Betting big on renewable natural gas

Big energy players bought up billions in renewable natural gas assets last year. How much could this fuel actually offset emissions?

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Landfills, dairy farms and wastewater plants all emit methane, the potent greenhouse gas produced when organic material decomposes in the absence of oxygen. 

But instead of emitting that methane (often called biogas or waste methane), it’s possible to capture and refine it, resulting in an end product known as renewable natural gas, or RNG. Capturing methane that would have been emitted anyway can create RNG that’s carbon-neutral or carbon-negative (although that’s an issue that’s still up for debate). And using that RNG to displace fossil-fuel-derived natural gas can, in theory, cut overall emissions.

Major players in energy are betting big on RNG. Last fall, BP acquired RNG producer Archaea for $4.1 billion, Shell bought Nature Energy for nearly $2 billion, and NextEra purchased $1.1 billion in RNG assets from Energy Power Partners.

So what’s behind this recent flurry of activity? And to what extent could RNG actually offset carbon emissions? 

In this episode, Shayle talks to Brandon Moffatt, co-founder of StormFisher, an RNG and hydrogen producer.

They cover topics including:

  • RNG feedstocks such as dairy farms, wastewater treatment plants and landfills.

  • How much waste methane is available to make RNG.

  • Government subsidies and compliance programs including California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and the U.S. EPA’s renewable identification numbers.

Recommended resources:

  • Environmental Research Letters: At scale, renewable natural gas systems could be climate-intensive: The influence of methane feedstock and leakage rates

  • Bloomberg: The gas industry’s survival plan: Make fuel from cow poop

  • Vox: The false promise of renewable natural gas”

  • CBC: Renewable natural gas could help slow climate change, but by how much?

Come watch a live episode of The Carbon Copy! Canary Media and Post Script Media are hosting a live event at Greentown Labs in Somerville, Mass. on April 6. We’ll record a live episode of The Carbon Copy with some very special guests. Get your tickets today.

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

Catalyst is supported by Antenna Group. For 25 years, Antenna has partnered with leading clean-economy innovators to build their brands and accelerate business growth. If you’re a startup, investor, enterprise or innovation ecosystem that’s creating positive change, Antenna is ready to power your impact. Visit antennagroup.com to learn more.

Catalyst is supported by EnergyHub. The company’s platform lets consumers turn their smart thermostats, EVs, batteries, water heaters and other products into virtual power plants that keep the grid stable and enable higher penetration of solar and wind power. And they are hiring! Learn more and see open roles at energyhub.com/catalyst.

Catalyst is brought to you by Sealed, the experts in home weatherization and electrification upgrades. Sealed is leading the way, with over a decade of experience being accountable to homeowners because they only get paid based on actual energy reductions. Visit Sealed.com/measuredsavings to learn more.