Team RNG: Bringing a New Fuel to Market

Stephanie Thorson, associate at the Biogas Association, highlights contributions of those working in the biogas-to-compressed natural gas sector.
By Stephanie Thorson | May 24, 2015

A movement is only as effective as the people behind it. For renewable natural gas (RNG), a dynamic team has coalesced to bring this fuel to market and strengthen its profile and uptake. I am fortunate to be working with the individuals described below, whom I refer to as Team RNG.

Apart from supportive government representatives and technology suppliers who play a critical role in RNG development, there are people from several associations and natural gas utilities that are charting the course for RNG development and dismantling barriers to production and use of this fuel. What drives this group and how did they choose this cause? Some of the key players describe their paths, motivations and findings. 

When Scott Gramm was hired at FortisBC, he told his boss he didn’t know a lot about the natural gas utility. “He replied that we had 1,100 employees who knew the natural gas business—he needed someone to make something happen,” Gramm says. “I would say, to those who would follow: Throw away your ideas of how it has to be in the utility world and think like an entrepreneur. Get creative, roll up your sleeves and work hard to find ways to make it work. Your customers expect that much from you.”

Paul Cheliak of the Canadian Gas Association remembers his first briefing on RNG. “People were speaking about digestate, anaerobic this and that, dried solids….I wondered if I stumbled into the wrong briefing room.  After peeling back the onion (to be used in a digester, of course!) a little further, I was taken aback by the passion of the RNG community and the simplicity and practically of RNG for traditional energy markets.  Safe to say, I’m glad I walked into that briefing room and I’ve never looked back.” 

Cheliak will be working with industry colleagues to implement the RNG Technology Roadmap recommendations and to promote smart policies that can realize the Canadian RNG potential.
When Don Beverly was hired in 2005 by an equipment manufacturer to develop a siloxane removal technology for landfill gas, job one was to look up the word siloxane. When he moved to Quebec’s Gaz Métro, he designed the mechanisms needed to incorporate RNG into the often complex framework of rules governing natural gas distribution. Education and promotion now occupy much of his time.  “Unlike solar or wind power, renewable energy from waste exists only because we make the waste in the first place,” he says. “For me, closing the loop to recover this unused energy is really about living up to what I learned from my parents and what I now teach to my children: When you’re done, clean up and put everything back in its place.”

Johannes Escudero of the RNG Coalition says he would rather jump off the proverbial cliff only to find out there was no water below and die, than to never jump and live forever wondering ‘what if we had?’ “This was precisely my thought when David Cox and I recused ourselves of all energy related policy in the California State Legislature where we were employed at the time, and fronted the costs for the RNG Coalition’s inaugural membership luncheon,” he says. “Expecting only a handful of companies to attend, I recall the pleasant surprise when more than 40 organizations attended and agreed to join or otherwise work with our new coalition. Shortly thereafter, our members again enjoyed similar surprise when we overcame insurmountable political odds to pass legislation reversing quarter-century-old statute and create a new market in California. The rest, as they say, is continuing to unfold as history.”

Cora Carriveau is a self-proclaimed pipeline-hugging environmentalist with Union Gas. “My biggest motivator comes from knowing that the California government (Air Resource Board) has proposed a significantly reduced carbon intensity for RNG derived from wastewater treatment plants,” she says. “If we adopted this source of RNG as a vehicle fuel instead of gasoline or diesel, we could reduce our GHG emissions by almost 170 percent.  I like to think that the work I do will help this 100-year-old-plus company to continue to be sustainable and deliver the affordable energy that our communities and country need well into the future.“

Jennifer Green of the Biogas Association in Canada points out, “The industry is confident, developers are well-informed, and support is growing. Now is the time for Canada to advance RNG and realize its economic and environmental benefits.”

Author: Stephanie Thorson
Associate, Biogas Association
(613) 822-1004