agriculture.
The bioenergy industry is comprised of several elements set out below: