AgricultureBiofuelEnvironment & ClimateSustainability

How can the agriculture sector transform fugitive methane into sustainable, renewable fuel and energy?

By March 22, 2023 No Comments

Methane is responsible for approximately 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. (1)

Despite inaccuracies in the recording of methane emissions, the most recent report provided in the Global Methane Budget suggests that annual global methane emissions are around 580 Mt. This estimate includes approximately 40% of the total emissions coming from natural sources and approximately 60% of the emissions coming from human activity.

The largest anthropogenic (human made methane emissions) source of methane emissions is from the agriculture sector. Agriculture is estimated to be responsible for around one quarter of emissions, closely followed by the energy sector, which includes emissions from coal, oil, natural gas and biofuels. (1)

A report published by The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and the Changing Markets Foundation in November 22 focussed on how emissions from big meat and dairy companies are heating up the planet.

The IATP report estimates that combined methane emissions from five of the largest meat corporations and ten of the largest dairy corporations are roughly 12.8 million tonnes. This figure equates to over 80% of the European Union’s entire methane footprint. (2)

These companies’ emissions represent around 3.4% of all global anthropogenic methane emissions and 11.1% of the world’s livestock-related methane. The report also provides the latest estimates for the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the same companies, which amount to around 734 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – higher than the emissions of Germany.  (2)

During COP26 more than 110 countries committed to the Global Methane Pledge (‘the Pledge’) The goal of ‘the pledge’ was to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

However, five of the countries who signed up to the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 have been increasing not decreasing their livestock methane emissions over the last ten years.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change found that following countries had increased their livestock methane emissions with the US (over 5%), Brazil (over 6%), China (over 17%), New Zealand (over 3%) and the Netherlands (almost 2%). (2)

Canada, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and France however have achieved small reductions of livestock methane, but the pace of reductions is not in line with the Pledge.

The only country with a reported decrease of more than 5% over the last decade is France, the biggest livestock methane emitter in the EU. (2)

Therefore, with this in mind how could the agriculture sector and in particular the meat and dairy sector find a way to reduce their methane emissions?

One solution gaining global traction is adding seaweed to cow feed which has been found to reduce methane formation in cows’ guts by more than 80%.

Bill Gates is one investor in this new technology and has invested $12m in Australian company Rumin8 who are developing the seaweed food additive.

Rumin8’s range of supplements for cows are being developed to reduce the amount of methane they belch out. The feed includes red seaweed and rangeland plants that replicate “nature’s anti-methanogenic compound” and cut methane output. (3)

But what can be done about the fugitive methane produced from the vast quantities of manure the global cattle sector produces?

Well, it could easily become a sustainable, renewable fuel.

One of the most talked about presentations from the recent Future Propulsion conference was the session ‘The fugitive Methane Tractor and its Role in the Energy Independent Farm’.

Alastair Walshaw from CNH Industrial & Dr Chris Mann from Bennamann Ltd presented the session and explored how fugitive methane can not only fuel tractors but can also support energy independent farms.

Dr Chris Mann – Bennamann’s Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Technology Officer – explained how methane produced from dairy farms is one way to support the circular economy and produce a permanent supply of onsite fuel for the farming communities.

Dr Mann explained how storing animal waste as a solid-liquid mixture known as manure slurry in open pits, often called slurry lagoons, results in fugitive emissions escaping from the slurry surface to the surrounding air. (5)

Bennamann Ltd have developed a process which captures fugitive emissions and turns the methane into useful, sustainable, renewable energy products – compressed fugitive methane, or CFM, and liquid fugitive methane, LFM.

This biomethane can replace traditional fossil fuels such as petrol, diesel, heating oil, propane gas and liquid natural gas, also known as LNG. (5)

Bennamann Ltd are trialling this process at dairy farms and currently move the methane offsite for processing and then return as a usable fuel. However, plans are in process to find ways of processing methane on farms and enabling the direct access to the methane fuel, removing additional CO2 generated by its movement off and on site.

Dr Mann explained how Methane capture can also mean another income for dairy farmers. In its liquid form it’s on a par with diesel and easier to move than in its gaseous format, with any excess being used to generate energy and being fed directly into the national grid. (4)

Since the Future Propulsion Conference, CNH Industrial have acquired a controlling stake in Bennamann, reinforcing methane’s strategic role in farming’s energy independence. (5)

Dr Chris Mann, Bennamann’s Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Technology Officer, said “CNH Industrial’s investment will help Bennamann dramatically accelerate scale-up in the deployment of our technology and realise the full potential of our integrated systems worldwide”. (5)

Methane may not be a perfect solution, but in use it is recycling the gas and therefore not producing any more. Methane proposes a sustainable and readily available option for farmers and can benefit the circular economy. (4)

Written by Katy-Jane Mason for and on behalf of Dolphin N2