Background: Half of the UN climate target for 2030 has been achieved and further progress requires swiftly implementable solutions. In this context, the fermentation of cereal straw is a promising option. Returning the digestate to the farmland can close agricultural cycles while simultaneously producing biomethane for the transport sector. The world's first large-scale, mono-digestion plant for straw is operational since 2014. The temporal and spatial biomass availability is a key issue when replicating this concept. No detailed calculations on this subject are available, and the strategic relevance of biomethane from straw in the transport sector cannot be sufficiently evaluated.
Methods: To assess the balance of straw supply and use, a total of 30 data sets are combined, taking into account the cultivation of the five most important cereal types and the straw required for ten animal species, two special crops and twelve industrial uses. The data are managed at district level and presented for the years 2010 to 2018. In combination with high-resolution geodata, the results are linked to actual arable fields, and the availability of straw throughout the country is evaluated using a GIS.
Results: During the analysis period, the mobilisable potential for future biomethane production is between 13.9–21.5 Tg fm a-1; this is up to 62 % higher than the previously known level. The annual potential fluctuates considerably due to weather anomalies. The all-time maximum in 2014 and the minimum for the last 26 years in 2018 are separated by just four years and a difference of 7.6 Tg fm. However, large parts of the potential are concentrated only in a few regions and liquefied biomethane could fully cover the fuel required for vessels, and up to a quarter of that for heavy goods vehicles. Up to 11.3 Tg CO2-eq. could be saved, reducing the difference to achieve the UN climate target by 3.7 %.
Conclusion: Despite the strong fluctuations, the potential is sufficient to supply numerous plants and to produce relevant quantities of liquefied biomethane even in weak years. To unlock the potential, the outcomes should be discussed further with stakeholders in the identified priority regions.