Sustainable Blog

Renewable Natural Gas: Clean, Green Energy

Let’s put our waste to work!

How Waste Can Be Used to Make Renewable Natural Gas

Think natural gas only comes from reserves of ancient fossils trapped deep underground? Think again. We’re actually sitting on a much-overlooked but plentiful source of natural gas here in America — and we don’t have to drill into the ground to get it.

Natural gas can be generated from waste, specifically food waste rotting in landfills, agricultural waste generated on farms, and wastewater at water treatment plants. We have the technology to convert all of these forms of waste into a renewable form of energy know as renewable natural gas (RNG), or biomethane. RNG can be used to power or fuel anything that already runs on natural gas with no retrofits or upgrades; it can cook your food, power our factories and fuel vehicles that run on natural gas. It can be blended with traditional natural gas and delivered through the same channels.

Based on proven technology and existing feedstocks, waste-derived RNG could conceivably displace or replace around 7 billion gallons of diesel per year if it all went to the vehicle market. Plus, when RNG is used to fuel vehicles, it has lower emissions than gasoline, and it eliminates the methane emissions the waste would’ve produced if left to decay.

So why aren’t we using more of it? According to Joanna D. Underwood, President of Energy Vision, a nonprofit focused on sustainable transportation, “The barriers to increased production and deployment of RNG as a transportation fuel are primarily related to high project costs, uncertainty around project revenues, and limited demand for RNG in the transportation sector.”

In other words, nothing can happen without a market for the fuel or the ability to transport this fuel from the production facility to a refueling station. But a new ruling from the EPA will help boost the demand for RNG. The ruling reclassified waste-derived renewable natural gas as an ultra-low-carbon cellulosic biofuel, making it eligible for credits under the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) program.

“The growth of the natural gas vehicle market in conjunction with the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Pathways II rule should provide the economic incentive and stability to foster increased production and use of this truly sustainable fuel,” said Underwood. “And as the lowest-carbon commercially viable option, RNG deserves consideration far and wide.”

To demonstrate the potential of this clean, green fuel, we put together this infographic with the help of Energy Vision and The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas. While you might not be scraping your plate directly into your gas tank just yet, hopefully this news will help you rethink what “waste” can mean.

Renewable Natural Gas: Clean, Green Energy Infographic

If you’d like to help spur more renewable natural gas use in your area, share this infographic with officials in your city, or town and ask if they have any natural gas vehicles in operation. If not, ask them why not? If so, let them know that you support replacing other aging diesel/gasoline vehicles with natural gas. Moreover, ask if they are working on sourcing the renewable form of natural gas for these vehicles. Here’s an example of one county that fuels its 143 buses exclusively on RNG. You can also visit the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Coalition for more information about what’s going on in your area.

SOURCES
American Gas Foundation:
www.gasfoundation.org/researchstudies/agf-renewable-gas-assessment-report-110901.pdf
United States Environmental Protection Agency:
www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/documents/420f14040.pdf
www.epa.gov/agstar/projects/index.html
www.epa.gov/lmop/projects-candidates/index.html
The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas:
www.rngcoalition.com
Natural Resources Defense Council:
www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf
Energy Vision
www.energy-vision.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ev-rng-community-guide.pdf

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.