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The Power of Methane Gas

Aug 29, 2008
The experience of many countries with implementing methane emissions reducing technologies and practices have shown that reducing this potent greenhouse gas makes both environmental and economic sense. Countries such as the US and Germany have shared their experiences with other countries; assisting others to reduce climate-changing emissions, generating greenhouse gas emissions reduction credits, and creating new markets for new products and expertise.

Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas (GHG) 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) and responsible for 16 per cent of global GHG emissions. The lion's share of anthropogenic (human induced) methane emissions comes from landfills, natural gas and oil systems, agriculture and coal mining. Many of these emissions are preventable; doing nothing to curb them not only contributes to climate change, but also fails to capitalize on the potential profit of utilizing this previously-emitted, methane gas. Methane emissions reducing technologies and practices have already developed to the point where cost-effective solutions now exist for capturing methane gas and converting it into clean energy.

More than 22 countries are currently working with the private sector to both raise awareness of methane's energy potential and support technological and innovative research in this area. This work has assisted them in capturing 15 per cent (17 mega tonnes (Mt)) of the 111 Mt of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2007. Preliminary studies indicate that an additional 15-20 Mt of CO2 equivalent emissions could be captured through the application of cost-effective practices and technologies to other landfills and oil and gas distribution systems.

Finding ways to expand the practice of capturing and harnessing the power of methane gas is an important ingredient of these countries' climate change strategies. And you don't have to look far to find opportunities for capturing previously emitted methane emissions for use as green energy. One example is the Integrated Audits of Upstream Oil and Gas Facilities which were carried out on 17 facilities over a three year period by the Western Canadian Environmental Technology Advancement Corporation.

These audits have reduced energy use by up to 15 per cent, with an estimated CO2 emissions reduction of 20 per cent and a total cost savings of $14 million dollars over the 17 facilities. If the energy savings identified in the 17 audited facilities were extended to all upstream facilities throughout Alberta, the total estimated savings could add up to $500 million annually with an annual reduction of up to 7 Mt of CO2 equivalent emissions.

This past July, Brazil, Russia, India, China, the United States, Canada Mexico, Ukraine, and ten others, became an official member of the Methane to Markets Partnership. Altogether, member countries account for over 60 per cent of global methane emissions from the four sources being targeted landfills, agriculture, natural gas and oil systems, and coal mines. The Partnership is pooling expertise and creating a network with the aim of reducing GHG emissions by promoting the recovery of methane and putting it to use as a source of clean energy. This strategy will also provide an opportunity to develop additional markets for methane-reducing technologies and expertise.

Through co-operation between developed and developing nations, the Methane to Markets Partnership has significant potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. By 2015 the initiative could reduce methane emissions by 180 Mt of CO2 equivalents. Many countries involved in the partnership have underdeveloped or crumbling infrastructures in the areas that the partnership is tackling. Monterrey, Mexico offers a good illustration of the impact international co-operation on methane gas can have. In a city of almost 4 million which produces over 4000 tonnes of waste daily, the municipal government is poised to meet 80 per cent of its electricity needs with energy from landfill gas. Already the gas is powering the transit system and lighting Monterrey's streets at night.

As the Methane to Market's Partnership enters into its second year, the partnership is focusing on how best to strengthen communication mechanisms to share lessons learned amongst parties, and to stimulate private-sector investment to advance the up-take of methane emissions reducing technologies and practices. While government participation is a central component to the partnership, given the above two areas of focus, the partnership is looking to build participation in its Project Network to enhance the input of private sector entities to the Partnership.

People and organizations that have been involved in past methane recovery and utilization projects, such as local governments, private companies, research institutions, development banks, and other governmental and non-governmental organizations, have valuable insights into the success and also failures of past projects. The active involvement of these Project Network Partners is key to the success of Methane to Markets initiative.
About the Author
James Nash is a climate scientist with Greatest Planet (www.greatestplanet.org). Greatest Planet is a non-profit environmental organization specialising in carbon offset investments.

James Nash is solely responsible for the contents of this article.
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