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Climate change: A scientist's perspective on the value of renewable natural gas

By District Energy posted 04-28-2021 11:44


Lansing State Journal


As one of the Great Lakes states and with an abundance of natural resources, Michigan should be doing everything it can to promote sustainability and renewable energy solutions. But we’re not. To date, we’ve largely ignored one innovative opportunity to significantly reduce carbon: renewable natural gas. However, new legislation is set to change that.

The new bill calls for a statewide feedstock study to measure Michigan’s overall potential for renewable natural gas — a clean, reliable, waste-derived fuel that can be used to power homes, businesses and vehicles. It is already showing its value with a handful of projects operational in Michigan, but its success is not widely known.

One such example is at Michigan State University (MSU), where I am the director of the MSU Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center (ADREC). We operate a commercial anaerobic digester on campus to convert organic waste into a renewable energy — biogas (the precursor to renewable natural gas).

At MSU, the renewable process relies on a few key sources of waste.

In a normal year, we have roughly 17,000 students on campus. Culinary services serve tens of thousands of individuals every day. We also have a collection of coffee shops and convenience stores across campus. In addition, MSU farms is home to many animals including cows, horses, swine, cattle, sheep, and chickens.

Approximately 22,000 – 25,000 tons of organic wastes produced from both culinary services and animal operations are used by the digester each year. With a Combined heat and Power (CHP) unit, we are able to convert biogas into renewable electricity to offset power at up to 12 south campus facilities — while also creating enough thermal energy to sustain the operation.

Renewable energy is not the only benefit. On campus, we’ve also been able to advance key sustainability goals by reducing landfill and wastewater disposal of food wastes from culinary services, and improving manure management at farms.