Biomethane or biogas is a natural byproduct that is produced from biomass waste in any agricultural setting. Long seen as a pollutant or waste product that had to be burnt off or dispersed into the atmosphere, this very byproduct may be the present and future key to sustainable energy production in agriculture.
Cleaned and processed, biomethane can produce commercial grade renewable natural gas (RNG) that is 100% compatible with conventional natural gas – so much so that RNG can be injected directly into the public natural gas distribution network.
But could RNG instead be consumed directly on the farm?
RNG for commercial greenhouses
The most common application for burning RNG in agriculture is gas generator-driven combined heat and power (CHP) systems for large commercial greenhouses. These systems are already widely available and make for an easy transition from diesel to natural gas.
From highway to combine
So, what about farm machinery?
If renewable natural gas can power city buses, semi tractors and garbage trucks, why can’t RNG drive combines, harvesters and other farm vehicles?
Well, it can. It’s just a matter of more manufacturers producing machinery with natural gas engines and more farmers adopting the technology.
But the move is already underway, with major companies like Cummins bringing new models to market.
Lower energy expenditure and reduced transportation costs
Natural gas already costs significantly less when compared directly to diesel in the energy marketplace. Imagine the economic gains when farms are able to produce their own RNG in-house.
The savings are two-fold. One, because agricultural businesses will be producing instead of purchasing, but also because they will no longer need to pay the high transportation costs of bringing fuel from faraway locations all the way to the farm.
Natural gas engines offer energy flexibility
A major benefit of converting to natural gas engines is that RNG powered systems can also run on conventional natural gas if biogas production capacity dips below the facility’s needs. This allows for 100% consumption of onsite produced RNG without any risk of loss in productivity.
Waste not, want not
The potential to power farms using biowaste extends well beyond the conversion of livestock and crop residuals as organic waste from local households and businesses could easily be added to the mix of biomass digested for RNG production.
In addition, leftovers from the digestion process can be repurposed once again to fertilize fields.
Biogas isn’t just a means for sustainable agriculture in terms of the economics of energy production, the RNG produced from biomethane offers a near zero CO2 profile, pulling nearly as much carbon from the atmosphere as it generates. As technology advances, this positive environmental impact will only get better.