EU Joins Growing Methane Partnership

On Tuesday, the European Union formalized its pledge to participate in the Methane to Markets Partnership, the world’s largest exchange of methane-based energy resources. The EU made the commitment at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC), a three-day forum of clean-energy diplomacy and technology exhibitions in Washington, D.C.

“The Methane to Markets partnership is an important initiative in reducing methane emissions and thereby helping to combat global warming,” said EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs. “It will directly contribute to the European Commission’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.”

Methane to Markets, launched in 2004, is a global network of governments, private sector entities, development banks, non-governmental organizations, and financial and technical experts that aims to advance the recovery and use of methane as an energy source. Once collected, methane gas can be converted into a clean-burning renewable fuel. The partnership focuses on four dominant sources of the gas: animal waste, landfills, coal mines, and oil and gas fields.

A leading goal of the partnership is to reduce global methane emissions as a way to enhance economic growth, strengthen energy security, and address climate change. Concentrations of methane in the atmosphere are smaller than those of carbon dioxide, but methane is a more potent greenhouse gas, trapping 20 to 30 times as much heat.

The EU accession brings the Methane to Markets membership to 21 parties, with representation from every continent except Antarctica. Although the partnership is voluntary and requires no set commitments for methane capture, it is in line with the “Bali Roadmap,” the agreement that came out of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali last December that calls for long-term and cooperative emissions-reduction measures. The methane partnership “should not be belittled,” said Frans Timmerman, the Netherlands’ European affairs minister.

Biomass energy, generated from wood, organic waste, and other biological material, is often used for power and heating in the developing world. It is now gaining attention for wider use in industrialized nations, such as Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. Approximately 45 gigawatts of biomass power capacity was available worldwide in 2006; however, its growth rate remains at 3–5 percent, according to the recently released Renewables 2007 Global Status Report from REN21.

In China, where REN21 estimates that more than a million small-scale biogas digesters are produced each year, one coal-mining community now acquires all of its energy needs from the mine’s captured methane, according to Dina Kruger, director of the climate change division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And in the U.S. state of Alabama, a company chose the location of its brick factory based on its proximity to a methane-capturing landfill. “When emitted into the atmosphere, [methane] is damaging. But when collected, you can do many valuable things,” Kruger said.

“We’re moving, for whatever reason—environmental or economic—from open dumps to clean landfills that capture methane,” said W. Gregory Vogt, managing director of the International Solid Waste Association. “We’re doing the right thing, in the right direction, but we’re not getting enough done.” Major roadblocks to methane capture include gas ownership rights and infrastructure. As awareness of biomass potential grows, these problems may lessen.

Methane capture efficiency now averages 75 percent, according to Vogt, although some projects have reached the 100-percent plateau. The EPA is researching methane capture from additional biomass sources including food waste, slaughterhouses, rice paddies, and cattle rumination.

On Tuesday, the European Union formalized its pledge to participate in the Methane to Markets Partnership, the world’s largest exchange of methane-based energy resources.