By Shawn Kreloff, Founder & CEO of Bioenergy Devco
Special to The Digest
Facing rising shorelines and catastrophic wildfires, the reality of climate change has set in. Policymakers, business leaders, consumers, and businesses of all types have been pushing for a transition away from their reliance on fossil fuels – towards a carbon-negative power supply that is economically favorable, logistically feasible, and environmentally smart. What are the critical innovations and investments that will lead us towards a future of genuinely renewable energy?
Despite game-changing developments in solar and wind-powered infrastructure, most electrical grids still rely on the burning of coal, conventional fossil-fuel-based natural gas, and petroleum. America’s carbon-heavy gas consumption contributes to nearly 76% of our greenhouse emissions due to energy consumption across the transportation sector (e.g., travel and shipping). But what if we could replace a significant amount of these fossil fuels with renewable natural gas (RNG) or Green Hydrogen created solely from advanced processing of organic residuals – byproducts that would otherwise decompose into methane and contribute to the increase in global temperatures?
Now, new technology is available to the world called Anaerobic Digestion (A.D.). Anaerobic Digestion is a cutting-edge yet well-proven technology that harnesses bacteria in an enclosed environment to help decompose organic materials, produce biogas and a nutrient-rich soil additive that can offset synthetic use fertilizers. Recycling organic residuals, creating renewable energy, and returning nutrients and carbon into the soil all significantly reduce global CO2 output, making A.D. an essential tool in reversing the effects of climate change. Much like the success in methane reduction seen on the European continent, it’s time for the U.S. to meet decarbonization goals and zero waste goals through Anaerobic Digestion.
Unlike hydro-fracked fuel sources or biogas extracted from overstuffed landfills, energy derived from A.D. can generate any number of carbon-negative energy sources, such as RNG. Powered by a municipality’s residual organics or the discarded materials of a poultry farm, one single A.D. facility can create 275,000+ BTUs of energy annually, enough to power and heat 3,000 US households or replace roughly 1,978,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent “Biogas Opportunities Roadmap” report, our country is currently capable of supporting at least 13,000 new biogas facilities nationwide. Those systems could produce as much as 654 billion cubic feet of biogas and reduce up to 54 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, enough to displace 43.5% of all vehicle-based natural gas usage in the United States. Maximizing America’s A.D. potential would be akin to removing 11 million passenger cars from the road.
RNG, which is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas, is the only renewable energy source used with existing pipeline infrastructure. A clear distinction of clean RNG enables local economies to transition to a carbon-negative fuel at a commercial scale without altering electricity generation processes across America’s power grid.
Like conventional natural gas, RNG can transport fuel in the form of compressed or liquefied natural gas. Compressed RNG is particularly ideal for heavy-duty vehicles, which require nearly five-times more power than passenger cars to achieve viable operating mileage. While many automakers have begun incorporating electric vehicle production into their product lines, state-of-the-art battery technology does not yet have the requisite energy density to bring power to large-scale transportation efficiently. Energy-dense fuels like RNG represent a far more efficient and feasible alternative for our nation’s truckers. Multinational package delivery provider UPS, for example, recently committed to purchasing over 170 million-gallon equivalents of RNG (about 25% of its annual natural gas usage) over the next seven years to power its fleet of vehicles.
AD-generated RNG also holds the power to decarbonize America’s shipping industry drastically. With a comparable energy density to marine diesel oil, RNG technology could easily be integrated into existing vessels with retrofits or incorporated into new shipbuilding designs. As the backbone of international trade and a necessity for our island territories, cargo fleets consume an estimated 250 to 325 million tons of fuel annually, accounting for roughly 3% of annual global GHG emissions. If left unchecked, these emissions will rise exponentially, owing to the increased importance of global supply chains and developing economies’ expected growth.
Untapped renewable biogas resources can also help produce Green Hydrogen, a non-fossil fuel source capable of decarbonizing aviation and heavy manufacturing sectors. Leveraging the biogas reforming process (e.g., steam reforming, dry reforming, dual reforming, and tri-reforming), water-gas-shift reactions, and hydrogen separation, will give power to next-generation energy technology in the United States. This technology holds to power to revolutionize renewable fuel with Hydrogen generation, which is already being used by Microsoft, for example, to power data centers throughout the world.
Advancing towards truly renewable energy requires a comprehensive effort in propelling fossil fuel alternatives like carbon-negative RNG or Green Hydrogen derived from Anaerobic Digestion of organic material. Effectively managing mounting residual organics while creating nutrient-rich soil products, A.D. at scale could simultaneously offset significant carbon emissions while providing the next generation of businesses with an economically favorable and logistically feasible power source. Protecting our biosphere and advancing innovative technologies go hand-in-hand; in turn, it is time for the world to fully maximize the potential of anaerobic Digestion and transition to a decarbonized future.
About the Author: Shawn Kreloff is the Chief Executive Officer of Bioenergy Devco, a Maryland-based developer of anaerobic digestion facilities that turn organics into genuinely renewable and sustainable natural gas. www.bioenergydevco.com