When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule in July expanding cellulosic fuel pathways to include renewable compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) derived from various sources of biogas, a surge of cellulosic fuel credits from biogas was widely anticipated. After two months of reporting, the speculation was correct. August and September saw record volumes of cellulosic Renewable Information Numbers (RINs). These high volumes were not generated from liquid fuels like ethanol or renewable gasoline, but from renewable CNG and LNG.
In August, the EPA reported 3.5 million cellulosic RINs from renewable CNG/LNG. In September, cellulosic RINs from renewable CNG/LNG surged to 7.5 million. This column went to press before the October volumes were reported, but I expect to see similar volumes reported.
Prior to August, there were only a total of 77,000 cellulosic RINs generated during the first seven months of 2014. For the entire calendar year of 2013, only 423,000 cellulosic RINs were generated. Expanding the cellulosic fuel pathways to also include renewable CNG and LNG from biogas generated from landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, or agricultural digesters that process manure, crop resides or green waste is helping to meet the volumetric targets for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This comes at a time when the very first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities are beginning to come online; thus, we will be seeing higher and higher volumes of cellulosic fuel reported month-to-month. In order to keep the positive momentum, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and diversify our fuel supply with cleaner sources, the RFS needs to remain intact.
The generation of 7.5 million cellulosic RINs in September sounds impressive, but how does that translate into fuel? The amount of renewable CNG and LNG from 7.5 million cellulosic RINs is enough to run 471 garbage trucks for an entire year. The equivalent of 471 garbage trucks would be burning renewable fuel instead of conventional diesel, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air quality.
Based on internal analysis conducted by the Great Plains Institute, the full potential for renewable CNG and LNG is roughly 30 billion gallons of fuel annually. We are only scratching the surface on accessing biogas’ potential as a source of transportation fuel. By reaching ten percent of the full potential, we could run approximately 190,000 garbage trucks and an additional 50,000 heavy duty vehicles on renewable CNG/LNG each year. This would exceed the needs of the current garbage truck fleet in the U.S.
The recovery of biogas from organic materials in landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, and agricultural operations is nothing new. It has been happening for decades, even centuries. However, the RFS is providing a premium market for biogas that can be cleaned and compressed to be used as a transportation fuel. Renewable CNG and LNG can help to provide a renewable fuel source for the heavy duty vehicle market, where there are not as many renewable options. These are exciting developments for the biogas industry and will have positive impacts for our environment, communities, and economy.
*This post first appeared in Biomass Magazine.*