CHP. RNG. H2. CH4. CO2. The landscape of the energy industry changes at a dizzying pace. Our Washington Gas three-part series, “Emerging Energies Explained,” looks at evolving technologies already shaping the future. Our second installment explores renewable natural gas and how it can provide a lower-carbon fuel option.
None of us would consider tossing almost 1,000 apples into a landfill yearly without taking a single bite. Yet, that is about the individual equivalent of the 63 million tons of food waste that ends up in landfills each year. Combined with landscape and pruning waste, organic textiles and carpets, lumber, wood, paper products, printing and writing paper, manure, biosolids, digestate and sludges, almost 200 million tons of organic waste swell U.S. landfills each year.
Also known as biostock, these organic wastes generate substantial levels of methane gas during decomposition. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that municipal solid waste landfills generate roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions as 23.1 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year or annual CO2 emissions from the energy use of 13.1 million residential homes.
Renewable natural gas, or RNG, is an exciting and powerful strategy for managing municipal landfill methane emissions. Specialized facilities collect and process biostock to remove moisture, carbon dioxide and trace-level contaminants while reducing nitrogen and oxygen. The result is a concentrated methane gas that can be injected into natural gas pipelines as a readily available renewable energy source.
RNG offers a lower-carbon fuel source that supports the same applications as conventional natural gas, including electricity generation, heating, industrial applications and transportation. It can also be stored and transported using the existing natural gas infrastructure instead of the cost and delays of new delivery systems.
The Next Era of Energy
Washington Gas partnered with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission Piscataway (WSSC) Waste Water Treatment Facility in Maryland to construct an RNG interconnection project. It captures and processes biogas from the WSSC plant’s anaerobic digesters, creating a concentrated, pipeline-quality methane that is returned to the WSSC facility for use. The RNG interconnect is part of the larger bioenergy project at the Piscataway facility.
Washington Gas is working with various companies to develop RNG and allow the safe integration of this RNG into our natural gas distribution infrastructure. Strategically located across the DMV service territory, these RNG resources will help ensure a reliable energy supply and support our commitment to providing customers with safe, reliable, and affordable natural gas options.
An essential part of the road to RNG begins…well, on the road. Natural gas and RNG are readily available fuels currently used in heavy transportation, with fewer emissions than diesel-powered trucking. Washington Gas already uses natural gas vehicles and will add renewable natural gas to our fleet in the future.
Why RNG Matters to You
When you hear about local sourcing, you may think of farm-fresh produce or campaigns to support area businesses. However, organic biostock is a basic “local product” that every community accumulates daily. Converting this waste into renewable natural gas can provide various emission reduction benefits. Reducing levels of organic waste can also improve adverse effects such as odors, pests and leachate (liquid residue from organic waste).
RNG’s unique production and distribution can also buffer domestic energy stability. Local fuel sourcing is less affected by geopolitical instabilities and disruptions than other energy sources, creating a more steady, predictable energy supply. And unlike the unpredictability of weather-impacted solar and wind options, RNG offers a more stable production source for storage and future use.
Renewable natural gas also offers economic potential. Studies from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute suggest that more than 500 untapped landfills across the United States could support approximately 40 RNG projects annually for the next decade. This surge in production could generate up to $6.5 billion in investment and 70,000 jobs in urban and rural areas. View the EPA Project and Landfill Data by State website at https://bit.ly/epa-lmop to learn more.
Finally, RNG can also be the basis for creating clean hydrogen, an emerging energy source. Like RNG, hydrogen gas is a storable fuel that delivers readily usable energy. Hydrogen fuel cells can generate electricity and heat and power vehicles with only water and warm air as byproducts.
Learn more about renewable natural gas and emerging fuels by scanning the QR code on this page or visiting washingtongas.com/RNG.
Are you intrigued about the RNG-clean hydrogen connection? Stay tuned for the September edition of The Washington Informer for a glimpse of a hydrogen-powered future.