February 13, 2024

Unlocking the Potential: Diverse Applications of Biogas

For dairy operations, maximizing resource utilization and profitability are constant pursuits. Biogas, a renewable energy source derived from organic waste, presents a compelling opportunity to address both goals simultaneously. 

This article introduces the diverse applications of biogas upgraded to renewable natural gas (RNG), highlighting its potential to boost operational efficiency, generate new revenue streams, and contribute to a sustainable future.

Transforming Biogas to RNG: The Power of Upgrading

Raw biogas, produced from organic waste digestion, can contain 55-75% methane and 24-44% carbon dioxide, with other gasses making up 1% or less of the mixture. These impurities hinder its downstream applications, causing engine corrosion and inefficiency. Biogas upgrading refines and improves it for real-world applications.

Upgrading removes impurities and concentrates methane to 95-99%, matching pipeline-quality natural gas. This expansion of its purity unlocks a wider range of end uses. Pressure swing adsorption, membrane separation, and cryogenic separation are some of the available technologies for upgrading, with the ideal choice depending on biogas composition, desired purity, and economic factors.

Crucially, upgrading makes biogas a viable and sustainable alternative to natural gas derived from fossil fuels. By removing impurities and boosting methane content, upgrading enhances its versatility and value.

Seamless Integration: Pipeline Injection

Upgraded biogas that meets the relevant specification for methane content can be seamlessly injected into existing gas pipelines. This upgraded RNG blends effortlessly with the pipeline gas, which is primarily composed of methane and contains smaller amounts of other hydrocarbons. Once injected, RNG travels alongside its conventional counterpart, powering homes and businesses, generating electricity, and fueling vehicles.

A key benefit of pipeline injection is the ability to leverage existing infrastructure. RNG facilities simply need access to a local gas pipeline, minimizing the need for additional infrastructure development.

Generating Power and Fueling Vehicles: Biogas Beyond Pipelines 

Beyond pipeline injection, biogas shines in its ability to generate heat and power. One option is utilizing biogas in power plants. RNG can seamlessly blend with the grid, directly powering existing gas turbines to generate electricity. Alternatively, RNG can fuel combined heat and power (CHP) units, generating both electricity and thermal energy for homes and businesses.

RNG’s reach extends further, venturing into the transportation sector as a clean alternative to gasoline and diesel. It fuels a variety of vehicles, from cars and trucks to buses, seamlessly integrating into existing infrastructure through direct replacement. Specially designed vehicles simply run on RNG like they would on natural gas, making the switch effortless.

The impact of RNG as a transportation fuel is undeniable:

  • In 2022, a staggering 69% of all on-road fuel used in natural gas vehicles was RNG.
  • Compared to 2021, RNG use soared by 17%, marking a 218% increase over the past five years.
  • This surge translated to a significant environmental benefit, with RNG offsetting a total of 5.63 million tons of CO2e in 2022.

Regional Variations in Biogas Applications

Throughout the world, biogas is utilized for pipeline injection, energy generation, and vehicle fueling. The graph below illustrates the breakdown of biogas usage in different regions:

The graph reveals a higher percentage of biogas dedicated to vehicle fueling in the United States and Canada. This can be attributed to policies like the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard and California’s Low Carbon Fuels Standard.

As biogas production steadily climbs, its applications will likely diversify across regions. Government approaches to biogas development may diverge as well, with support mechanisms tailored to the specific characteristics of each energy system to optimize its complementary role within the overall energy matrix.

Biogas: Beyond Promise, Towards Profitability

Overall, biogas is a promising renewable energy source with a number of potential benefits. By unlocking its diverse applications, from pipeline injection to on-site generation, biogas can make a significant contribution to our energy needs while delivering a robust return on investment. SKS Development has worked with several dairy farms to build methane digesters that produce biogas and RNG ready for pipeline injection. With decades of experience developing, building, and managing biogas facilities, SKS Development has the expertise to deliver the right plan for your waste-to-energy facility. If you are interested in understanding the potential of biogas at your site, please reach out to the SKS team.