Joint study reveals NZ renewable gas potential

A joint study by engineering firm Beca, gas distribution company First Gas Group and dairy co-operative Fonterra revealed renewable gas is a ‘viable, untapped solution’ to decarbonising New Zealand’s residential natural gas network.

The report found renewable gas has the potential to replace nearly 20% of the country’s total gas usage by 2050. It concluded that 4% of New Zealand’s energy-related emissions could be avoided with biogas upgraded into renewable gas. This could be produced using existing and available organic waste, such as food or farm waste.

Eleanor Grant, Beca’s industrial sustainability lead and co-author of the report, said the findings prove the viability of renewable gas, which can be used in existing pipeline networks, appliances and equipment, while saving up to 19 times the carbon emissions.

“The recently released Climate Change Report highlighted the opportunity for low emission gases such as biogas and hydrogen in New Zealand to decarbonise industry but indicated a lack of research in the space,” said Grant.

“Our joint study is the evidence needed to prove that renewable gas is a very real solution to decarbonising New Zealand and one that could realistically be having an impact by 2030.”

The study’s estimates indicate that the implementation of wide-scale AD in New Zealand could produce enough renewable gas to supply all residential users and three quarters of commercial gas users with carbon-free fuel.

“About 10% of this renewable gas can be produced, cleaned and sold economically today, using readily available feedstocks, based on current gas sale prices,” said Grant.

“A further 30-40% would become available in the coming decades as natural gas prices increase, driven by Emission Trading Scheme price rises and natural gas scarcity.

“If we forecast to 2050 the economics of this are likely to shift further, which would make things like the hard-to-utilise feedstocks like animal manure and crop residue, which don’t currently stack up economically, become viable.”

Fonterra’s head of energy and climate, Linda Mulvihill, said the study provides another potential option to help the co-operative get to net-zero emissions in manufacturing by 2050.

“We’re committed to playing our part to help the country transition to a low carbon future,” said Mulvihill.

“We know the more alternative energy sources we have, the more opportunity we have to utilise the right renewable energy sources in the right place. This study is a good example of how working together – sharing science, expertise and experience – we can find solutions for the good of New Zealand.”

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