Methane, Not Just A Fossil Fuel But Renewable, Too

Methane - Don RoesslerDonald Roessler
Washington County, Pa. Landowner and Gas Lease Holder

Something we don’t hear about, in the argument for renewables, is the fact methane gas is not only a fossil fuel but is also renewable.

I came across this video on Facebook today that not only gave me a good laugh but it also points out that methane is a renewable gas.

World Wide Interweb: The Fart Car

After watching this and getting back up off the floor from ROTFLMAO, I thought about what they said, “that methane gas is renewable.” It’s true, as landfills and cow manure pits are examples of things that produce methane gas. These sources of renewable methane can be used and, in fact, are being used as we speak in some areas.

Let’s start with renewable methane from landfills. According to this article, entitled Energy from Landfill Gas and Methane, by Conservation Services Group:

“Landfill gas, released as solid waste decomposes, can be used to generate electricity in a very cost-effective manner. This gas is a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide, and other organic compounds.”

How is landfill gas captured and turned into energy?

“Landfill gas, produced when anaerobic bacteria break down organic waste, is extracted using a series of wells or a vacuum system. Gas is then collected in a central location for processing. The gas may be used to generate electricity onsite, or it may be upgraded to pipeline-quality gas. Combined with natural gas, it can fuel conventional combustion turbines or used to fuel small combustion or combined cycle turbines.”

“Some landfills are too small or otherwise unsuitable for large-scale production. A microturbine, a type of combustion turbine, may be used at these sites. Microturbines generate energy by burning fuel (landfill gas) to spin a turbine which activates a generator. Landfill gas may also be used in fuel cell technologies, which use chemical reactions to efficiently create electricity.”

Isn’t methane gas a cause of global warming?

“Yes. This is a major benefit of processing and using landfill gas to produce energy. The methane produced by landfills is a potent greenhouse gas and thus a major contributor to environmental problems. However, when methane gas is burned, it converts to less harmful substances such as CO2 and water. Therefore, although landfill gas is neither entirely renewable nor completely clean as a fuel source, it has many benefits in comparison to fossil fuel sources of electricity generation.”

It doesn’t end there, though, because landfill methane can and is being used as a transportation fuel. Waste Management who operates a landfill in my area, Washington County, Pa., uses it to fuel their garbage collection trucks. I’ve written about how they use methane for truck fuel here.

Then, let’s take a look at cow manure. Technology is available, and being used, to capture methane gas from manure pits in Vermont. According to this article, by Sustainable Business.com, entitled Cow Poop to Cow Power:

 “Residents of Vermont are being treated to a new form of local renewable energy – Cow Power.”

“All residents can now buy energy produced from the manure of Vermont’s 10,000 dairy cows straight from the utility. The state just ruled the program could be expanded state-wide, so they’ll be a lot more cows signing on to participate.”

“Residents can elect to buy 25%, 50%, or 100% of their energy from Cow Power, and pay a premium of four cents per kilowatt hour. That adds up to an extra $6 a month for an average homeowner if they get 25% of their energy from Cow Power. The premium goes directly to farmers.”

These are just a couple examples of how renewable methane can be used to generate energy. Sewage treatment plants and septic systems are others. So, the next time you hear that methane gas is a fossil fuel remind who says it that it is also renewable.

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12 thoughts on “Methane, Not Just A Fossil Fuel But Renewable, Too

  1. Great column on Methane Donald . Biogas is one of the fastest growing renewable industries in Europe. Aneorobic Digestor construction on large dairy farms in Penn State would be a natural . If a series of farms dont have the dairy herd for a system perhaps a co operative would be of order ? The bi product of digestors is called digestate and it is much better for fertilizers then raw menure as the digestion process removes pathogens . The real ground water contaminator has historically been inproper agricultural waste desposal . Aneorboic digestors take care of that very well along with cutting down on raw Methane emissions when the Biogas is burn

  2. Pingback: Shale Markets, LLC / Methane, Not Just A Fossil Fuel But Renewable, Too (USA)

  3. JK lets hope the AD spreads across America and especially Shale country. The odd thing is a few Big ADs for farms are in NY state . The digestate is generally cleared of the pathogens normally associated with Menure. This makes for better fertilizer on farm fields .

  4. If only it were that simple, Donald. Yes, it’s all CH4, but where it comes from and the details of that process make all the difference in the world.

    Methane from landfills and other digestion processes has origins from carbon that was recently taken out of the atmosphere. Whether it’s cow farts, emissions from manure pits, or the decomposition going on inside landfills, its methane that unless used will end up in the atmosphere further contributing to the greenhouse effect. But in comparison to the same amount of methane from fossil sources, it’s a wash in the long term and part of a natural cycle that’s been going on since the dawn of time.

    Methane from fossil sources such as natural gas production is another matter entirely. It is from carbon that was sequestered millions of years ago and the release of it now, either as methane or when it’s becomes CO2 is not part of a natural cycle, at least a cycle that life on Earth as we know it can tolerate.

    The uncontrolled experiment we started at the beginning of the fossil fuel age has run long enough that we now know its consequences – unacceptable global warming. The goal now is to wean ourselves off fossil energy and it we want to avoid the worst of the consequences, begin a program of removing the excess greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. This is no small task, but the cost of doing so are much less than those we will have to bear when dealing with the unabated consequences.

    With most conventional sources of fossil energy already tapped out, the realization of these unintended consequences comes at an opportune time. The costs, both in effort and environmental consequences, of exploiting the remaining fossil resources have risen to the point where the conversion process to sustainable forms of energy can actually help the economy by avoiding the high costs of fossil energy.

    The transition to sustainable methods of electricity production and heating is already underway. The development of sustainable transportation fuels are not far behind. The environmental costs and the lost-opportunity costs associated with any further build out of the natural-gas infrastructure is simply too high.

    Donald, I appreciate that as a landowner and gas lease holder you have benefited personally from the shale-gas boom. But please be aware that there are other ways that you could have benefited from your land that does not work against the climate that sustains us all. While it may have seemed like an offer you just couldn’t refuse, think again.

    • More condescension based on fundamentally flawed premises. I only approved this Cliff because you filed before I finished my last comment on your other post. No more until you explain why two people are commenting from your IP address. Is Jennifer for real or is that your other persona?

    • Published on Mar 13, 2013

      “Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen, Genome, The Rational Optimist and other books, dropped by Reason’s studio in Los Angeles last month to talk about a curious global trend that is just starting to receive attention. Over the past three decades, our planet has gotten greener!”

      “Even stranger, the greening of the planet in recent decades appears to be happening because of, not despite, our reliance on fossil fuels. While environmentalists often talk about how bad stuff like CO2 causes bad things to happen like global warming, it turns out that the plants aren’t complaining.”

      • FYI Clifford my farm is still being used in a way to help sustain us. My friend who is dairy farmer plants hay and corn on it that feeds his cows, that produces milk, that people need city boy.

        • I’m glad to here it, Don, and hope farming continue to go well for you, your friend, and your farm after things fail to respond to further fracking and they pack up and go elsewhere. I’m sure you weighed the risks.

      • Don, no one denies CO2 is essential for plant growth. The species of plants we have now, and particularly the ones we have breed for crops, have evolved to thrive at the present levels. Indeed, CO2 is seldom the limiting factor, particularly as water supplies have become strained. Don’t forget that enhanced growth Ridley is talking about applies just as much to weeds. Besides, it’s never been the CO2 itself that is the concern, it’s the warming it causes.

        But I think it helps to look at the bigger picture and include all the things that will be impacted by AGW. It’s no surprise to me that Canadians seem to have little regard for these issues as they look forward to a functioning northern coast. Those of us who are beginning to see the harmful effects of excess heat might be quicker to sound the alarm.

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