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How Biogas and RNG Can Power the Transport Industry

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.

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, according to McKinsey.

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.

Takeaway

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.

This article was originally published by the Investing News Network in February 2020.

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Renewable Natural Gas Creating Opportunity to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The reality of climate change is sinking in for much of the world.

Consumers are now shifting away from fossil fuels for their heating and energy needs and moving toward more renewable forms of energy. At the same time, governments are handing down tighter emissions regulations to many of the world’s most carbon-intensive industries.

While wind and solar power are typically at the forefront of the renewable energy mix, renewable natural gas (RNG) is also increasingly being used as an alternative to fossil fuels. Derived from biogas captured at organic waste facilities, RNG can be easily deployed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the two most critical industries in the fight against climate change: utilities and transportation.

Conventional natural gas may be viewed as less damaging to the environment than other forms of fossil fuels, but its production and use is still a significant source of GHG emissions. As a pipeline-quality gas, RNG is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and can be easily injected into existing natural gas distribution systems or used in natural gas-powered vehicles.

What is RNG?

Unlike conventional natural gas, which is thermogenically formed from fossilized organic matter deep in the earth’s crust, RNG is produced from the capturing and upgrading of biogas generated from decomposing organic waste sources such as landfills, dairy farms and wastewater treatment plants. Regardless of its origin, the economic component of natural gas is methane, which is used as a fuel source for generating heat and electricity as well as an alternative to gasoline and diesel for powering vehicles.

“Rather than methane from a coal bed, you’re getting methane from organic waste,” said Scott Gramm, manager of renewable natural gas for FortisBC Energy.

As one of the leading commercial sources for RNG, landfills provide the ideal setting for the production of biogas as bacteria breakdown the organic matter in a compressed and oxygen-deprived environment. Wastewater treatment facilities mimic this environment through the use of a process called anaerobic digestion, in which microbes in an oxygen-free container decompose organic matter in sewage. This process is also used on farms to dispose of agricultural waste such as manure.

Biogas is primarily methane but also contains between 25 percent and 50 percent carbon dioxide as well as small amounts of other gases. Over the years, biogas collection technologies have been developed in order to prevent these GHGs from being released into the atmosphere. Once captured, the raw biogas must then be “upgraded” to the standards required for utilities or vehicle use via a process that involves removing water, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and other trace impurities. This biofuel is considered a carbon-neutral renewable natural gas because it does not contribute any net carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The pipeline-ready biomethane can then be used directly as a clean-burning fuel or converted into liquified natural gas (LNG) for transport to other markets. One example of the commercial production of LNG from renewable organic waste sources is the Altamont landfill in California, the world’s first and largest renewable landfill gas to electricity facility. Altamont’s LNG plant is designed to produce about 13,000 gallons of natural gas each day. This renewable energy source provides fuel for 300 waste transfer trucks, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 30,000 tons per year and displacing 2.5 million gallons of fossil fuels.

RNG production cutting GHG emissions

As a carbon-neutral fuel source, renewable natural gas has many environmental benefits over conventional natural gas. RNG production from diverted waste organics reduces the amount of waste going into landfills while also capturing GHGs before they enter the atmosphere. Once cleaned of impurities, the remaining nutrient-rich byproducts can be used as an alternative to chemical-based fertilizers. Of course, the biggest upside is its role in curbing GHG and reducing fossil fuel consumption.

“Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 100 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is responsible for about 16 percent of global emissions, with agriculture and waste management being two major sources,” Brad Douville, president and CEO of Greenlane Renewables (TSXV:GRN), told the Investing News Network (INN). “Both the production and use of RNG help to reduce GHG emissions, first by capturing methane at the source before it can be released to the atmosphere, and second by repurposing it as renewable energy that can replace conventional natural gas in distribution networks and displace diesel fuel in heavy duty vehicles transporting people and goods.”

Greenlane provides tailored biogas upgrading systems that can help waste producers and gas utilities transform raw biogas into a high-value renewable energy resource. The company’s Greenlane Biogas branded systems remove impurities and separate carbon dioxide from biomethane in raw biogas to create clean RNG for pipeline injection, conversion to LNG or direct use as a vehicle fuel.

The global biogas industry has the potential to cut emissions by 12 percent (or 4 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually) by 2030. However, with only 2 percent of the available organic waste needed to produce biogas currently being captured and recycled, the industry has room to grow. At the COP25 meeting in Spain, the World Biogas Association and its corporate members, including Greenlane Renewables, called upon governments around the world to support the industry in meeting its full potential by 2030.

RNG ideal for utilities and transport

RNG is completely compatible with existing natural gas infrastructure and indistinguishable from conventional natural gas when blended into the pipeline. Industry advocates argue that deploying RNG to meet the world’s needs for cleaner energy is more cost-efficient and less burdensome on consumers than further building out existing electric grids. “In several countries, the gas grid is larger than the electric grid in energy delivered. For example, the gas grid in the United States is 1.2 times the size of the electric grid, while in Canada it’s twice as large and four times larger in the UK,” said Douville.

Some gas utilities and governments have already announced commitments for increasing the amount of RNG that will replace conventional natural gas in their pipelines. In California, SoCalGas has committed to 5 percent RNG in its gas network by 2022 and 20 percent by 2030. Oregon passed a bill in July 2019 targeting 15 percent RNG in the state’s gas pipeline system by 2030 and 30 percent by 2050. In Canada, the British Columbia government has set a target for 5 percent RNG by 2022 and 15 percent by 2030.

Renewable natural gas can have a significant impact on reducing GHG emissions in the transportation sector as well, which is by far the world’s largest emitter, accounting for a quarter of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. “When used as a transportation fuel, RNG from food and green waste has a negative carbon intensity, ” according to Deanna Haines, Director of Energy and Environmental Policy for SoCalGas. The use of clean-burning natural gas engines can reduce GHG emissions up to 80 percent.

Some of the world’s largest transport industry corporations are seeing the value of RNG as an alternative fuel source. In October 2019, the world’s largest package shipping company UPS announced it plans to purchase more than 6,000 natural-gas-powered trucks between 2020 and 2022. The company has committed to purchasing 230 million gallon equivalents of RNG over the next seven years, making it the largest consumer of the renewable fuel source in the global transportation industry.

Takeaway

With global warming rapidly changing the planet, governments and industries around the world are working to break the global economy’s dependence on fossil fuels. As a sustainable energy alternative, RNG provides a cleaner, more readily available energy source than fossil fuel-derived natural gas. While the wind and solar markets have dominated the renewable energy space, there is an opportunity for RNG to emerge as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional natural gas.

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