RNG: The Next Renewable Vehicle Fuel

The Canadian Biogas Association's Stephanie Thorson discusses the renewable natural gas's potential to reduce emissions and consumer fuel costs.
By Stephanie Thorson | April 29, 2014

Renewable natural gas (RNG) is a little-known fuel that has enormous potential to economically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation, a sector that has high emissions.
In the same way that ethanol is blended with gasoline and biodiesel is blended with diesel fuel, RNG can be blended with natural gas for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles or liquified natural gas (LNG) vehicles. The Biogas Association is working to develop RNG as a vehicle fuel to cost-effectively improve the environmental performance of the transportation sector.

The prices of traditional vehicle fuels, gasoline and diesel are at historic highs and the price of natural gas is near its historic low. As a result, fleet managers are increasingly exploring the option to switch to natural gas as a vehicle fuel. In fact, CNG vehicles can run on 100 percent RNG, and there are millions of hours of driving experience in Europe with this fuel. In Europe, RNG is increasingly being used as a transportation fuel. The drivers for this are regulation and taxes on waste disposal, increasing need for renewable fuel sources, the European Commission’s Biofuels Directive, measures to improve local air quality, and the need for clean transportation fuels in urban areas.

 The Canadian Gas Association recently released its "Smart Energy Future: RNG Roadmap," which includes a focus on developing RNG as a vehicle fuel. The association is working with stakeholders to determine a path forward to help bring this opportunity to the marketplace.

The environmental benefits of displacing diesel or gasoline with RNG are significant. While combustion of RNG produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, the carbon comes from plant matter that fixed this carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide.  It has the added benefit of converting decaying matter that would normally release methane, a potent GHG, into usable energy. The air quality benefits are also extensive, as particulate matter levels decrease substantially when moving from diesel to CNG. Another resource for developing RNG as a vehicle fuel was published by the Biogas Association in 2013. The "Farm to Fuel Developers’ Guide" is available online for free download on the Biogas Association website.

The Biogas Association is now working on an RNG-as-vehicle-fuel project to assist developers in Ontario and help create a market for RNG. The project outlines business and sustainability cases for switching to RNG. The price of RNG is about the same as gasoline and diesel at about $1.20 per liter, compared to CNG at 60 cents per liter, including the cost of the fueling infrastructure.

Given the environmental advantages, this is a major win for organizations that make the switch. When a blended fuel is considered, the economic and environmental cases are strong, and can be quantified and reported to stakeholders, helping organizations meet important sustainability targets.

There are developing projects in Ontario that will produce RNG as a vehicle fuel, some underway and some being considered. The Biogas Association is working to help those developers, and market the fuel to municipalities and other sustainability leaders that value the benefits RNG can bring.

Surrey, British Columbia, is a recognized leader in reducing emissions from waste generated within the municipality, and has created a closed-loop waste solution. In 2014, Surrey will generate RNG at its anaerobic digestion facility and use it to fuel waste trucks picking up the organic waste.

Through the RNG-as-a-vehicle-fuel project, the Biogas Association plans to see more projects like Surrey’s developed in the coming years.

Author: Stephanie Thorson
Associate, Canadian Biogas Association