Biogas upgrading technologies are bringing RNG to the public and commercial transport industries.
Biogas products such as renewable natural gas (RNG) offer both governments and industry the opportunity to finally forego fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel.
The global biogas market is projected to surpass US$110 billion by 2025, according to Global Market Insights. Biogas upgrading technologies are allowing for the increased production of pipeline-quality RNG that can be easily converted into compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquified natural gas (LNG) for use by utilities as well as transport fleets.
What is biogas?
Biogas is generated as bacteria break down organic waste at landfills, food waste facilities, dairy farms and wastewater treatment plants. Biogas is mostly methane — the primary component of natural gas. Biogas also contains between 25 percent and 50 percent carbon dioxide as well as small amounts of other gases. Biogas collection technologies have been developed to serve two purposes: preventing these greenhouse gases (GHG) from being released into the atmosphere and upgrading the raw biogas to pipeline-quality RNG.
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RNG is completely compatible with existing natural gas infrastructure and indistinguishable from conventional natural gas, allowing it to be easily converted into CNG or LNG for use by utilities and transport fleets. RNG is also considered a carbon-neutral or in some cases a carbon-negative energy source because producing it and burning it does not contribute any net carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and can prevent raw methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from escaping into the atmosphere. The use of clean-burning RNG in natural gas engines can reduce GHG emissions by over 100 percent accounting for the prevention of the raw methane escaping into the atmosphere.
Transport sector presenting biogas opportunities
The transport sector is by far the world’s largest emitter of GHG, accounting for 24 percent of CO2 emissions. Seventy-two percent of global transport emissions originate from road vehicles.
As the public pushes for more climate change action, governments and corporate enterprises around the world are implementing carbon-cutting solutions for their transport fleets. “It is difficult not to see a story about climate change and its effects in the media. Consumers are constantly put in front of this message and they will ultimately drive the decisions made at these levels,” Brad Douville, a 25-year veteran in the natural gas commercial vehicle industry, and president and CEO of Greenlane Renewables (TSXV:GRN), told the Investing News Network. “Sustainable, cleaner energy has become a major focus at both the government and the industry level. Environmental policy now plays a significant role in the economic policies of these institutions and will undoubtedly garner a greater role as demanded by the public.”
Natural gas is considered a low-carbon emitting fuel compared to gasoline, releasing 15 to 20 percent less GHG. Governments and corporations are increasingly switching from conventional gasoline and diesel engines to natural gas engines to power their transport fleets. As a result, natural gas is playing a larger role in the global transport energy mix. Cooling natural gas to negative 162 degrees Celsius transforms it into LNG, reducing its volume so that it is easier and cheaper to transport to market. Global demand for LNG grew by 8.6 percent in 2016 and it is expected to be the only fossil fuel to experience growth beyond 2035.
Biogas upgrading technologies unlocking clean energy
While conventional natural gas extracted from coal beds is considered a low-carbon fuel compared to gas or diesel, its production is still a significant source of GHG emissions. This is because natural gas is thermogenic, meaning it is formed from fossilized organic matter deep in the earth’s crust. However, advancements in biogas technologies have unlocked a cleaner and more renewable source of natural gas from organic waste that can easily replace conventional natural gas in the LNG market. In fact, some major transportation companies and governments have already announced commitments for incorporating RNG into the energy mix for their transportation fleets.
The world’s largest package shipping company, UPS, is on track to become the largest consumer of RNG in the global transportation industry. In October 2019, UPS announced it intends to purchase more than 6,000 natural gas engine trucks between 2020 and 2022. To fuel those trucks, the company has committed to purchasing 230 million gallon equivalents of RNG over the next seven years. “(The move) allows for seamless integration of a truly renewable, organic fuel source into the fleet,” Mike Whitlatch, UPS vice president of global energy and procurement, told Reuters.
Government agencies such as the UK’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles and Innovate UK are investigating the viability of using renewable natural gas to power compressed natural gas and liquified natural gas engine trucks. OLEV and Innovate UK’s Low Emission Freight and Logistics Trial looked at the use of biomethane in heavy goods vehicles, which account for approximately 17 percent of GHG emissions from road transport in the UK. The results of the two year trial showed at least a 17 percent reduction in GHG emissions compared to diesel when using a 25 percent biomethane blend as well as a 76 percent reduction with 100 percent biomethane.
“Governments and multinational companies in the transportation sector are taking action toward a cleaner future. These initiatives are both good for the environment and reflect well with their brands. RNG is much less carbon-intensive than petroleum-based products such as diesel fuel and provides a natural transition for the heavy-duty transportation industry. The global biogas industry overall has the potential to cut emissions by 12 percent (or 4 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually) by 2030,” said Douville, whose company Greenlane Renewables is a leading global provider of biogas upgrading systems that produce clean, low-carbon RNG from organic waste sources. The company’s wholly owned subsidiary, Greenlane Biogas North America, recently secured a US$6.3 million biogas upgrading contract with a California-based landfill project to produce approximately 380,000 gigajoules of RNG annually for direct injection into the local gas distribution network of SoCalGas, the largest natural gas utility in the US.
At the COP25 in Spain, Greenlane Renewables joined the World Biogas Association and other corporate members to call upon governments around the world to support the global biogas industry in meeting its full potential.
Consumers are placing significant pressure on governments and corporations to use clean sources of energy. Conventional natural gas may be favored over other fossil fuel energy sources, but upgrading biogas into RNG could provide a much cleaner solution. Biogas upgrading technology has the potential to become a critical component in the race to provide cleaner fuel that can replace fossilized natural gas.
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