TALLINN – Jaanus Marrandi, manager of the Central Estonia based farming enterprise Estonia OU, sees biogas produced in Estonia as offering a good alternative to natural gas from Russia, which needs to be phased out.
"We have the capacity to produce biogas in the amount of 1 terawatt-hour (TWh), which is close to one-fifth of Estonia's current needs, and it would benefit the whole of Estonia," Marrandi said in a press release. Estonia's current annual gas consumption is 5 terawatt-hours.
It has been agreed at European Union level that agriculture needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. In agriculture, milk production and animal husbandry are the areas with the highest greenhouse gas emissions.
Marrandi noted that, in the light of the new green targets, it is very important that we are able to defend and explain our positions, so that we would not have to start reducing our agricultural production, especially our milk production, in a situation where our use of fertilizers and plant protection products is already lower than in other EU countries.
"In addition, our position is quite unique as, compared to other countries, the share of arable land in Estonia is one of the smallest measured as percentage of territory," he said. At the same time, Estonia is able to compete with the best in the world in dairy farming and the climate zone we live in has a moisture regime suitable for the production of grass feeds.
Marrandi described capturing the greenhouse gases, in particular methane, produced by livestock and agriculture as a whole and using it as a very good opportunity for the Estonian economy.
"I can see that the biogas production potential is largely untapped in Estonia. This is a topical issue, not least because gas prices have risen significantly and we want to achieve independence from Russian gas and find alternative solutions," he said.
Marrandi noted that there's a lot of talk these days that 1 terawatt-hour of gas could be imported to Estonia by ship via an LNG terminal. However, it has been estimated that the same amount of biomethane can be produced in Estonia from animal manure and other biological waste, from grass silage to food waste.
In order to use the existing biogas potential, some 30-40 biogas plants could be built all over Estonia with a capacity of approximately 35 gigawatt-hours per plant, and there's a number of important arguments in favor of such arrangement, he said.
"We would have distributed energy production to mitigate the risks, and at the same time a number of high-tech jobs would be created in rural areas. The amount of greenhouse gases would be significantly reduced, which is a good thing for the living environment of all of us and, secondly, the economy would have an environmentally friendly energy source," the CEO of OU Estonia said.
Marrandi pointed out that while in the current market situation, it is possible to build green gas plants on a market basis and without significant subsidies, it is difficult to predict changes in gas prices in the long run.
Marrandi believes that real instruments will emerge already in the next EU budget period that will subsequently enable to achieve a functioning carbon quota trading system in agriculture.
"Today, this opportunity is still in its infancy, but it may become reality in the 2030s. If we can get biomethane production in significant amounts up and running, and if the carbon quota is tradable, Estonian agriculture, which has been a successful dairy producer, would have a chance to sell [carbon credits] successfully," he said.
Roomet Sormus, chairman of the board of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce, said that there is also interest and readiness among farmers.
"In order to realize this potential, cooperation between the public and private sectors and a clear legal framework are needed, which ensures investment security for producers. Investment subsidies would also help accelerate investments in the field of green gas," Sormus added.