Scaling up the biomethane sector could see farmers presented with the dual options of supplying plants with feedstocks and having an outlet for excess slurry, Renewable Gas Forum Ireland’s conference heard on Wednesday.

Industry figures stated that the size of the farming sector in Ireland is one of the pull factors drawing the interest of anaerobic digestion outfits to invest here, given the large source of potential feedstocks that this scale provides.

Plants are likely to seek a commitment from farmers to supply for a period of a decade or more, to get the certainty of feedstocks needed to secure investment, the conference heard.

Those looking for farmers to supply grass or other feedstocks will need to “bat straight” when negotiating contracts, as the industry will not take off if farmers are not getting a good deal, according to Tom O’Brien of natural gas producer Nephin Energy.

“There is no room for cheats. There is no room for ‘got you contracts’.

“These are going to be long-term arrangements that people will figure out quite quickly if you’re playing fast and loose with them,” O’Brien said.

Slurry and digestate

The IFA’s European policy executive Noel Banville pointed to the opportunity for farmers supplying slurry to anaerobic digesters opened in a recent European Commission proposal to amend nitrates rules on processed slurry.

This Renure proposal opens the door to processed slurry being treated as replacement for chemical fertiliser, which could allow farmers to export slurry to anaerobic digesters and re-import it after processing to ease pressures on nitrates limits.

“Something really positive that has happened in the past month or so would be that the Commission has proposed to amend the Nitrates Directive to allow for an extra 100kg N/ha of Renure to be spread on top of the 170kg N/ha,” Banville said.