How Biomethane Can Play an Integral Role in Leading to Carbon Neutrality

Mimicking natural gas, Biomethane can replace natural and engine fuels in usage without requiring any change to equipment settings (thus current natural fuel grids are easily adaptable to its distribution) and is a great alternative to help eradicate our fossil fuel dependency while transforming waste into a useful resource.

August 30, 2022. By News Bureau

The Paris Agreement was a milestone on the world’s climate change stage: it held the promise of active steps towards carbon neutrality. Following its 5th anniversary in December 2020, countries responsible for approximately 70% of the global economy and emitting over 65% of greenhouse gases agreed to aim for net-zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this goal would require more than just opting for a mix of renewable energy choices, and unconventional options such as Biomethane could be the carbon-neutral answer to our prayers.

Why carbon neutrality by 2050?
It’s alarming that while the pandemic had applied the brakes on emission levels, CO2 levels continued rising globally as did several extreme weather indicators such as frequent storms, floods, landslides, and record high temperatures. This tips the scales in favour of carbon neutrality, which per defnition is the balance between carbon emissions and its absorption by carbon sinks from the atmosphere—and obviously lacking at present.

Reports indicate that only by decreasing fossil fuel production by at least 6% every year until 2030, can we hope to survive the human-lead apocalypse instead we’re easily clocking a 2% hike per annum. If we’re serious about making repairs and realising the carbon neutrality promise by 2050 that EU and 195 nations committed to, a massive change is required.

How to achieve this goal?
Nothing short of a global-level coalition wherein all nations, industries and people work towards the net-zero emission goals by leveraging technology in every sector at a worldwide scale will do. Coal plants have to be replaced with renewable energy ones, such as Biomethane, as the International Labour Organisation has indicated that transition to clean energy will offer 18 mn new jobs by 2030. While change isn’t easy, that’s the only route to ultimately aligning with the Paris Accord and its sustainable development goals. This blueprint for a better future will cost us the luxury of fossil fuel by putting carbon neutrality central in fiscal and social decisions, way beyond the current token climate finance levels. We’ve to remember that every USD1 invested in adaptation measures will accrue USD4 in future benefits and it can’t be deferred any further. COVID-19 rang a shrill wake-up call and there’s no returning to the old normal of carbon-dense conduct; it’s time to make safer, more sustainable earth-friendly choices. As per France’s National Low-Carbon Strategy, one roadmap to combat climate change is by decreasing energy consumption through reinforcing energy efficiency and emissions from unrelated sources such as agriculture, entirely decarbonising energy production via renewable and nuclear methods such as replacing with Biomethane, and augmenting carbon sinks to absorb residual emissions.

Is Biomethane really a potential clean energy source?
Biomethane or purified biogas is generated from agro-waste fermentation which can be channelled for biofuel production. Mimicking natural gas, Biomethane can replace natural and engine fuels in usage without requiring any change to equipment settings (thus current natural fuel grids are easily adaptable to its distribution) and is a great alternative to help eradicate our fossil fuel dependency while transforming waste into a useful resource.

How is Biomethane Extracted?
Even the production of Biomethane though tri-fold is quite simple, there’s hydrolysis (interaction of water with chemicals resulting in decomposition of both), acidification (absorption of CO2 by water leading to chemical reactions), and consequently methane formation. All organic matter of plant or animal origin can be methanised to biogas. While this function is common in nature, it emits dangerous gases; humans are now harnessing it with help of methane-producing bacteria to lead the transformation from bio-waste to fuel, while reducing gas emissions.

Essentially, methanisation requires a restrained facility called a digester where oxygen is absent, for the bacteria to be able to break down the organic matter to produce biogas and digestate as a residue. Biogas comprises about 50-70% methane, 20-50% CO2, and hints of ammonia, nitrogen, and hydrogen sulfide. Methanisation units come in different scales with small units operable by a group of farmers, while bigger centralised units can convert industrial waste from myriad sources.

Merits of Biomethane Usage
Actually, Biomethane prevents emissions across the entire value chain, with a multi-fold alleviation result. Primarily, it removes emissions from the picture by processing organic residues at factories and not allowing its natural decomposition. It also replaces fossil fuels as a clean energy source, while reducing demand for carbon-intensive mineral fertilisers by providing the biofertiliser digestate. Thus, it provides economic advantage by pushing recycling initiatives while powering several sectors by directly reducing carbon output, and, simultaneously, being a flexible fuel that’s easy-to-store.

MoPNG’s SATAT initiative
On those lines, in 2018, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas launched the Sustainable Alternative towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) scheme, with an aim of establishing CBG plants for automotive fuel production through independent entrepreneurs. The initiative is to roll-out 5,000 plants by 2025 with production expectations of 15 mn tonnes of CBG annually, roughly about 40% of our annual CNG consumption of 44 mn tonnes. The investment of about Rs. 1.7 lakh crore in the SATAT scheme is a drop in the ocean when one considers that the initiative will generate 75,000 jobs and manufacture 50 mn tonnes of bio-manure, which entrepreneurs can market separately.

As we see it, Biomethane is a prospective decarbonising solution that’s already present in our existing ecosystem; it just has to capture the requisite public mindshare to come into the spotlight. It’s a great energy substitute that checks all the sustainable goals while being fairly easy to monetise. Even if we turn to Biomethane production for only the economic advantage it affords, we’ll end up doing our future generations an admirable service.

- Vinod Paremal, Regional President, Evonik India Subcontinent
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