RENEWABLE NATURAL GAS – AN INDUSTRY IN MOTION
RNG Offers Outstanding Opportunities to Power Canada’s
Renewable natural gas or RNG, is becoming a staple among the various sustainable energy sources now being deployed in many regions globally. In Canada, RNG is becoming a big deal, and the industry is only in the early stages of its roll-out.
So, What Is RNG Exactly?
RNG is the refined form of raw biogas. Biogas arises from multiple sources. Essentially, bacteria transform organic waste products found in municipal sewage, agricultural activities, landfills and food manufacturing and industrial processes. In the absence of oxygen, these bacteria consume the organic matter in a process known as anaerobic digestion or AD. A byproduct of this process is raw biogas, consisting primarily of methane at 45% to 65% (depending on the source of the biogas), plus carbon dioxide, water vapour and small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, siloxanes and other constituents.
"Scrubbing" raw biogas through a series of processes removes impurities, leaving an upgraded product with a methane content exceeding 90%. In this form, RNG becomes a superb fuel that can replace fossil fuels directly for heat, power and transportation. Biogas treatment facilities commonly inject RNG at 96-98% purity into utility natural gas distribution networks – the utilities often market this product as ‘green’ natural gas. Alternatively, RNG can be used on-site for heating, to run electrical generators and power vehicles.
RNG Offers Plenty to Get Excited About
One of the great benefits of RNG – it is nearly carbon-neutral, as the carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere by burning RNG was recently removed from the atmosphere by the biomass from which RNG is sourced. By way of contrast, burning coal, oil, diesel and natural gas, all of which contain stores of prehistoric atmospheric carbon dioxide that have been sequestered for millions of years, markedly increases atmospheric carbon content.
Furthermore, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) – roughly 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Decaying biomass naturally releases methane into the atmosphere. Converting this methane to fuel instead spares the environment the harmful effects that would otherwise occur.
By-products of RNG production include both nutrient-rich solids used as excellent soil-enhancement products and carbon dioxide. These products are direct substitutes for chemical fertilizers and commercial-grade CO2 that require GHG-emitting processes to manufacture. Further, the methods used to produce RNG improve water quality by eliminating up to 99% of pathogens while reducing nuisance odours and volatile organic compounds that compromise air quality. And they beneficially divert valuable organic materials from overburdened landfills.
The RNG Landscape in Canada
According to the informative report issued by the Canadian Biogas Association (CBA) entitled “Canadian 2020 Biogas Market Report,” biogas production represents a significant economic driver for farms, businesses and communities large and small. Up to Nov. 2020, Canada had 279 biogas production facilities operating across the country, led by Ontario with 155, followed by 39 in Quebec and 33 in British Columbia. As of Apr. 2021, 27 more projects are in development.
To date, Canada is only tapping a small percentage of its biogas potential for energy production. The CBA report suggests that by developing the more than 1,260 biogas projects identified across Canada, $7 billion of capital investment would be needed, resulting in economic benefits totaling $21 billion and creating more than 16,700 full-time equivalent jobs for a year and approximately 2,650 permanent operational jobs. Strengthening and clarifying government policies and creating a more biogas-friendly regulatory environment will bolster the industry’s ability to develop this potential, targeting crop residues, landfills, livestock manure, biosolids and wastewater, urban organics and pulp mill waste sources.
With so much focus on solar and wind nowadays as the go-to alternatives to sustainable energy production, it’s easy to overlook the impressive potential that RNG offers to power economic development while reducing environmental impacts. However, the industry pushes on with dramatic effect, offering excellent career opportunities and playing a pivotal role in Canada’s efforts to meet GHG reduction targets.