I came across an article on how biomethane from various organic wastes is being tapped on the local scale in rural China and on the municipal scale in Beijing.

Beginning in 2000, the Agricultural Ministry of China has fostered sustainable development by promoting integrated biogas technologies with the goals of protecting ecology and the environment while also increasing farmers’ income. Full-scale projects have been implemented in over 1000 rural counties.

Construction is based on the family unit and is coupled with educational guidance on how to eliminate inefficient crop production practices, and to effectively utilize land, solar energy and biological resources. Rural methane power generation is the most significant piece of this energy-revolution program.

Structural improvements to toilets and animal sheds allow for the collection of human and animal wastes, rice straw and daily trash which serves as the raw material to generate methane. Methane ranges and cook stoves, heating and lighting fixtures powered by home-grown methane do not emit smoke and dust, thus eliminating health hazards often associated with burning raw waste materials or coal.

The liquid and solid remains after the fuel is siphoned off serves as fertilizer to enrich the soil, prevent plant diseases and control pests. Completing the natural cycle by returning materials to the earth in this way increases crop production and eliminates costs of fertilizers and pesticides. It also helps to build the rural economy.

Methane power generation has also been extended into cities in China. Methane is now being collected from the Asuwei Landfill in the Changping District of Beijing and used to generate power. This is the first city landfill methane in Northern China. Not only is it generating useful electricity, it is helping to eliminate odor problems and resolving safety concerns posed by methane emissions from decomposing organic wastes. While improving the environment in surrounding areas, this project is also providing enough electrical power to serve 17,000 families for one year in Beijing!


ABC: Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012

March 2, 2011
American Biogas Council Supports Clean Energy Standard

Legislation will accelerate biogas industry growth at no cost to tax payers

WASHINGTON— Today, the American Biogas Council applauded the introduction of the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (CES). The CES uses a market based approach to encourage a wide variety of electricity-generating technologies including renewable, baseload power from biogas. Biogas is produced from organic waste using a natural process called anaerobic digestion.
Biogas can be used to make renewable electricity and is a renewable substitute for natural gas.
Beginning in 2015, the CES would set a standard for clean energy on the largest utilities. These
utilities would need to sell a percentage of their electricity from clean energy sources, and each
year would need to sell a slightly greater amount of clean energy.
Since biogas, made from waste like food scraps, wastewater and animal manure creates clean
energy, the CES provides a stable, long-term market opportunity for the biogas industry to help
utilities to meet the CES goals. It will create American jobs in the biogas industry, enhance
national security and fuel diversity, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Today, over 2,200 sites in the U.S. produce renewable biogas from organic waste. And more
than 11,000 future urban and rural sites have been identified to produce biogas,” said Patrick
Serfass, Executive Director of the American Biogas Council. “The Clean Energy Standard
recognizes the biogas industry’s significant role in using local resources to create clean energy
from biogas. We thank Senator Bingaman for his determined leadership on clean energy and
for introducing this bill.”
About the American Biogas Council
The non-profit American Biogas Council represents over 140 companies dedicated to
maximizing the production and use of biogas from organic waste. Members include anaerobic
digester designers, multi-national engine manufacturers, farmers, waste management
companies, municipalities, natural gas providers, engineering and law firms, non profits,
universities and other organizations covering the entire biogas supply chain.

For more on the CES:

BioFuels Atlas

Check out this fabulous map of renewable natural gas (RNG) resources in the US, published by theNational Renewable Energy Laboratory, US Department of Energy in October 2010.

Energy Vision: Waste to Wheels!

Automotive Digest Weekly reports that every year, U.S. homes and institutions throw away enough garbage, yard trimmings, farm residues, and other organic waste to make renewable natural gas (referred to as “RNG” or “biomethane”), a clean, petroleum-free fuel that could power millions of the nation’s trucks and buses. Energy Vision, a national non-profit organization, with support from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Brookhaven and Argonne national laboratories, has been educating communities and business leaders on the benefits of using this renewable resource. RNG is produced in Europe and used by municipal fleets in a dozen of its cities and it is just emerging in the U.S. According to Energy Vision’s report, Waste to Wheels: Building for Success, communities that are now converting their bus and truck fleets to conventional natural gas for its clean air, fuel security, and fuel cost saving benefits are a step ahead in moving toward use of RNG, since the vehicles and refueling infrastructure are the same for both. To read or download Waste to Wheels, go to Energy Vision’s website.


Algae Power!

Here’s an interesting press release on generating RNG from algae. The R&D reported below falls a bit short of my pet interest — generating energy from organic waste — but it certainly has enormous potential that is also being developed and applied to handle wastewater problems and generate energy!

I’ve heard about some projects that are growing algae which cleans the wastewater, and then harvesting the algae to generate energy. That is being done in both industrial settings, and in municipal wastewater treatment plants.  I’m absolutely all for that! Those are win-win scenarios! I’ll post some reports on those.

Algae blooms are a huge problem contaminating waters worldwide, too.  I’m hoping this research branches out into commercially viable technologies to clean algae blooms out of contaminated water bodies, and generate biomethane!

Renewable Natural Gas Produced from Algae

A news release by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory – May, 2009

Catalytic Hydrothermal Gasification

A new method for converting algae into renewable natural gas for use in pipelines and power generation has been transferred from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to the marketplace under a license between Genifuel Corporation and Battelle.

The method, called catalytic hydrothermal gasification, creates natural gas out of algae – more quickly, more efficiently and at higher yields than other biofuel processes. Genifuel expects the process also requires less capital investment. The license agreement moves this technology for renewable energy production a step closer to commercial reality. Battelle operates PNNL for DOE.

“Algae and other aquatic biomass hold significant promise for our country’s ability to produce renewable energy domestically,” said Genifuel President Jim Oyler. “At Genifuel we have developed efficient growth and harvesting techniques for the aquatic biomass. With this gasification process, we can convert the biomass to a clean fuel that is almost completely carbon-neutral.”

Recycled Carbon Dioxide

He calls the PNNL process an “elegant system,” noting that more than 99 percent of the biomass is gasified to produce renewable natural gas and byproducts such as carbon dioxide which can be recycled and reused in the algae growth ponds.

PNNL originally developed the catalytic gasification process to clean up industrial and food processing waste as an alternative to incineration. Over the past 10 years, PNNL scientists advanced the technology to include a more stable catalyst that enables it to also convert wet biomass, such as algae. PNNL has tested the gasifier with terrestrial plants, kelp and water hyacinths. It works especially well for aquatic biomass such as algae, because the feedstock doesn’t require drying before fuel production.

Battelle granted Genifuel an exclusive license for the technology. As a national laboratory, one of PNNL’s missions is to advance science and technology toward solutions that industry can take to the marketplace.

Renewable Portfolio Standards

“Electricity produced from this natural gas can help electric utilities meet Renewable Portfolio Standards that require renewable energy sources,” Oyler said. “Existing natural gas pipelines can deliver the fuel, or it can be used to produce electricity onsite in conventional natural-gas turbine generators.”

The PNNL gasifier runs at relatively low temperatures – 350-degrees Celsius compared with 700-degrees or more for other systems – in a small stainless steel reactor.

According to Doug Elliott, the PNNL scientist who invented the gasification process, “It is simple – we put wet biomass like algae in the gasifier, where it is catalytically converted, and we collect fuel gas and byproducts.

“It’s serendipity that our system creates carbon dioxide as a byproduct that Genifuel needs naturally to grow the algae,” he said. “It’s a completely green process.”

Fast with High Yields

Compared with other methods of gasifying biomass, such as anaerobic digestion, PNNL’s process works 400 times faster and gives higher yields.

While simple in concept, the science behind the gasification process is actually quite complex. The technology has been under development for a number of years. PNNL scientists have achieved significant advances in the chemistry of catalysts and the selection of the optimum temperatures and pressures for the process, as well as improving the systems to protect the catalyst from impurities in the biomass.

PNNL scientists have extensive expertise in catalysis and reaction engineering, with particular focus on solutions for efficient use of bioproducts, converting biomass and renewable feedstocks to fuels and chemicals, and reducing environmental emissions.

High-quality water and land not needed

Genifuel grows aquatic biomass, such as algae, in shallow ponds or troughs, then harvests and processes the biomass for conversion using the PNNL technology. Water used in the growth ponds doesn’t have to be high-quality fresh water, and can be treated wastewater, brackish or alkaline water, or even salt water, Oyler said. Non-crop land can be used, so the process doesn’t compete with food production.


Just came across a report from last year’s Waste to Wheels Conference, which coined the perfect term I was looking for: Renewable Natural Gas! Soon I hope we will begin to see vehicles with those little diamond stickers that say “RNG”  instead of “CNG.” Actually, RNG is the “real deal”  CNG, but the term was already co-opted. So here’s to RNG!

Read on (right on!)…

New Report on Turning Trash into Vehicle Fuel

Energy Vision, a national non-profit organization in the USA educating communities and business leaders on the benefits of using renewable natural gas (RNG) — biomethane — is drawing attention to a new report, Waste to Wheels: Building for Success, which summarizes the proceedings of a one day workshop held in Columbus, Ohio in December 2010. The workshop was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities initiative, Argonne National Laboratory and Clean Fuels Ohio. Energy Vision’s VP for Programs Gail Richardson, a member of the planning group for this workshop, wrote up the proceedings.

Waste to Wheels discusses the characteristics of biomethane. Much cleaner than petroleum fuels, it is chemically similar to conventional natural gas and can be blended with it or used to replace it. A significant difference is that it is made, not by drilling, but by processing the waste gases created wherever organic materials are breaking down: in landfills, at sewage treatment plants, and on farm or dairy operations.

Energy Vision, whose activities are supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven and Argonne national laboratories, points out that every year U.S. homes and institutions throw away enough garbage, yard trimmings, farm residues, and other organic waste to make this renewable resource capable of powering millions of the nation’s trucks and buses. Clearly, this is a renewable fuel.

“Given the rising concerns nationally and globally about climate changing greenhouse gases, RNG deserves “center ring” attention as it is the lowest of low-carbon fuels in the world,” notes author Richardson, “and technologies for producing biomethane are commercially available. Biomethane is produced in Europe and used by municipal fleets in a dozen of its cities. It is just emerging in the U.S.”

According to the report, communities that are now converting their bus and truck fleets to conventional natural gas for its clean air, fuel security, and fuel cost saving benefits are a step ahead in moving toward use of biomethane, since the vehicles and refueling infrastructure are the same for both.

Waste to Wheels culls major points and graphics from workshop presentations, and includes information about how to spot biomethane fuel production opportunities at the nation’s 1754 landfills, 16,000+ wastewater treatment plants, and 7,000 livestock farms. Speakers emphasized the benefits of biomethane projects – freedom from oil, clean air, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and green jobs.

“Clean Cities coalitions and other local partnerships can be game-changers in making renewable natural gas from wastes because local agencies play a decisive role in how the nation’s wastes are managed,” says Joanna Underwood, Energy Vision’s President. “We are committed to using Energy Vision’s expertise to assist DOE Clean Cities’ affiliates with local and statewide RNG initiatives.”

The Waste to Wheels workshop brought together 120 industry and government leaders from 29 states, who heard presentations by national experts on technologies for waste-based fuel production, projects, and financial incentives.

Landfill Methane Outreach Program

The U.S. EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) is a voluntary assistance program that helps to reduce methane emissions from landfills by encouraging the recovery and use of landfill gas (LFG) as an energy resource. LMOP forms partnerships with communities, landfill owners, utilities, power marketers, states, project developers, tribes, and nonprofit organizations to overcome barriers to project development by helping them assess project feasibility, find financing, and market the benefits of project development to the community. EPA launched LMOP to encourage productive use of this resource as part of the United States’ commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

LMOP provides services such as:

  • Technical assistance, guidance materials, and software to assess a potential project’s economic feasibility.
  • Assistance in creating partnerships and locating financing for projects.
  • Informational materials to help educate the community and the local media about the benefits of LFG energy.
  • Networking opportunities with peers and LFG energy experts to allow communities to share challenges and successes.

More information:

Biomethane as an Energy Carrier -  Superior to Electricity!

October 20, 2009

Methane is a better long-distance energy carrier than electricity. Its storage and transportation is much cheaper and easier than electricity. Natural gas pipelines cost half as much to build as electric towers and have about one fourth as much transmission loss. They are also more reliable, safer and visually superior to ugly transmission towers….

Our electrical grid is only 30% efficient in delivering the energy in fuel burned to the customer. That efficiency could be doubled or even tripled if we used combined heat and power (CHP) generators located where heat is needed. By using the generator’s waste heat, an efficiency of 85% is possible. Clearly it is smarter to expand our gas pipeline network than to build more electrical towers to distribute inefficiently generated electricity from massive power plants. …

In Germany 22 billion kWh of biogas were produced in 2007. That’s a six-fold increase from 1999, driven partly by feed-in tariffs. About half of that biomethane was from landfill and sewage gas and the other half was from commercial and agricultural biomass plants. Renewable biogas is produced by natural processes of anaerobic digestion or gasification then cleaned up for sale to the gas pipeline. Sweden already gets 25% of their energy from biogas.

Energy storage is another big advantage of gas. Both the gas and the electricity grids need energy storage to take up the slack between production and consumption. Gas storage is cheap because it can simply be pumped into depleted gas wells and salt caverns. We are already storing 4.1 Tcf of gas in the US. At 85% efficiency that gas could produce 1,180 gigawatt-hours of useful power on demand. A very cheap battery!  The smart electrical grid is all about making supply match demand because electrical storage is so expensive. …

People have already begun selling renewable gas into the pipeline.  Landfills, manure piles and sewage plants that used to release significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere are now selling it as green gas. Biomass and garbage can also be gasified to add to the supply. The energy balance of Grass Biomethane production is 50% better than annual crops now used. When biogas is captured instead of releasing it to the atmosphere we get a double bonus. Methane is 72 times worse than CO2 as a cause of global warming in a 20-year time frame. You may have heard 25 times, but that’s based on a 100-year time frame. Methane only persists about 8 years. Also, when manure piles are covered, N²O, which is 289 times worse than CO², can also be captured. Coal mines emit almost a trillion cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere every year.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, the 230-acre Rumpke landfill has been capped and the gas is cleaned and delivered to the pipeline to provide enough gas for 25,000 Duke Energy customers. China has an estimated 31 million biogas digesters mostly on small farms. They produce in total about 9 Gigawatts of renewable energy which is mostly used locally. Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and now Ontario, Canada have feed-in tarrifs to encourage production of biogas. In Germany small farms can receive up to 25 cents per kWh for biopower. In the US, bills like SB306 that support biogas production, are still stuck in committee.

Image courtesy of :

Increased system efficiency means we will need less of these renewable sources to do the job. If we’re going to gasify biomass, it is more efficient to upgrade the gas and send it through the gas grid to customer CHP units than to generate electricity less efficiently and send it over less efficient, more expensive power lines to the customer. Until we get more efficient electrical generators, generation should always be done where the waste heat can be put to good use.

Electric cars would be twice as efficient if they fueled up with natural gas and used a fuel cell to recharge a small battery. Like a hybrid with a natural gas fuel cell range extender. The expense and weight of a large battery is eliminated and the energy can be stored in a much lighter and cheaper tank. Refuelling can be much faster and could even be done at home from your natural gas connection. New, low pressure, adsorption tanks make this easy because they only require 500 psi of pressure. Recharging is a problem with batteries.  A 110v, 20A household plug can only supply 2.2 kW, which means that 10 hours of home charging will only take you 10 x 2.2 x 4 mi/kW = 88 miles. Natural gas refueling infrastructure is in place in much of the world to refuel five million vehicles worldwide.


Renewable Natural Gas 101

A one-minute video on how simple it is is produce biomethane from organic wastes:

Just came across this:

“According to a study made by the ADEME [Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie - Angers, France], biogas represents in the world a resource comparable to fossil gas yearly consumption (1.800 Mtep/year). This energy is too dispersed in the world to be easily recoverable but the potential is evaluated from 100 to 300 Mtep/year. The quantity valued today is that of 0,5% of the total potential.”


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