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NGO testifies biomethane should be part of NY state climate legislation

The NGO Energy Vision, which researches clean energy and transportation technologies, filed testimony with the New York State Legislature making the case for including biomethane made from organic waste as a renewable energy source in the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA).

At a legislative hearing on the CCPA, Energy Vision founder Joanna Underwood testified that New York has a massive organic waste stream emitting prolific amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over 20 years. But methane from organic wastes can also be processed into renewable biomethane, the lowest-carbon fuel available today. That could be crucial to meeting the State’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and CCPA objectives.

Energy Vision estimates that turning New York’s organic wastes into biomethane could reduce overall GHG emissions in the State by up to 15%. The California Air Resources Board has verified biomethane as net carbon-neutral or even net carbon-negativeover its lifecycle (when used as a road fuel displacing diesel in truck and bus fleets).

Other states have policies enabling biomethane development, which New York could consider adopting under the CCPA framework. Low Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS) in California and Oregon spurred biomethane development by requiring blending petroleum-based fuels with renewable alternatives. New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner introduced a similar measure for New York, and is exploring ways to expand anaerobic digestion facilities to process New York’s farm and food wastes into biomethane.



There are several major issues with "biomethane" (landfill gas), some of them short-term and one major one long-term.  Short term:

  1. The supply is extremely limited.  The waste stream is small compared to fuel demand, and only a fraction of that stream comes off as methane.  A large fraction is emitted as CO2 which is generally vented.
  2. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and any leakage from the system is going to have a massive climate impact.  Anything over about 1% leakage will have more warming influence over the next century than the same amount of energy from petroleum; typical leakage rates are multiples of this.

Then there's the long-term issue:
  • Building an infrastructure for biomethane-from-waste tends to lock in that pathway.  It will create opposition to alternative conversion methods and products, such as ones which do not produce methane at all, and which are superior for battling climate change.

We must tread carefully in these matters, because options which look attractive today can become major headaches tomorrow.

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