Redefining the ‘Natural’ in ‘Natural Gas’

The ‘natural’ in ‘natural gas’ helps remind us how this fossil fuel was formed, which required a series of events that took place over a matter of millions of years. But what if the process doesn’t have to?

From waste to natural gas, more and more facilities are finding the loophole to energy efficiency as of recent years. Thanks to machines called ‘digesters’, we are able to transform organic materials such as plants or animal wastes into biogas. Digesters perform by using ‘biomethanation’ to do so, which is the process through which organic matter and waste is converted into gas after being heated at high temperatures.

How does biogas compare to natural gas? Just like natural gas, biogas is a mixture of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) that can be used as a fuel for cooking, lighting, or generating electricity. Utilities can rest assured in the fact that biogas even has the ability to flow through natural gas pipelines. The only difference between natural and biogas is how they are produced.

pigOne example of the utilization of digesters and biogas alike would include hog production facilities. The Circle Four hog finishing farm complex near Milford, Utah, in particular, works by allowing two 10 million gallon anaerobic digesters to receive the manure from 350,000 hogs and produce biogas, which eventually gets transformed into electricity. As a method that’s been used for nearly two decades in certain hog production facilities across the country, it has shown to be effective. For instance, in 2014, four facilities produced enough biofuel to power approximately 8,000 U.S. households for one year!

yogurtAnother example of the use of digesters would be the efforts that a town in Quebec, Canada has been making in order to convert expired yogurt and by-products into natural gas. Used specifically to heat municipal buildings and power vehicles, the city’s communications director estimates a total of 6,500 metric tons of yogurt to be transformed over the course of year, which will lead to 375,000 cubic meters of natural gas at a city run biomethanation facility. As a citywide investment, the entire area should benefit from this environmental and profitable solution.

While natural gas is recognized as a non-renewable resource, biogas completely changes the playing field when it comes to producing energy. By allowing us to create a renewable natural gas, biogas helps us redefine the ‘natural’ in ‘natural gas’. The only side effect is that we might be seeing yogurt or cow manure in a whole different light!

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