Biomethane and Hydrogen Availability

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 5th October 2021.

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Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP 2:30 pm, 5th October 2021

T10. Mr Frew asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, after congratulating him for maxing out his topical questions by reaching question 10, to state how agriculture in Northern Ireland can support increased availability of biomethane and hydrogen for use in transport and home-heating solutions. (AQT 1650/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Northern Ireland can lead the hydrogen revolution that is needed to ensure that we have renewable energy sources that are close to home, sustainable and future-proofed. My Department works to encourage such opportunities. Having the capacity to produce 45% of our energy from renewable sources gives us tremendous opportunities to utilise that energy for hydrogen production. That energy is not generated at night because the wind turbines are switched off then. Utilising them at night to produce hydrogen would be using, at no extra expense, a resource that already exists. That is entirely logical.

Taking farms down the route of anaerobic digestion — I would press to do that, in the main, from slurry — will lead to our being in the position to extract methane. That methane, mixed with hydrogen, can go into our pipes, and Firmus Energy and Phoenix Natural Gas are keen to use it. We will be able to feed and heat our homes with it. That makes sense for all of us in Northern Ireland, because we will have fuel security and — pretty much — food security, and we will ensure that we have it at a consistent price rather than being subject to the variations of world gas and oil prices.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Minister for his fulsome answer. He is, of course, no stranger to north Antrim and its industries, not least Wrightbus and its work on the hydrogen hub. How can the Minister ensure that his Department can tap into industry so that we can fulfil our dreams and obligations around hydrogen?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I thank the Member for the question. I have engaged with Wrightbus and look forward to seeing hydrogen used in not just our buses but our tractors, diggers and lorries. Hydrogen will eventually be a much better solution than electric cars; I have to be honest about that. We import a lot of materials that are mined in Africa in circumstances that may not be the most suitable. Hydrogen, however, is a true renewable.

I will continue to work with anybody who comes forward — I will meet people next week and the following week about hydrogen — and with the Department for the Economy in driving this forward. I am working to try to draw down some of the emissions trading scheme money that has gone to Europe over the years, and to invest it in hydrogen, in reducing carbon, in our planet's future and in this country's future.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Members, that concludes this section of Question Time. Please, take your ease for a minute or two.