UK Net Zero targets could be missed due to unquantified methane emissions, according to new research led by Royal Holloway, University of London.
The researchers found that emissions from the biogas sector could account for up to 3.8% of the country’s total methane emissions. Biogas is typically two-thirds methane and one-third carbon dioxide. Methane is the second largest anthropogenic greenhouse gas and it is a substantial climate warmer because it traps 32 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
In the study, published in Waste Management, researchers from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway studied methane emissions at ten biogas plants across the UK – a biogas plant is where biogas is produced by fermentation of organic matter, usually consisting of energy crops such as corn, or waste materials such as manure or food waste.
The study found that the sustainability of biogas plants and the UK Net Zero Commitment may be jeopardised unless robust, consistent emission measurements and legal requirements are put into practice at biogas plants in the near future.
The researchers highlight that despite efforts taken in many countries to reduce emissions, methane emissions are rising globally. It is estimated that in the next decade, methane emissions from biogas plants are expected to increase, as more waste is diverted from landfills.
Lead author, PhD graduate, Semra Bakkaloglu, formerly of the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, said: “Waste management practices are changing to support meeting the commitments to Net Zero emissions, and more waste will be sent to biogas plants to divert it from landfill. Therefore, we cannot ignore the methane emissions from the biogas plants, which may jeopardise the sustainability of biogas plants and the UK Net Zero Commitment.
“We need robust, consistent emission measurements, new technologies and legal requirements to be put into practice soon.”
Dr David Lowry from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, said: “There is no public data available on daily or seasonal methane emissions from biogas plants in the UK.
“We recommend that repeated surveys with site access and full cooperation from the biogas plant operators are vital for the next stage, and would ensure more detailed future studies.
“We will continue to study methane emissions and the impact they have across the world. It is crucial for our fight against climate-change.”
This study was funded by MEthane goes MObile: MEasurement and MOdeling (MEMO²) project, an International training Network (ITN) within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
Read the research here.