Study assesses potential of biogas as alternative fuel

Using synthetic biogas as transport fuel would be more cost effective than electric vehicles for reducing CO2 emissions, says a new report.

Bio-SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) delivered using existing infrastructure would produce a typical saving of 90 per cent in lifecycle CO2 emissions compared with fossil fuel alternatives, said the feasibility study.

This would be a similar saving to direct biomass combustion but with a more flexible delivery mechanism. It would also be significantly more cost effective per tonne of CO2 abated than heat pumps or domestic and commercial biomass heating, and more cost effective than electrical solutions for transport applications.

The major processes required to produce Bio-SNG can be identified and assembled using existing technologies and the estimated costs of Bio-SNG for a large-scale plant are very competitive with other renewable energy technologies, said the report.

National Grid, the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) and Centrica published the study of the potential for Bio-SNG delivered via the gas grid.

‘Given appropriate incentives, renewable Bio-SNG could form an increasingly important proportion of gas supplies and so help the UK to meet the 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets,’ said National Grid executive director for gas distribution Mark Fairbairn.

Bio-SNG is formed during the conversion of thermally derived synthetic gas into methane. Unlike biomethane produced by anaerobic digestion, feedstocks can include more durable material such as woody biomass and wastes that are not broken down in traditional anaerobic digester plants.

Although anaerobic digestion of organic material has been widely accepted as an important renewable energy technology, the production of Bio-SNG is required to move to higher levels of fossil fuel replacement, according to the report.

Dr Stan Higgins, chief executive of NEPIC, said: ’The technologies that will bring about a low-carbon future will be many and varied. Bio-SNG as a transport fuel and for both industrial and domestic applications offers a significant opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint.’

Bio-SNG is thought to be particularly attractive because it can be used in existing applications such as CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) vehicles or efficient condensing gas-heating appliances.

The study indicates that Teesside is a highly attractive location for a UK demonstration project because of its chemical industry, ability to utilise waste heat and co-products and extensive high-pressure gas grid.