The Canadian Biogas Association posts “Insights” articles on a regular basis to contextualize important new information and announcements through the lens of Canada’s biogas opportunity. Check out other Insight articles.

Two Ways That Biogas Can Unlock Canada’s Hydrogen Potential

December 17 2020

Hydrogen presents an important opportunity for Canada. Recent federal and provincial strategies outline how Canada can capture this opportunity, both for Canada’s economy by turning Canada into a major global hydrogen producer, and for Canada’s domestic energy and climate goals by integrating the gas as a low-carbon transportation and heating fuel.

The Hydrogen Strategy for Canada recognizes that low-carbon gases like renewable natural gas (RNG) have a role in Canada’s future.  The strategy acknowledges the linkage between biogas and RNG as a potential source of hydrogen with the caveat that the increasing demand for RNG means most pathways will utilize methane directly .

These government strategies also recognize hydrogen’s limitations, especially that it won’t be cost competitive or available at scale for several years.

Biogas is the missing link that can allow Canada to immediately tap a reliable energy source, get quick greenhouse gas emission reductions, and support the increasing integration of hydrogen. Biogas and RNG have a role to play in Canada’s path to decarbonization.

It can do this in two ways:

  1. By Blending With Hydrogen to Accelerate Adoption
    Like hydrogen, biogas is a low-carbon gaseous fuel. Unlike hydrogen, biogas is already commercially viable and integrated into Canada’s energy system. More than 200 biogas projects currently produce 5 million Gigajoules of RNG and an additional 196 Megawatts of clean electricity for Canadian households and businesses. That’s the equivalent of 100,000,000 m2 of solar panels or more than 3 large hydro dams. An additional 3 million GJ of RNG will be online soon, with an estimated 8 times more biogas resources easily available across Canada. In other words, biogas can deliver energy reliability and emissions reductions now, helping Canada meet its 2030 climate goals, while hydrogen resources are gradually developed. When it comes to unlocking hydrogen’s potential, the other advantage of biogas is its versatility. Once biogas is upgraded to RNG, it can be used alone or it can be physically blended with hydrogen to become a two-in-one fuel for Canada’s energy system. This means that biogas is an important bridging fuel. It can be used in the short-term for replacing conventional natural gas and quickly reducing GHG emissions. It can also be blended with hydrogen over the long term as hydrogen fuel increasingly comes online, picking up slack as the hydrogen supply evolves.
  2. As an Ingredient in the Production of Hydrogen
    There are a number of methods for producing hydrogen. The most common pathway for hydrogen production is the steam methane reformed (SMR) method, which depends on natural gas as a feedstock. RNG, coming from biogas, is interchangeable with conventional natural gas. By substituting it for conventional natural gas, we can produce hydrogen with lower carbon intensity. As many analysts have noted, low carbon intensity is critical for keeping Canada’s hydrogen competitive in export markets. Ontario’s Low-Carbon Hydrogen Strategy Discussion Paper recognizes this potential role for biogas, highlighting biogas from landfills and from food and organic waste processing facilities as a regional opportunity to advance hydrogen.

As governments set their targets on a thriving hydrogen economy in Canada, there is a strong and established biogas industry ready to work alongside them to achieve quicker climate benefits, broader economic growth, and optimal leverage of local and regional opportunities.