Renewable natural gas (RNG) can be captured to avoid greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when organic matter decomposes, such as garbage at landfills. It can be used to generate electricity or heat homes and businesses in the same way that natural gas is used now.   

What is renewable natural gas (RNG)? 

Renewable natural gas (RNG) or biomethane has the same chemical make-up as natural gas, CH4 or, commonly known as methane, but it is not a fossil fuel. RNG comes from purifying biogas which can be captured at the source of organic decomposition using technologies that have been used for more than 100 years, such as an anaerobic digester. 

For examples, the Southeast Eco360 near Moncton, New Brunswick captures roughly enough methane to power 425 homes each year, and a herd of 100 dairy cows can produce enough RNG to heat 12 homes. 

Once the biogas is captured and purified, the RNG left is the same as natural gas. The only difference is RNG comes from renewable sources that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere.  

How RNG is made and used

Source: Enbridge Gas

RNG can be used in existing pipelines for furnaces, boilers or even in vehicles the same as natural gas would be; Helping residents and businesses reduce their emissions without expensive investments in new equipment.  

In Canada there is a lot of organic matter that goes to waste every year. It is estimated there is the potential for enough RNG to replace about 1.3% of all energy used in Canada. That’s more than all the wind, solar and geothermal energy generated in Canada in 2019.  

What is the role for RNG in Atlantic Canada’s energy future? 

Renewable natural gas can play a relatively small but important role in Atlantic Canada’s energy future.   

It is one of the few non-emitting dispatchable energy sources. Unlike most other renewable energy sources, it is available as soon as it is needed, like on the coldest mornings. The technology exists to produce and burn it today, without needing homes and businesses to invest in expensive new equipment. It is also important to encourage RNG development capture GHGs from waste that would otherwise be emitted.  

RNG will be important for businesses that can’t electrify or switch energy sources easily like in large industrial companies or heavy transportation. Natural gas is commonly used in these sectors, but as fossil fuels are phased out, clean hydrogen or electrification technology are not ready yet. Using RNG instead of natural gas can help these sectors reduce emissions until other technology becomes available. 

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Full disclosure: The Atlantica Centre for Energy represents many of the largest energy producers and consumers in Atlantic Canada, including renewable energy. As well, the Centre’s members represent governments, research groups and academia. The Centre examines all types of energy to help decarbonize while growing economies across the region.