Utilities prepare to open natural gas pipes to biogas

I have a story today on Enbridge Gas Distribution and its early investigation of biogas-injection into its natural gas pipelines. It’s already being done in several European countries and some U.S. states, and is even mandated in countries such as Germany. Enbridge, and Terasen Gas in British Columbia, are among a number of gas utilities in North America that are trying to prepare themselves for the day when “bio-methane” will become a common component of natural gas pipeline infrastructure. Will the biogas quality affect the pipeline? Can it be used in all natural gas appliances without problem? How much does it cost to scrub out impurities? What’s the best source: landfills, sewage treatment plants, biodigesters? All questions that are being asked and answered. Indeed, the Gas Technology Institute is in the middle of a $1.6 million (U.S.) study aimed as answering these questions.

Mandated access to such infrastructure would be in the public interest, and not just so the natural gas we use to heat our homes and cook our food can be a little greener. It’s important from the perspective of electricity generation as well. In Ontario, for example, there are certain regions of the province that are ideal for biogas production, such as from farm-based biodigesters or landfills. Problem is those same regions are either too remote to connect to the grid or the grid is simply at overcapacity.

But what if you could produce huge amounts of biogas in one area, inject it into the natural gas pipeline, and then build a power plant in a grid-friendly area that runs on natural gas? The idea is that the natural gas used at the plant would be offset by the biogas injected into the pipeline from another location. Theoretically, you could have a “green” natural gas plant because the fuel it uses is offset by dozens of biogas systems located elsewhere.

The natural gas pipeline basically becomes a massive storage system for biogas, and in the Ontario context would over time reduce the need to import natural gas from out west.

6 thoughts on “Utilities prepare to open natural gas pipes to biogas”

  1. I just wonder what the future of the bio-gas industry is going to be however.

    With shale gas in Texas and elsewhere proving to be a very very cheap source of gas (and with huge reserves behind it), I wonder if bio-gas has the economics to make it without some sort of price on carbon, given the scrubbing of the gas that has to happen.

    Very interested to see where this all turns out

  2. I have faith that that the gas industry understands more than we give them credit. Micro CHP will make them as powerful as oil companies today and for the better.

    My faith may be displaced but I think that with vehicles and home power; they could be the major players of the 21st century.

  3. I got news for ya: much of the gas already going into US natural gas pipelines is biogas. There are two sources of natural gas: Biogenic and Thermogenic. Biogenic gas accounts for a significant percentage of the natural gas you use in your home or business (the % will vary depending on your geographical location).

    The company I work for, Luca Technologies, has a process to stimulate the real-time generation of methane from biogenic systems (biogas). Because the process takes place in an anaerobic environment, the CO2 content of the gas is very low, which means no scrubbing. I can assure you first-hand, the economics are very favorable.

  4. I enjoy Tyler’s blog a great deal but, sadly, the photo jet of flame coming from the cow’s hindquarters has it bass ackwards. It’s cow belches, not farts, that contribute substantially to greenhouse gas emissions. Sorry, I truly wish it were the other way around, so to speak. Great photo anyway.

  5. Ah, thanks for pointing that out, Scott. Alas, couldn’t find a photo of a fire-breathing cow — or a fire-farting human, which would be really cool.

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