March 25, 2013

Renewable Natural Gas: Fueling Sustainable Transportation

Part 1: What is Renewable Natural Gas?

By Jonathan Morissette and Karen Graham 
Sustainable Energy Futures at Westport Innovations

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will highlight the market and environmental potential of renewable natural gas (RNG). Check back over the next six weeks as we explore the issues and opportunities for RNG in the transportation sector.

What is Renewable Natural Gas?

Renewable natural gas (RNG) is pipeline quality gas that can be used like fossil natural gas but is produced from what are called biogas and biomass feedstock sources, the technical term for any renewable, biological material such as plant matter or animal wastes. It can be a substitute for, or be blended with conventional natural gas for use in vehicle engines.

RNG is produced from a variety of sources, including:
  • Landfill gas 
  • Solid waste 
  • Municipal waste water 
  • Agricultural manure 
  • Forestry waste 
  • Energy crops 
RNG is produced in two ways: anaerobic digestion and thermal gasification.

Anaerobic digestion is the most commonly used and well-developed method. It requires only a low-oxygen environment for the organic matter to breakdown naturally by bacteria, and the equipment and process is commercially available.[i] This technique is best suited to using landfill and agricultural waste. The first biogas digester was built over 150 years ago, and the technology’s simplicity makes it appealing for a range of end uses who want alternative fuels, including transportation use. It’s in commercial use for transportation in parts of Europe, led by Sweden and Germany, and in the U.S., mainly California.

Thermal gasification is a mature and well-established industrial process developed to convert coal or organic matter into gaseous products by the application of high temperatures in oxygen controlled environments. Thermal gasification will help use promising second generation energy crops like poplar or willow trees and switchgrass. While thermal gasification of coal is a mature technology, thermal gasification of biomass into RNG is still pre-commercial with successful demonstration plants in Europe, and commercial scale implementation expected by 2020.[ii] 

The end product of organic matter breakdown is biogas, which is naturally discharged into the atmosphere where it contributes to smog and climate change (methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide). Landfill sites are ideal for capturing and using biogas generated from decomposing waste. Many cities and smaller communities have developed projects to capture, clean and upgrade the biogas from their landfill sites. They use the RNG in their own applications (such as garbage pickup vehicles) or supply it to the pipeline grid. A benefit of RNG for transportation is that it turns waste (such as manure and food scraps) into usable vehicle fuel. By capturing these natural emissions before they enter the atmosphere, the air quality around the collection site is immediately improved and greenhouse gases (GHG) are reduced. Using RNG for transportation helps to reduce GHG emissions as the naturally-produced methane is converted to carbon dioxide, a less potent greenhouse gas.[iii]

Once produced and refined to pipeline quality RNG, this resource can serve any of the end-use applications that fossil natural gas does today. It can be compressed and dispensed as vehicle fuel, injected into pipeline networks, used to manufacture plastics or fertilizer, or liquefied for long-distance and heavy-duty transportation. Because RNG is interchangeable with fossil natural gas, the two fuels can be blended together in a range of proportions at either the pipeline or the pump. As long as RNG is pipeline (and vehicle engine) quality, it can be used wherever the market or regulatory environment supports it for transportation. In Sweden in 2011, 43.9 percent of all produced biogas was used as transport fuel, and in Germany some fueling stations offer 100 percent RNG for natural gas vehicles.[iv],[v]

Current estimates of RNG’s potential show the significant contribution it can make to fuel security and sustainability even in the near term. In the U.S. this renewable resource has been estimated at 4.8 trillion cubic feet, around 20 percent of total current U.S. natural gas consumption.[vi] Within the European Union, production is expected to reach 48bcm by 2020 with the potential for 200 bcm.[vii] 

[i] Brad Rutledge, “California Biogas Industry Assessment: White Paper,” WestStart-Calstart (April 2005): 
[ii] Salim Abboud et al.,“Potential Production of Methane from Canadian Wastes,” Canadian Gas Association (October 2010): ARCFINALReport-Oct72010.pdf. 
[iii] United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Landfill Methane Outreach Program—Benefits of Landfill Gas Energy,” last updated September 2012, accessed March 2013:
[iv] Gabriela Vanciu and Nina Miresashvili, “Biogas cars in Sweden: An emerging market,” Jönköping University (May 2012).
[v] NGV Journal, “Germany: 18 additional CNG filling stations now provide 100% biomethane,” last updated December 18, 2012, last accessed March 22, 2013.
[vi] National Petroleum Council, “Renewable Natural Gas for Transportation: An Overview of the Feedstock Capacity, Economics, and GHG Emission Reduction Benefits of RNG as a Low-Carbon Fuel,” (March 2012).
[vii] Floris van Foreest, “Perspectives for Biogas in Europe,” Oxford Institute for Energy Studies Working Paper series (December 2012).

March 21, 2013

Westport's Natural Gas Now! and MATS 2013 Photo Diary

Here's a few moments from Westport's Natural Gas Now! event held at our Louisville, Kentucky Integration Center on March 19, 2013 as well as images captured from another great Mid-America Trucking Show!

Westport's team sets up the AV system before the event.

Getting washed and shined in the Kentucky sunshine.

Wesporters Nina Ng and Caroline Santoso greet the guests as they arrive
 at Natural Gas Now!

The Natural Gas Now! keynote speakers (right to left): David Demers, Wesport CEO, Lynn Lyon, Director of Fuel Market Development, Pioneer Natural Resources, Ian Scott, Westport Executive Vice President and James Harger, Chief Marketing Officer, Clean Energy Fuels   

 Visitors touring Westport's Integration Center for the first time.

MATS 2013

Westport's Ian Scott receives the Heavy Duty Trucking Top 20 Award from Bill Madden.

Clean Energy and Westport were side-by-side at MATS 2013,
 making natural gas fueling for trucking a reality!

Westport's CFO Bill Larkin and Manager of Investor Relations Caroline Santoso at MATS
in front of the Cummins Westport ISX12 G which recently received 2013 U.S. EPA Certification.

Eve Grenon-Lafontaine, part of Westport's sales team, explains why
Westport is the global leader in natural gas engines to an attendee.

Westport's John Lapetz checks out the Freightliner Cascadia Natural Gas Day Cab
 featuring the CumminsWestport ISX12 G.

Westport LNG Tank System on display with Gage Garner,
Director of Market Development.

Westport team members Heather Merry, Nicole Adams and Caroline Santoso with a Peterbilt 384 powered by the new Cummins Westport ISX12 G.

March 13, 2013

NGVs in China – Want one? Buy a lotto ticket

Imagine having to enter a lottery to get access to a natural gas vehicle (NGV). That’s the situation in regions of China where demand is so high that names are drawn to determine who gets to convert their vehicles first.

“Last month in Hefei, capital of Anhui province, the local traffic administration held a lottery to select 3,000 cars - mostly privately owned - from more than 6,000 owners who want to use natural gas as an alternative fuel,” a March 11 article from the People’s Daily Online stated.

Husayn Anwar, President of Westport China, says lotteries are becoming more common in central China, where drivers of personal vehicles are eagerly looking to save money on fuel. He says it’s now common throughout the country for taxis to run on natural gas, and for buses it’s a “must-have.” The savings drivers get from switching are significant since natural gas is 50-70 per cent less than the price of gasoline and a third the price of diesel.

A Forbes article states that in the Southwest city of Chongqing, 85 per cent of taxis and 92 per cent of buses are using a natural gas engine. The rising choice of natural gas over gasoline and diesel is in no small part due to China’s government policy encouraging the switch. According to a Reuters article titled, China's natural gas drive may cut oil demand by a tenth, there is a Beijing-coordinated campaign to fuel more vehicles with natural gas to reduce oil imports and coal dependency.

The cost savings and the availability of fueling stations has translated into nearly 1.5 million natural gas vehicles on the road.

Anwar says that by 2015, there will be around 5,000 natural gas fueling stations across China, half with LNG capability. There are still some challenges due to what he describes as a market that is “too competitive.”

Good technologies are getting priced-out, especially in the smaller vehicle market, he says. Societal status pressures are also affecting sales. “On the coast, NGVs are seen as the poor man’s vehicle, so uptake has been slower.” 

The market is transforming rapidly and factors affecting it today will be moot in the near future.
“From economic, environmental and energy security perspectives it all makes sense,” Anwar says, “NGVs are now a force to be contended with.”

Which is why in central China, many drivers are buying tickets to win the NGV lotto.

Related reading:

March 5, 2013

“It’s all coming together”: The emergence of natural gas as the transportation fuel of choice in Canada

There’s a growing interest in Canada about the opportunities of using natural gas as a cleaner, cheaper new way of powering transportation.

Last week, the British Columbia government hosted its first-ever international conference on liquefied natural gas (LNG). Westport’s VP of Business Development, Steve Anderson, was a panelist in the closing session which focused on LNG as a transportation fuel.

“It’s all coming together,” Anderson said. “In the past, the choice to go green was usually accompanied by an economic penalty – not anymore. Due to large discoveries of domestic supplies, natural gas is available at an attractive price, and will be for the foreseeable future, which means there is now a competitive price advantage in using it, along with the environmental benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Doug Stout, vice president of energy solutions and external relations with FortisBC, says that internationally, natural gas has been more-widely adopted as a cost-effective, green solution.

“Worldwide, natural gas is already a conventional fuel choice, and innovative companies in Canada will discover its benefits,” Stout said. “Natural gas for transportation represents a transformative opportunity for reduced costs for operators and lowered emissions.”

B.C. isn’t the only province taking notice of natural gas: on March 6, SaskEnergy and the Saskatchewan Trucking Association will host a one-day workshop in Saskatoon to discuss both compressed natural gas (CNG) and LNG as future transportation fuel options.

“From a North American perspective, natural gas is really taking off as a transportation fuel,” says Deidre Donaldson Meyer, SaskEnergy director of business development. “The momentum is really significant and we felt that it was important for the businesses of Saskatchewan to understand what was happening in the North American market and be informed about it. The longer term prospect for the price of gas is stable, and it is really cost competitive compared to diesel.”

Along with a recent increase in public discussion about the future of natural gas in Canada, exciting developments are taking place in station infrastructure. Shell just announced plans to make LNG fuel accessible for its marine and heavy-duty on-road customers in North America by developing two new liquefaction units. These will form the basis of LNG transport corridors in the Great Lakes and Gulf Coast regions.

Shell Canada is also set to open its first truck stop LNG station in Calgary, with two more in Alberta to follow. Alberta-based Bison Transport is a lead customer for the Shell stations and Bison recently took delivery of 15LNG-fueled Peterbilt 386 trucks with Westport Innovations’ 15L engine and fuel system.

Bison Transport truck, powered by the Westport 15L engine and fuel system.

From transit buses to refuse trucks, trains to boats, the possibilities for natural gas in Canada are substantial, and the transportation industry is taking notice.

March 4, 2013

Westport Participates in CAFEE Emissions Study

By Karen Graham & James Saunders

Natural gas vehicles are on the cusp of spurring one of the largest shifts in on-road transportation fuels, but the market is developing and there is much to learn about the economic, environmental and energy security impacts of such a shift. To help answer a critical question – what is the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) impact of large-scale deployment of natural gas vehicles? – Westport has joined an important, multi-partner study. Initiated by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and conducted by the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (CAFEE) at West Virginia University (WVU), this research is co-sponsored by fuel producers, providers, manufacturers and fleet operators and will measure the methane leakage from various elements of the natural gas value chain for commercial and heavy duty on-road transportation.

This “pump to wheels” study is the second study of a five-module research effort coordinated by the EDF on the impacts of methane leakage along a range of pathways from the well to end uses along the fuel chain. Details of the study may be found on the West Virginia University website. The results will be peer reviewed, and a report is expected to be released in late 2013 or early 2014.

Westport is participating in the EDF study to advance understanding of the GHG emission reduction benefits of commercial and heavy duty natural gas vehicles and fueling stations. Studies like this, with a range of industry partners like Shell, Volvo, Westport, Cummins Westport and fleet operators offer the opportunity to collect data under real-world operating conditions. WVU’s involvement means that the findings will be rigorously peer-reviewed and will contribute to academic and industry knowledge.