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UK study finds Bio-SNG could offer 90% reduction in lifecycle CO2; lower cost of carbon abatement than electrical solutions for transport applications

Cost of carbon abated for transport applications. Click to enlarge.

Bio-SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) delivered via the gas grid offers CO2 lifecycle savings of up to 90% compared with fossil fuel alternatives, and offer sa more cost-effective solution than electricity for carbon abatement in transport applications, according to a new feasibility study published by National Grid (UK), the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) and Centrica. The report was prepared by Progressive Energy and CNG Services.

Unlike biomethane produced by anaerobic digestion, Bio-SNG is formed by the conversion of thermally-derived syngas—i.e., via the gasification of biomass waste—into methane. Feedstocks can include more durable material such as woody biomass and wastes that are not broken down in traditional anaerobic digester plants. Although anaerobic digestion of organic material has been widely accepted as an important renewable energy technology, the production of Bio-SNG will required to move to higher levels of fossil fuel replacement, according to the report.

Bio-methane retains all the attributes of natural gas, with the crucial advantage that the fuel is renewable, offering substantial Carbon Dioxide savings. Few other renewable vectors are as fungible, with so few demand-side constraints. Biomethane can, and is being produced via the upgrading of biogas from Anaerobic Digestion. However, in order to achieve a step change in production capacity, alternative approaches such as via thermal routes (termed “Bio-SNG”) are necessary. Whilst technically feasible, this approach is less mature than anaerobic digestion.

—“Bio-SNG Feasibility Study”

The feasibility study appraises the opportunity afforded by Bio-SNG, building on a review of the issues associated with biomass sourcing, a detailed analysis of the technology options and applicability for injection into the UK grid, as well as a financial appraisal. It draws on benchmarking data to demonstrate the full lifecycle carbon dioxide savings and also demonstrates that the Bio-SNG route is a very cost effective route for decarbonization compared with other renewables. The report also suggests proposals for implementation pathways, specifically how a Bio-SNG demonstration could be established in the UK’s North East.

Among the conclusions of the report are:

  • Regulatory. Implementation of Bio-SNG will only take place with the appropriate tax, incentive and legislative environment. In addition to the incentives structures, the regulatory environment must be clear and appropriate, particularly with regard to: requirements for gas injection, emissions directives, and how the use of waste as a feedstock is treated.

  • Feedstocks. It is likely that the development of Bio-SNG facilities will require the developer to go upstream into the supply chain for both grown and waste derived fuels, however, specification and quality control are vital determinants of project success.

  • Process and technology. The process technology review established that, in principle, the major process operations required to produce Bio-SNG can be identified and assembled from existing technology suppliers. The essential first condition that must be satisfied, according to the report, is that feedstock specification and the process design are matched; the gasifier in particular can not be omnivorous.

    The report opts for the choice of an oxygen-blown direct bubbling fluidized bed gasifier, either pressurized or un-pressurized. Downstream of the gasifier the gas processing operations are conventional technology: heat recovery and power generation, gas scrubbing, water gas shift, methanation, conditioning and compression.

    The report does not identify an optimized process configuration for energy consumption. There is a balance to be struck, it notes, between gasifier operating pressure, gas train pressures and compression loads and the power consumption for Bio-SNG export.

  • Carbon savings. A full lifecycle analysis of Bio-SNG production undertaken by North Energy Associates found that for many types of feedstock, the lifecycle CO2e savings of Bio-SNG compared with fossil fuel alternatives are typically ~90%. This saving is similar for both conventional heating and transport applications.

  • Cost of carbon abated. Strategically the UK needs to consider the most cost effective approach for decarbonizing, the report notes. For heating applications using natural gas as a counterfactual, Bio-SNG offers a cost per tonne of CO2e abated of ~£175/te. This compares very favorably with direct biomass combustion for domestic applications (£395/te) and for small commercial applications (£285/te), as well as with Ground source heat pumps (£5500/te).

    For transport applications, Bio-SNG is significantly more cost effective than electrical solutions (either using grid electricity - £1,000/ te CO2e, or presuming offshore wind derived renewable electricity - £600/ te CO2e). However, the analysis does suggest that while Bio-SNG does offer significant carbon savings for the transport sector, on a cost per tonne abated of £400/ te CO2e, the heating sector is a preferable end market, the report suggests.

Along with all unconventional energy infrastructure development there is a need for novel financing strategies, as well as the necessary support regime. In terms of taking forward a UK demonstration project, the study indicates that Teesside is a highly attractive location because of its chemical industry, ability to utilise waste heat and co-products and extensive high pressure gas grid.




I have been promoting this for a long time as a good delivery system. If NG stays at 40 cents per therm wholesale, there is little chance of this.


I can see the main fuel of the future being methane, we already have an infrastructure for it.
Shale gas and coal bed methane and maybe methane hydrates are large resources.
Non food crops and waste are good feedstocks.
It's storable so can be used in conjunction with other long term energy sources CCGT's could make used of solar thermal systems adding heat to the steam cycle, and CCGT's are a good match to nukes and / or wind, quick to build and flexible


I always thought this was true and now I have a study to back it up. Thanks Mike Millikin.

Roger Pham

Thank you for this report, which confirms my opinion that gasification is the most expedient way to handle waste biomass. H2 and CO are the most immediate syngas products, which can be used to produce more H2 via the water-gas shift reaction, or combined via catalyst to produce methane (CH4). H2 can be very efficiently used in motor vehicles and in chemical industries, and methane can be transported efficiently via pipelines for home heating and electricity production, as well as in NG-converted vehicles. H2 is difficult to transport, but the partially pyrolyzed waste biomass is compact enough to be transported via trains or trucks to the local communities whereby the H2 can be produced and stored for local use in FCV's, at two to three times the efficiency of conventional ICE (NG vehicles included).


"implementation of Bio-SNG will only take place with the appropriate tax, incentive and legislative environment."

They are referring to the U.K. and not the U.S. but it still applies. If there can be a price floor and ceiling for natural gas and an offset for bio-SNG it might work.

"heat recovery and power generation"

This makes it more of an energy plant where very little is wasted which makes it even more attractive. If we get an energy bill, this could be part of it.


I agree; the methane economy has some huge advantages. True it's a GHG but then again it's wafting up our noses from our guts. Nat gas is 80+% CH4 and it can be blended with fermentation biomethane and bio-syngas. When NG is pricey because we've burned too much in power stations the gas grid will still have a use as a vehicle fuelling network.

I see from the Robert Rapier article in The Oil Drum that GTL has less than half the EROEI of natgas. We're throwing 50% of the energy away just for the convenience of liquid form. Compression of methane into 200 bar cylinders (c.f. scuba tanks) is relatively safe and uses less than 5% of the contained energy. Piston engine cars may need to be van shaped to fit a large cylinder and the engines may need souping up to get petrol style performance. Provided guvmints don't slap huge fuel taxes on CNG then NGVs should compete with PHEVs. The sticker price of the vehicles should be lower since they won't need lithium batteries.

Of course when NG is used up sooner than we think bio-syngas could also run combined cycle generators that cut in when wind and solar fade out. This line of research should be encouraged and also the use of nuclear or renewable hydrogen as an input.


There is a 20% loss turning oil into gasoline. If the direct methane to methanol route can be perfected it might be a 20% loss as well.

I can see trucks and buses running on CNG and DME, but not cars. The bulky heavy tank and reduced range are not attractive, so liquid fuels with the same infrastructure range and convenience make more sense.


@SJC don't forget about ANG. Adsorbed Natural Gas tanks don't need to be "bulky." If you fill a standard high pressure CNG cylinder with nanoporous material such as activated charcoal (the same stuff used in fish tank filters) the cylinder will hold MORE natural gas at high pressure than a tank would hold without being filled with the material.

Or, in more interesting and game-changing scenarios, the standard high pressure tank can hold the SAME amount of natural gas at LESS pressure, making filling the tank much easier, or ANG tanks can be free-shape containers since the pressures are a lot less and the cylindrical shape is not necessary. A lightly pressurized natural gas tank can look like just about anything and be fitted into the same location as a standard gasoline tank in a car. Tanks can be bigger, have greater volume and hold more gas, thus giving more driving range.

Another thing to consider is octane. With an octane rating of up to 130, NG has the potential to optimize an engine's thermodynamic efficiency through a high compression ratio. With that you'd get more out of the fuel.


I would like to know cost estimation of the product. Carbon Credit play is temporary business and I hardly believe those graphs showing less CO2 footprint for EREV having bio range extender and using bio-, wind or solar- based electricity. Even EREV can use SNG based electricity with power generation efficiency 90% CHP mode, (or 60% in condensing mode) when ICE based average efficiency is 15%. On other hand burning biomass directly for power or heat generation could be much more efficient business.


I think its similar to LPG but its renewable.
I think it is in some respects. Our government did try to promote the conversion of vehicles to run on LPG. Fuel tax is favourable, so rather than getting raped at the pump for petrol at $7 per gallon, it costs only $4.00. There are a few vehicles that run around on LPG, with an additional tank usually retrofitted in the spare wheel well.

I thought of a conversion myself, but then the Government has stopped any incentives for conversion. By the time you've factored in the cost of conversion, perhaps also increases in insurance premiums and the uncertainty that our government, who treats the motorist as a cash cow, could raise taxes for LPG, it's not worth it. It'll be diesel for me next.


Gas power plants are not that clean @ 1.3 lbs CO2 per Kwh versus 2.0 lbs for good coal power plants. The may reason for the 500 coal power plants in USA (and China) is cost. NG power plants cost $0.03/Kwh more than coal power plants to operate. That is equivalent to $50/ton CO2 (reduction) using NG.

The only way to convince Power Cos to switch to Gas would be with the application of a $50/ton/CO2 tax. That would put the two on a similar economic footing.

A similar carbon tax + a $0.03/Kwh tax credit could also convince many to switch to solar and wind.

Its all a question of $$$ gain.

We will eat just about anything if it is cheap enough.


The issue with gasification via pyrolysis is that a lot of the energy in the feedstock is lost as heat. More energy is lost in the conversion of CO+3H2 to CH4+H2O.

Supercritical water gasification may be able to work with nuclear heat from Gen IV reactors, yielding essentially 100% of the chemical energy of the biomass inputs in the product gases. Roughly 30% of the carbon is produced as C1-C3 hydrocarbons which need no further processing to be used as vehicle fuel. See archive/Files/40_2_ANAHEIM_04-95_0304.pdf


Harvey, in many cases when you compare the costs of new build power stations gas comes out cheaper than coal even without a carbon price. As well as much shorter build times and much less infrastructure for coal handling + ash disposal etc.

EP, thats all good stuff. There is also the option for using supercritical water as a pre treatment for AD, and various options for low temperature catalytic gasification.

Also biogas in combination with solar, wind and pumped storage means we can have renewable electricity 24/7


ANG is good, but you need to clean up the NG a lot before putting it in the tank, contaminants ruin the ability of the adsorbant. It would be good from the stand point of the home refueling station to compress to a lower pressure.

The Honda GX had a bit more than 100 mile range with a big tank. The same tank with adsorbant would go the same distance but at a lower pressure. Any weight saved in the tank would be offset by the weight of the adsorbant. 100 mile range will not make it IMO.


Also biogas in combination with solar, wind and pumped storage means we can have renewable electricity 24/7

That's true, as the Germans have already shown;
"The secure and constant provision of power anywhere and at anytime by renewable energies is now made possible thanks to the Combined Power Plant. The Combined Power Plant links and controls 36 wind, solar, biomass and hydropower installations spread throughout Germany. It is just as reliable and powerful as a conventional large-scale power station.

The Combined Renewable Energy Power Plant shows how, through joint control of small and decentralised plants, it is possible to provide reliable electricity in accordance with needs. The Combined Power Plant optimally combines the advantages of various renewable energy sources. Wind turbines and solar modules help generate electricity in accordance with how much wind and sun is available. Biogas and hydropower are used to make up the difference: they are converted into electricity as needed in order to balance out short-term fluctuations, or are temporarily stored. Technically, there is nothing preventing us from 100 per cent provision with renewables.

The Combined Power Plant is an initiative of the companies Enercon GmbH, Schmack Biogas AG and SolarWorld AG, and is supported by many partners from the renewable energy sector.



Thomas Lankester

I have see a report on biomethane generation in the UK. Wish I could find the link but the crux was that is can supply a significant fraction of the existing UK gas demand. Meeting the full UK demand, let alone an expanded demand for tranport purposes, could well be out of rreach as there are feedstock limits. If that is true then it could make an finainncially viable contribution but not meet all the UK's transport energy needs.


In the U.S. we could make 100 billion gallons of methanol OR 100 billion therms of SNG from biomass, but NOT both. We can mix and match according to needs, but we use 230 billion therms of NG now per year.

We can conserve, but just so much and that is it. We can use solar thermal to heat homes and water. We can use PV to conserve NG use at power plants. But we need to shift one heck of a lot to make it even begin to work. Pickens wanted wind turbines to save NG to use in trucks. It might work but requires a HUGE investment.


The UK national grid said biogas could meet about half of residential gas demand, which is good but by no means enough, but with insulation, solar thermal and heat pumps it doesn't have to


Still has to be more efficient to burn gas in a generating plant to power EV's than to power individual ICE's. That's what was wrong with Pickens' whole concept.


"Wrong" depends on how near-term your goals are. It's much quicker to co-fuel large fleets of semi-trucks with LNG than to get the American public driving EVs.


Once big rig drivers see that using CNG, LNG or DME saves them a lot of money on fuel, they may start to convert. That would presume that the fueling stations would provide the fuel and perhaps endanger the delivery of conventional diesel from their suppliers.

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