Press releases

Sequential cropping could unlock huge sustainable biogas potential

Published: 01/02/2017

Italian farmers produce low cost biomethane with positive environmental impacts

1 February, 2017 – Utrecht, Netherlands/Lodi, Italy – Sequential cropping can be a promising model to produce additional biomass without negative impacts on land use change or food production. In a research study for the Italian Biogas Consortium (CIB), Ecofys found that agricultural crop yields can increase dramatically in a sustainable manner if sequential cropping is introduced.

In Europe, agricultural land is usually fallow during winter time. In a sequential cropping scheme, a winter cover crop is cultivated in addition to the usual summer crop. Ecofys, consulted by the Wageningen University Centre for Crop Systems Analysis and the Research Centre on Animal Production (CRPA, of Reggio Emilia), assessed the impacts of this practice which is already being applied by many Italian farmers. Ecofys focused its research on a case study in Northern Italy, where maize silage is being cultivated as a summer crop (for animal feed) and triticale silage as an additional winter crop (for biogas), with digestate, a nutrient-rich biogas residue, being fed back to the fields. The experts investigated how much additional biomass was produced and which impacts occurred on soil nutrients, soil erosion, water availability, on-farm biodiversity and the carbon balance. The study uses a methodology Ecofys developed for the European Commission, published on the DG Energy website.

The results identified this agricultural system as promising in all respects: crop yields for animal feed and additional biogas feedstock were increased, thus providing additional income to farmers without displacing existing feed production or creating other negative environmental impacts. However, further research is recommended to confirm this. The additional biogas can be upgraded to biomethane and used for transport, heat or power.

“Seeing that low cost biomethane can be produced with positive environmental impacts and no negative land use change risks is encouraging, as biofuels are needed in much greater quantities than today to decarbonise the transport sector. It would be exciting to see whether this concept can be rolled-out throughout Europe”, says Daan Peters, Senior Consultant Bioenergy at Ecofys and main author of the study.

“We are delighted to see that our sequential cropping system, combined with a number of farming practices known as Biogasdoneright®, truly produces additional biomass while capturing more CO2 from the atmosphere”, adds Piero Gattoni, CIB President.  “We will continue to analyse the positive impacts of this agricultural model, and further improve it through technological innovation and good farming practices, in order to increase EU energy production without undermining EU food security and agricultural sustainability.”

Ecofys also assessed whether sequential cropping has a positive business case and whether it could be scaled up in other regions, and estimates that the potential cost savings and regional opportunities can be significant. An even larger potential can be expected if other crop combinations suitable for sequential cropping are taken into account. The experts thus recommend a more detailed study into the potential of sequential cropping in the EU and elsewhere.

Ecofys and the Italian Biogas Consortium will present the study results at the CIB’s annual event “Biogasitaly 2017, the rise of a new #agriculturalrevolution” on 24 February in Rome. For more information: biogasitsaly.com

Graphic: Producing feed and biogas feedstock through sequential cropping, source: CIB


About Ecofys
Ecofys, a Navigant company, is a leading international energy and climate consultancy focused on sustainable energy for everyone. Founded in 1984, the company is a trusted advisor to governments, corporations, NGOs, and energy providers worldwide. The team delivers powerful results in the energy and climate transition sectors. Working across the entire energy value chain, Ecofys develops innovative solutions and strategies to support its clients in enabling the energy transition and working through the challenges of climate change. Additional information about Ecofys can be found at www.ecofys.com.

About CIB
CIB, the Italian Biogas Consortium, brings together biogas producers, biogas equipment manufacturers, manufacturers of agricultural machines and natural gas vehicles as well as public bodies that act along the full biogas-biomethane value chain from agriculture to its end uses. CIB aims to promote, disseminate and coordinate activities around the biogas sector in Italy. The CIB actively fosters the Biogasdoneright® model as a sustainable and practical way to produce food, feed and energy while decarbonizing the footprint of the agricultural sector. Currently, CIB represents almost 800 associated members and more than 400 MW of installed power capacity. Additional information about CIB can be found at www.consorziobiogas.it.

About Navigant
Navigant Consulting, Inc. is a specialized, global professional services firm that helps clients take control of their future. Navigant’s professionals apply deep industry knowledge, substantive technical expertise, and an enterprising approach to help clients build, manage and/or protect their business interests. With a focus on markets and clients facing transformational change and significant regulatory or legal pressures, the Firm primarily serves clients in the healthcare, energy and financial services industries. Across a range of advisory, consulting, outsourcing, and technology/analytics services, Navigant’s practitioners bring sharp insight that pinpoints opportunities and delivers powerful results. More information about Navigant can be found at navigant.com.

* The information contained in this press release concerning the report, Assessing the case for sequential cropping to produce low ILUC risk biomethane, is a summary and reflects Ecofys’current expectations based on market data and trend analysis. Market predictions and expectations are inherently uncertain and actual results may differ materially from those contained in this press release or the report. Please refer to the full report for a complete understanding of the assumptions underlying the report’s conclusions and the methodologies used to create the report. Neither Ecofys nor Navigant undertakes any obligation to update any of the information contained in this press release or the report.