The automotive, heavy-duty, off-highway, marine and aviation industries are being regulated to reduce and eradicate CO2 emissions.

When it comes to understanding the impact of GHG’s on climate change, CO2 often takes centre stage. However, another potent GHG, methane (CH4), cannot be overlooked.

Methane is a powerful GHG and has a warming potential over 25 times greater over a 100-year period than that of CO2. Methane is released into the atmosphere through various natural and human derived sources. Natural methane sources include wetlands and oceans, while human activities such as agriculture, fossil fuel production/use, waste management, and coal mining contribute significantly to methane emissions.

According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, anthropogenic methane emissions are responsible for approximately 60% of global methane emissions.

Measuring methane emissions accurately poses many challenges due to their diverse sources and variable lifetimes in the atmosphere. However, scientific estimates suggest that anthropogenic activity contributes significantly to global methane emissions.

The expectations of the 2015 Paris Agreement bind the countries who have signed up to it. With a net zero policy being adopted by many signatories, countries across the globe are making seemingly sweeping changes to their infrastructure to reduce GHG’s and reduce global temperatures.

However, while urban and rural emissions are being aggressively addressed in some quarters, methane emissions do not seem to be under the same strict regimen as other GHG’s.

A recent report by The Guardian newspaper has highlighted one of the largest methane leaks from two fossil fuel fields in Turkmenistan.

Satellite data has revealed that the methane leaks caused more global heating in 2022 than the entire carbon emissions of the UK.

The data produced by Kayrros for the Guardian found that the western fossil fuel field in Turkmenistan, on the Caspian coast, leaked 2.6m tonnes of methane in 2022. The eastern field emitted 1.8m tonnes. Together, the two fields released emissions equivalent to 366m tonnes of CO2, more than the UK’s annual emissions, which are the 17th-biggest in the world. (1)

Methane emissions have surged alarmingly since 2007 and this acceleration may be the biggest threat to keeping below 1.5C of global heating, according to scientists. It also seriously risks triggering catastrophic climate tipping points, researchers say. (1)

If methane is such a dangerous heating gas, why is it not receiving as much pressure as the CO2 emissions from cars, trucks, agriculture, marine and aviation?

When comparing methane emissions to automotive emissions globally it is important to understand the relative contributions of these sources to overall GHG emissions.

As mentioned above methane emissions come from various naturally occurring sources such as wetlands and oceans and anthropogenic activities are responsible for approximately 60% of global methane emissions.

Transportation is a large contributor to GHG emissions globally. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the transportation sector accounts for approximately 24% of energy-related CO2 emissions. This includes emissions from not only passenger vehicles but also heavy-duty, off-highway, marine, aviation and trains.

In terms of total GHG emissions, CO2 remains the largest contributor globally.

This is primarily as a result of the burning of fossil fuels for energy production, industrial processes, and transportation. Methane emissions, on the other hand, have a lower overall contribution to total GHG emissions but pose a significantly higher warming potential per unit than CO2.

It is well known that human beings need to reduce both methane and automotive emissions to address climate change. While the transportation sector’s CO2 emissions are substantial, methane emissions pose a more potent warming effect in a shorter timeframe.

Therefore, what options are there to mitigate methane emissions?

Capturing and utilizing methane emissions from landfills, improving livestock management practices, and enhancing energy efficiency in the fossil fuel industry are just a few examples of the strategies being used to mitigate methane emissions.

Carbon capture is one of the key strategies being adopted by governments across the globe to mitigate CO2 emissions. But what about methane emissions and how can these harmful gases be reduced and potentially reused?

The Global Methane Pledge was launched at COP 26 in November 2021 in Glasgow.

Over 100 countries signed the pledge which saw them agree to take voluntary actions to contribute to a collective effort to reduce global methane emissions at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030. These actions could eliminate over 0.2˚C warming by 2050.

This target is a global one with participants committing to moving towards using the highest tier IPCC good practice inventory methodologies, as well as working to continuously improve the accuracy, transparency, consistency, comparability, and completeness of national greenhouse gas inventory reporting under the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement, and to provide greater transparency in key sectors. (2)

Actions of course speak louder than words, so what actions are being undertaken to reduce global methane emissions and what technologies are being implemented to do so?

Since the Global Methane Pledge was launched it has generated extraordinary momentum for methane action.  Countries backing the pledge have grown from just over 100 at the COP26 launch to 150.  More than 50 countries have developed national methane action plans or are in the process of doing so and substantial new financial resources are being directed to methane action.

But what about projects which are actively reducing and even repurposing methane emissions?

Earlier this year we reported on ‘The fugitive Methane Tractor and its Role in the Energy Independent Farm’ seminar at the Future Propulsion Conference.

UK start-up Bennamann highlighted how repurposed and recycled methane produced from dairy farms is one way to support the circular economy and produce a permanent supply of onsite renewable fuel for the farming communities.

Bennamann Co-founder Dr Chris 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 methane 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. (3)

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.

In its liquid form, captured methane is 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.

Since the Future Propulsion Conference, CNH Industrial have acquired a controlling stake in Bennamann, reinforcing methane’s strategic role in farming’s energy independence. (3)

So, where is this technology being used and how can it support the reduction of methane emissions?

New Holland Agriculture, part of the CNH Industrial group, have developed the T7 Methane Powered tractor prototype. The T7 is the world’s first LNG tractor. The T7 builds on the heritage of the commercialised T6 Methane Power, fuelled by compressed natural gas, but this new model will more than double the autonomy of New Holland’s current methane-powered products. (4)

The T7 Methane Power LNG prototype is a step forward on the path toward New Holland’s Carbon Neutral Farming strategy. It can be powered by liquefied biomethane sourced from livestock manure and slurry, delivering better than carbon-zero operation. (4)

This solution perfectly integrates with the approach proposed by Bennamann, the UK-based start-up partnering with New Holland that focuses on innovation around the collection, processing and storage of fugitive methane with the aim of unlocking circular economy benefits for customers and delivering a local, clean energy revolution. (4)

Methane and CO2 are significant contributors to global GHG emissions. While automotive emissions primarily in the form of CO2 have a direct impact on the climate, methane emissions pose a higher warming potential per unit but overall make up a smaller fraction of total emissions.

It is therefore crucial to address both methane and CO2 emissions as part of a global strategy to combat anthropogenic climate change effectively. Transitioning to cleaner transportation technologies, adopting sustainable practices in various sectors, and reducing methane leaks can collectively contribute to a more sustainable and low-carbon future.

Written by Katy Mason for and on behalf of Dolphin N2.