We know fossil fuels are a finite resource and that burning them is terrible for the environment, but modern technology doesn’t offer much in the way of alternatives. Biogas is often touted as an eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but it isn’t always as green as it seems to be. Thankfully, there are ways to make biogas more sustainable.
What is Biogas?
Biogas is a name given to a class of renewable energy produced when systems called anaerobic digesters break down organic waste and turn it into a gaseous fuel called biogas. These digesters use bacteria and other microorganisms in an anaerobic environment, meaning there is no oxygen. As the microorganisms break down the organic waste, they release a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, which can then be burned as fuel or converted into power or transformed into vehicle fuel.
Biogas vs. Natural Gas
Biogas is clearly better than natural gas when it comes to sustainability and environmental impact. About 80% of the natural gas mined in the United States uses a process called fracking, where mining companies force water and chemicals deep into the earth to break up the gas pockets for harvesting. This leaves behind all sorts of toxic residue, and in some cases, has even caused localized earthquakes.
There’s no need for any of those dangerous or toxic techniques when you’re simply processing organic waste. As long as the result is continued operation of everything from HVAC systems to motor vehicles and machines, taking the environmentally friendly route is the better option.
Benefits of Biogas
In addition to serving as a seemingly green source of fuel, biogas has many other benefits. It removes organic waste from landfills, where it would biodegrade and release methane — one of the worst greenhouse gases — into the atmosphere. Biogas digesters also produce methane, but it isn’t released into the environment and used in a controlled manner
It also prevents substances like nitrogen-rich animal waste from entering the local ecosystem and throwing things out of balance. In theory, as long as humans and animals keep producing waste, biogas is also infinitely renewable. Ideally, we’ll be able to reduce food waste that might otherwise end up in a landfill or a biogas digester, but in the meantime, we can reduce the impact it has on the planet.
Not as Green as It Seems
Biogas might look like the perfect solution to our reliance on petroleum-based natural gas, but it isn’t ready to take over that mantle quite yet. No one is investing in improving biofuel technology. It’s not as efficient as it could be, and without that improvement, cities aren’t going to invest in large-scale biogas production facilities.
It also works better in areas that have a lot of organic waste, such as rural farming communities. Urban centers may generate just as much refuse, but it’s much more difficult to separate it from the rest of the garbage the average household generates.
This lack of improvement also means that there are impurities present in the biogas, such as hydrogen sulphide which can cause damage and lead to the need for costly repairs. The fact that biogas facilities generate methane can be problematic as well. If there’s a breach in methane storage, all the good work that’s been done is basically for nothing. The same greenhouse gases that would be released if left in the landfill would still enter the atmosphere.
The Future of Biogas
Making biogas more sustainable and turning it into the renewable green energy source that it’s promised to be won’t be a simple task. However, if we hope to get away from our reliance on fossil fuels and create a healthier planet for future generations, we’ll need to make improving this technology a priority.