I Love Trash - Renewable Natural Gas Doesn't Stink

With Environmental, Safety, and Governance (ESG) conscientiousness on the rise and the push to rein in greenhouse gas emissions gaining momentum by the day, many traditional players in the hydrocarbon sector are considering alternative energy sources to invest in. Two key questions they ask themselves when evaluating these options are: Does it make economic sense once you’ve factored in tax credits and other incentives, and can it be incorporated into North America’s existing energy infrastructure. Wind and solar power clearly fit the bill. So does renewable diesel, which also benefits from governmental programs and that it can be blended into petroleum-based diesel. Another alternative gaining traction is renewable natural gas, which is “produced” by capturing methane from landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Today, we discuss the potential and pitfalls of “the notorious RNG.”

It’s clear that the energy industry is trying to become greener. This has been reflected in the RBN blogosphere, where it’s become more common to see blogs about things like hydrogen, low- and no-carbon transportation fuels, and carbon sequestration. Renewable natural gas (RNG) has come up too, albeit in a blog about how RNG might be converted to hydrogen. Today, we focus on RNG itself.

As we said in that recent hydrogen/RNG blog, renewable natural gas is just methane, with no material difference from the natural gas produced from wells in the Marcellus/Utica or Haynesville basins. RNG’s production method is very different, though. There are two main paths to RNG, the more significant one being via municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. The other is through anaerobic digesters. Methane generated from landfills, often referred to as landfill gas (LFG), is generated from the breakdown of various organic sources in household and other waste — everything from packaging and clothing to food scraps and grass clippings. Yard clippings and food waste can also be sent to anaerobic digesters, which are also the main destination for livestock manure used to produce RNG. Given their smaller role, we’ll leave anaerobic digesters aside for now and zero in on landfills.

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