Hydrogen and Renewable Natural Gas
Helping Alberta Transition to a Clean Energy Future
Renewable Natural Gas
Renewable natural gas (RNG), also called biomethane, is pipeline-quality gas mostly made of methane that is captured from organic waste like food scraps, wastewater slurry, animal manure, crop residues, forestry waste, and municipal garbage. The raw waste gas, also called biogas, is captured, cleaned, and injected into Apex Utilities’ pipelines to be used in the same way as conventional natural gas. Capturing methane that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere makes RNG a carbon-neutral energy source. As the RNG mixes into the existing gas system, it lowers the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the gas.
According to a TorchLight report funded by Natural Resources Canada, Alberta has the potential to generate up to 1.1 petajoules (that’s 1,100,000 GJ) of RNG, which is enough gas to supply over 1 million residential homes.¹ RNG acts the same as conventional natural gas in all heating applications. Therefore, there is no need for customers to upgrade or adjust any existing appliances.
¹TorchLight Resources, “Renewable Natural Gas (Biomethane) Feedstock Potential in Canada”, Enbridge Gas, last modified March 2020, https://www.enbridge.com/~/media/Enb/Documents/Media%20Center/RNG-Canadian-Feedstock-Potential-2020%20(1).pdf
The basic process of biogas production is outlined below:
- Organic waste is delivered to a digestor. A digestor is a temperature-controlled tank devoid of oxygen.
- Naturally occurring microorganisms break down the organic matter into raw biogas and solid material called digestate. Biogas is primarily composed of methane, but it also contains between 25 – 50% carbon dioxide, water, and small quantities of other gases.
- The raw biogas is further treated to remove carbon dioxide, water, and other gases.
- Once the gas has been cleaned, it is primarily comprised of methane with the same quality as conventional natural gas. This purified biogas is called biomethane or RNG.
RNG’s Environmental Benefits
- Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 28 times worse than carbon dioxide (CO2). Since the methane from organic waste is captured and repurposed, RNG is an energy source.
- Using carbon-neutral RNG helps reduce GHG emissions by offsetting the emissions from conventional natural gas.
The Future of RNG at Apex Utilities
Canada’s natural gas utilities have set an aspirational target of 5% RNG blended into natural gas distribution systems by 2025 and 10% by 2030. Apex Utilities is focused on making RNG available to our distribution customers in the near future. We are also assessing the possibility of adding hydrogen gas to our energy mix.
The urgency of reducing emissions has never been greater. Hydrogen is emerging as one of the key pathways for reducing emissions, storing renewable energy, and enabling utility-scale energy systems to work together in a sustainable and cost-effective way.
Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. It is colourless, odourless, and nontoxic. A hydrogen molecule (H2) is often called an “energy carrier” as it can be used to store or deliver energy. Although Canada has many resources that can be used to produce hydrogen, the most promising, in terms of abundance and affordability, is natural gas.
Hydrogen can help decarbonize:
- Heating of homes, businesses, and industry
- Metal & petroleum refining, food processing, and fertilizer & synthetic fuel production
- Transportation (passenger vehicles, heavy transport, shipping, trains, and airplanes)
- Power generation and renewable energy storage
Benefits of Hydrogen:
Stores and transports renewable energy
Since the sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow, renewable energy generation is intermittent. For this reason, renewable energy may not be available when it is needed, and storage is required to help balance the unreliability and maximize the use of renewables. Excess renewable electricity can be converted to hydrogen (a process known as power-to-gas, or P2G) for easier storage and transportation in existing natural gas pipes. This hydrogen can then be used whenever needed, either directly as hydrogen gas or converted back to electricity.
Greens the gas supply
Hydrogen blends up to 20% can be safely introduced into the existing natural gas supply to help reduce overall GHG emissions. As such, we are joining ongoing industry research to determine if it is possible to introduce higher hydrogen blends without impacting the safety and reliability of our distribution system or our customers.
Uses existing distribution infrastructure
Introducing low-carbon energy like hydrogen offsets the need to build new storage and distribution facilities required for wind and solar energy generation and maximizes the affordability of transitioning into a clean future.
Natural gas is one of the safest fuels used today, and we have a long history of keeping our customers warm with safe and reliable service. Blending small quantities of hydrogen into the gas system will have no effect on the reliability or quality of energy delivered to your home.