The Future of Carbon-Neutral Fuels is Here

2022 has been a banner year for renewable natural gas (RNG). This carbon-neutral fuel can be used in existing infrastructure and with current appliances, making it an immediately useful fuel to help us reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable hydrogen is also hitting its stride, with billions being committed in investment for green hydrogen hubs and the first major projects beginning to produce at scale. Read on for a roundup of some of the most interesting recent developments.

ONE Gas, a regulated natural gas utility that operates in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas has been proactive in its search for sources of RNG and has 22 RNG projects in progress after identifying 175 billion cubic feet of potential renewable gas feedstock within their area of operations. ONE Gas is attempting to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 55 percent below 2005 levels by 2035 and views a mix of renewable hydrogen blending and RNG as central to this pathway to a greener future. Their goal is to build pipelines that link sources of RNG with large-volume buyers in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, laying the groundwork for further adoption of RNG.

RNG producer Opal Energy is engaged in a joint venture with GFL Renewables LLC to produce RNG from two landfills owned by GFL. This captured RNG, which would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere as methane, will instead provide the equivalent of more than 125 million gallons of gasoline annually by 2024. Opal hopes to expand their RNG fuel station operations from 95 stations at the end of 2021 to 256 by 2024. In Houston, a partnership between Archaea Energy and Republic Services is similarly working to reclaim methane from landfills and use it for a combination of electrical generation, home use, and vehicles.

Some utilities are allowing customers to opt-in to greater sustainability. Black Hills Energy, a combined natural gas and electric utility company operating across eight western states is pursuing a voluntary program, where customers can choose to buy blocks of RNG. A $5 block of RNG would be enough for 25 percent of the average customer’s monthly natural gas consumption. This program is a major part of how Black Hills Energy plans to reduce GHG emissions by 90 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Other companies, like Piedmont Natural Gas (a subsidiary of Duke Energy) are offering similar programs to their customers, with Piedmont selling carbon offsets equivalent to using RNG in $3 blocks.

RNG is poised to be a boon to dairy farmers. It’s no secret that cows produce methane gas. Rather than allowing this methane to leak into the atmosphere, it can be harvested and used as fuel. This provides a valuable revenue stream to farmers, an inexhaustible supply of carbon-neutral RNG to utilities and customers and helps to fight climate change by decreasing GHG emissions. Greenlane Renewables is one of the companies pursuing this “dairy cluster model” and is working with several local farmers in California to deploy harvest RNG.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently started an effort to decarbonize heavy industry with an initial investment of eight billion dollars in U.S. hydrogen hubs. This investment is part of the Biden Administration’s hydrogen Energy Earthshots Initiative, which seeks to reduce the cost of green hydrogen to $1 per kilogram. Even before this windfall, market leaders like Air Liquide were already in the process of scaling up renewable hydrogen operations. Air Liquide recently opened its largest liquid hydrogen production and logistics facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. This advanced facility is powered by renewable energy and uses carbon-neutral RNG to produce 30 tons of liquid hydrogen per day – enough to provide hydrogen to 40,000 hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Efforts to expand liquified natural gas (LNG) import capacity in Europe are aimed at a carbon-neutral future. Germany is building import terminals that will be capable of handling not only geologic and renewable natural gas, but also renewable hydrogen. One of the advantages of the gas distribution system is that existing infrastructure can be repurposed or upgraded to handle RNG and hydrogen in addition to geologic gas.

On the consumer products side of things, Walmart is looking to incorporate both natural gas and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles into its fleet as part of Walmart’s net-zero 2040 goal. While Walmart currently has a deal signed with Chevron to supply their trucks with compressed natural gas (CNG) from renewable sources, as the RNG economy matures, a broader distribution system to service natural gas and green hydrogen vehicles will be increasingly critical. The projects discussed above will help to decarbonize not only our homes and power generation but also our transportation systems.

RNG and green hydrogen will be key to achieving ambitious decarbonization goals. The wave of investment and innovation into these technologies is a very promising development for efforts to mitigate climate change and will serve as a valuable tool in America’s arsenal.