Renewable natural gas (RNG) will play a big role in the country’s transition to clean energy sources, the head of Green Rock Energy Partners explained recently during a webinar focused on how RNG is produced regionally and how its end uses contribute to decarbonizing the environment.
Steven Schmitz, managing partner of Green Rock, was one of the speakers during the recent “Renewable Natural Gas: Sustainable Energy from Trash” webinar presented by the Washington & Jefferson College Center for Energy Policy and Management as part of its Energy Lecture Series.
Renewable natural gas (RNG), also known as biogas, is a fast-growing segment of the natural gas industry. Natural gas is primarily methane, which is a naturally occurring byproduct of the decomposition process at landfills. Rather than vent it into the atmosphere, companies have turned to collecting and processing the gas and using it to power compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, for power generation, or for other purposes. Biogas is sustainable and can also be produced using anerobic digesters to decompose organic material at agricultural operations or wastewater treatment facilities, he explained.
After carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the biogas, it is considered RNG and can be marketed as clean fuel. “Companies are choosing to pay a premium for RNG in order to help meet their decarbonization goals,” Schmitz explained.
“The industry is in a very rapid growth phase,” he said, adding that green energy “carbo-nomics” play a role in that. Producers of RNG can benefit financially from federal renewable fuel standard credits and carbon offset credits, as well as being able to sell their product at a premium.
As the nation works to decarbonize its fuel sources in order to meet the Biden administration’s climate goals, RNG can be used not only for power generation, but as clean fuel for hard-to-decarbonize industrial processes that require large amounts of energy, like steel-making; long-distance transportation, and chemical and fertilizer manufacturing. In addition, RNG can be used as transportation fuel.
There are now 2,300 sites producing biogas from landfills and from agricultural and wastewater operations. In 2021, the use of RNG as a transportation fuel lowered greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by the equivalent of 9.4 million miles driven in a passenger car.
In this region, Green Rock is working to upgrade and restart a shuttered RNG project at South Hills Landfill that will recover about 98% of the methane, said David Moniot, CEO of Venture Engineering and Construction, a partner in the project. The company also has several other RNG ventures in other states.
WM, formerly Waste Management, also operates renewable natural gas projects at a number of its landfills, producing both electricity and fuel. At the Arden Landfill in Washington County, landfill gas is used to fuel both natural gas vehicles and to produce electricity. “It’s a pretty good process for sustainability,” said Tom Spears, Capitol Area Gas Operations Manager for WM.
WM has committed to invest in sustainability and renewable energy projects It now operates 16 RNG facilities, and captures 65 % of landfill gas for beneficial reuse, and plans to invest $825 million in its landfill RNG network through 2025.