Renewable Natural Gas May Have a Place in the Net-Zero Economy

Jan 5, 2022 3:00 PM ET

Those who denounce natural gas as a replacement for clean energy are not incorrect, but the intermittency issues associated with wind and solar make it foolish to ignore natural gas’ role in bridging the energy gap as we transition away from fossil fuels.

It’s true, fossil-based natural gas is hard on the environment, but not all natural gas is created equal. As Jonathan Cristiani, advanced power fuels engineer for Black & Veatch, writes for Renewable Energy World, renewable natural gas (RNG) – derived from more sustainable material such as biogas, landfill gas, woody biomass and waste sources of carbon dioxide – offers a near-term solution as the world transitions away from more carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and oil.

The RNG production process diverts greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere for reuse, helping to lower the carbon intensity of the overall natural gas blend while omitting many negative environmental impacts associated with fossil-based natural gas production.

Perhaps the most pertinent draw of RNG is its ability to integrate with existing systems, erasing the need for new asset development. For economies and utilities with budgetary restrictions, this makes RNG a more feasible option than clean-energy deployments, which can require significant capital and workforce to develop. It may also serve as a complement to renewables, mitigating mismatches in supply and demand that result from intermittency.

When paired with technologies like carbon capture, utilization and storage, RNG can operate at net zero, with the opportunity for net-negative emissions when RNG is produced from livestock manure.

Although it would be unwise to plan for an indefinite reliance on fossil-based natural gas systems, there is no need to abandon natural gas completely—at least not yet. As the world seeks to lower GHG emissions, RNG offers a bridge to ease the path for utilities and economies not yet ready to rely fully on renewables like wind, solar and hydropower.