Fossil Fuels

Could ‘fugitive methane’ be harnessed as a sustainable energy alternative?

By November 5, 2018 No Comments

‘Fugitive methane’ a not so human problem. How could ‘fugitive methane’ be harnessed as a sustainable energy alternative?

Global energy storage & supply is under scrutiny. With the global electrification of the transport systems of the world at the forefront of international debate, are there alternatives to the global energy storage & supply needs of the human race? In the face of the mid-term use of electrification to reduce emissions, what can we do beyond & for the future generations?

What is fugitive methane?

‘Methane’ is a naturally occurring gas being produced from natural gas fissures, wetlands, soils, biomass burning, gas production & geological sources.  ‘Fugitive methane’ is the process of naturally occurring leakages of methane into the earth’s atmosphere. Although the human contribution to global methane emissions is vast, with some 330 million tonnes (Mt) of methane produced by human activities such as agriculture; the naturally occurring sources of methane accounts for 300 million tonnes (Mt) of methane emitted each year in to the atmosphere.

Methane is a much more potent GHG than Co2. With approximately 20% of the global warming of the atmosphere being apportioned to human global methane emissions since 1750, this advancement has been contributory to a 1 Degree Celsius temperature rise. (Kirschke et al., 2013). (1)

Methane being released, absorbs infra-red radiation from the earths ether & then radiates this heat back into the surrounding atmosphere, subsequently warming it. However, as a naturally occurring gas, which usually is reported as mostly having been predominantly produced from the agriculture industry; how can the human race begin to understand the impact of this natural product & how could we harness this natural asset?

Why is it missed in the ‘emissions’ debates?

The emissions debate rumbles on in the media & as seems to be the norm, cars & vehicles are at the brunt of the negative press. However, slowly but surely, more & more leading Scientists, Policymakers & Industry Leaders are identifying the need for a combination of energy & fuels for a zero emissions future. It is with this in mind that we need to consider how naturally occurring, harmful gases, can be harnessed for the benefit of human kind.

‘Without accurate fugitive emissions estimates, policymakers trying to curb emissions can’t make informed choices about whether to ramp up natural gas production. And there’s currently a big debate going about natural gas’s role in helping countries decarbonise their energy sectors, and whether countries should use it as a “transition” fuel.’ (2)

How harmful is fugitive methane?

Methane emissions are considerably more dangerous GHG than Co2 & 28 times more effective (averaged over 100 years) at trapping infrared radiation.

What is the relevance to gas production, particularly ‘shale’ gas?

Naturally occurring gas deposits, particularly ‘shale gas’ run the risk of producing an abundance of fugitive methane by the very nature of the extraction procedures. With ‘fracking’ being a very notable media topic recently & with Cuadrilla now in it’s third week of gas extraction in Lancashire; what procedures do they have in place to ensure fugitive methane emissions are kept to a minimum? & is this possible by the very nature of methane being a naturally occurring gas?

Why could ‘fracking’ emit dangerous methane emissions?

The Environment Agency report: ‘Considerations for quantifying fugitive methane releases from shale gas operations’ explores the far-reaching ramifications of shale gas operations & in particular the monitoring of the methane emissions in relation to shale gas extraction.

‘As well as being a potentially significant pollutant in its own right, methane may be an indicator for the presence of other chemicals, and may also indicate problems with the process that need to be addressed. The presence of methane in the air also indicates a loss of potentially valuable product for the operator. As unconventional gas operations are an emerging industry in the UK, there is a strategic need to develop a database of measurements that can be used to develop routine emissions estimates appropriate for UK conditions. This would bring the unconventional gas industry into line with other comparable sectors (e.g. conventional gas production and processing, the landfill sector), where investment in monitoring has been used to develop routine methods of estimating emissions, based on generic factors derived from emission measurements.’ (3)

How can we contain & harness ‘fugitive methane’?

‘Fugitive methane’ can be captured & harnessed & has the possibility of either being burnt or converted to liquid fuels. This has the potential to reduce GHG, by capturing & refining one of the most potent GHG; ‘methane’.

How can ‘CryoPower’ or a cryogenic engine convert fugitive methane to a sustainable energy source?

Manmade GHG are underestimated because they don’t account for methane from drains. Professor Andrew Atkins Global Technical Lead & Senior Technologist at Ricardo PLC believes that an efficient engine – CryoPower – is the ideal way to use the fuel generated from ‘fugitive methane’, together with LiN from renewables.

Benjamin West – Operations Manager, Dolphin N2 said “The discussion on emissions is becoming much wider to encompass sources that we previously thought of as benign.”