Methane Could be a Greater Source of Power In US

Natural gas is an important source of power in the United States. An estimated 300,000 miles of pipeline transport natural gas across the country, while thousands of gathering, processing, and storage facilities prepare and store the gas for end users.

One of the natural gases, Methane (CH4) is studied and proven to be 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. To combat climate changes, scientists at the Energy Institute of Colorado State University (CSU), United States, are converting methane into renewable energy sources.

Considering the natural gas supply chain consists of a vast network of infrastructure with countless emission sources, Increasing the total methane emissions from the U.S. natural gas supply chain represents a major challenge, according to a study of CSU. The Energy Institute at CSU partners with universities, research institutions, and the natural gas industry to discover new and effective methods for finding and reducing methane leaks at every stage of natural gas production.

Hence, scientists, working at the state-of-the-art of developments trying to convert methane into renewable energy sources. The Energy Institute is also constructing a test site known as the Methane Emissions Test and Evaluation Center (METEC), which will allow researchers to test methane-sensing technologies in a controlled environment.

According to Dr. Bryan Willson, director of the Energy Institute at CSU, methane is responsible for 23 percent of all global warming. “On a 20-year basis, methane is over 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide, and on a hundred-year basis, it’s about 31 times as potent. So if you are leaking more than a couple of percent of the natural gas, then you may offset a lot of the benefits from switching coal power to gas,” said Dr. Bryan.

He and his co-scientists are working deeply to research methane and hydrogen. However, Hydrogen has emerged as a good alternative fuel around the world till now. He also says that the case can be made that methane, which primarily comes from mines, is humankind’s most renewable fuel.

Interestingly, Dr. Bryan is also a consultant to the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, (ARPA-E) and speaking at a virtual briefing on combating climate change organized by the US State Department for foreign journalists, he said, “It happens in the guts of animals when they produce methane, it happens in wastewater treatment plants, it happens in landfills.”

As a matter of fact, almost any organic matter can be converted into methane, “But there’s another pathway to renewable methane, and that’s from hydrogen, which is getting a lot of focus as a fuel. But it’s a fuel that we can manufacture by taking renewable electricity and using it to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. And then we can use that hydrogen directly in things like fuel cells or we can blend it with natural gas to improve the performance of the natural gas. Additionally, when hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide through a catalyst, we can produce methane. So, we can use wind energy to make renewable methane or to make renewable natural gas,” he added.

Consequently, according to Associate Professor Neal Sullivan of Colorado School of Mines and director of the Colorado Fuel Cell Centre, apart from the above-mentioned applications, another unique usage of hydrogen is in wastewater treatment facilities.

“We are talking about a good amount of 10 megawatts at a plant just continuously generating electricity that would otherwise be wasted,” he said. That’s how using hydrogen fuel cells generates methane and carbon dioxide to generate electricity at the wastewater treatment plant.

Also, scientists believe that there is increased research on using hydrogen itself as a clean energy source to be used worldwide. According to Dr. Sullivan, the one place where hydrogen cells are being used on a wide scale is at Amazon’s warehousing facilities, where forklifts largely run on hydrogen fuel cells.

As far as India is concerned, hydrogen fuel cells are being taken forward to use as alternative fuel but, using these to convert methane into renewable energy sources. Indian scientists may take a hint from such developments around the world.

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Bhoomika Singh

Bhoomika is a science graduate, with a strong interest in seeing how technology can impact the environment. She loves covering the intersection of technology, environment, and the positive impact it can have on the world accordingly.