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Northern Ireland’s gas network now includes biomethane, a greener alternative to natural gas, marking a significant eco-advance.

In a groundbreaking environmental advancement, Northern Ireland has introduced biomethane into its gas supply network for the first time. This eco-friendly gas product, a direct substitute for traditional natural gas, is derived from agricultural manure, chicken litter, silage, and food waste. Initially, the biomethane in Northern Ireland will predominantly come from food waste.

The introduction of biomethane aligns with Northern Ireland's broader ambitions to meet a substantial portion of its gas demand with this eco-friendly alternative by 2030. This shift is particularly significant given that agriculture, largely due to livestock, is the major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the region. Researchers from Queen's University Belfast estimate that up to 80% of Northern Ireland's gas demand could be met using biomethane.

However, scientists caution against using this development as a pretext to further intensify agricultural practices, a sector already producing food for five times its population.

Northern Ireland, which imports its fossil fuels, has been vulnerable to international supply shocks, such as the recent soaring prices following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Biomethane produced locally, could provide a buffer against such fluctuations and potentially keep energy more affordable, as gas is a key component in electricity generation.

The project, a collaboration between Evolve and Granville Eco Park in County Tyrone, recycles biodegradable waste to produce biomethane. David Butler of Evolve described the initiative as the "start of a journey to fully decarbonise our entire network by 2030."

David McKee of Bio Capital Group, which operates Granville Eco Park, emphasized the project's alignment with the Energy Strategy and Climate Change Act targets.

While biomethane is not entirely free of greenhouse gases, it is considered environmentally friendly as its burning only releases carbon that would otherwise be emitted if the organic matter decayed naturally. The production process captures methane, a potent greenhouse gas, preventing its release into the atmosphere.

Utility regulator John French lauded the move, highlighting the security of supply and the commitment to providing a decarbonized energy source without significant costs and upheaval.

In 2020, renewable sources like wind and solar accounted for just over half of Northern Ireland's energy consumption. However, with certain industries requiring heat only gas can provide, biomethane is poised to play a vital role in meeting these needs while reducing emissions.

Despite the positive strides, Northern Ireland's infrastructure for large-scale biomethane production is still in development. The industry advocates for a local biomethane action plan, including a regional network of larger anaerobic digestion plants rather than numerous small-scale ones.

Twenty-four anaerobic digester plants across Northern Ireland have expressed interest in contributing to the network, with formal requests for information expected by the end of the year.

This initiative represents a significant moment in Northern Ireland's journey towards decarbonizing energy and enhancing local energy security. However, it is part of a larger picture that includes necessary investment in infrastructure and safeguards to prevent exacerbating emissions from the agricultural sector.

Samira is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, but deep inside, her heart is a nomad! She's a state champion debater, a public speaker, a scriptwriter, a theater actress, but most importantly — A GREEN CITIZEN! She thinks of herself as a storyteller who thrives on enjoying the life at fullest and telling everyone the tales of life.

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