Why cutting methane emissions is crucial and how e-NG can help
We sat down with TES CTO, Jens Schmidt, to find out how e-NG (electric natural gas or synthetic methane) helps reduce methane emissions.
At COP28, 50 of the world's biggest oil and gas companies committed to eliminate emissions from their operations by 2050. Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas responsible for about 30% of the climate warming we experience today. Where CO₂ can linger in our atmosphere for centuries, methane breaks down after around 12 years. However, during that span it’s around 84 times more damaging to our climate than carbon dioxide.
Around 60% of global methane emissions comes from human activities like landfill sites, oil and gas wells, coal mines, and livestock farming. Modeling produced by the UNEP/CCAC Global Methane Assessment in 2021¹ found that rapidly cutting methane emissions from fossil fuels alone could avoid 0.1°C in global temperature rise by 2050. To put that in tangible terms, that would be more effective than removing all cars and trucks from the world’s roads.
Cutting human-generated methane emissions dramatically would be a decisive leap toward meaningfully mitigating the effects of the climate crisis. The good news is that this is extremely doable and, in most cases, makes sound economic sense.
How can we cut methane emissions from fossil fuels?
At COP28, delegates committed to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner” which is a step in the right direction.
There are meaningful strides we can take to reduce methane emissions while we’re in the process of moving toward a full green transition.
Oil and gas producers can begin by plugging leaks, repairing damaged equipment, cracking down on gas flaring, and capturing methane and CO₂ emissions at the point of generation. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that it’s technically possible to avoid more than 70% of today’s methane emissions from global oil and gas operations.
Basing their report on natural gas prices over the past five years, the IEA calculates that over 40% of emissions could be avoided at no net cost “as the outlays for the abatement measures are less than the market value of the additional gas that is captured”.²
Of course, that just applies to the fossil fuel industry itself. Many sectors use fossil fuels and emit methane as a central part of their processes. Is there a viable way for these hard-to-abate sectors to quickly cut methane emissions?
What is e-NG and how is it different to standard methane?
TES developed e-NG (electric natural gas) to be the perfect drop-in fuel for customers that want to decarbonize now but don’t have the capacity to promptly overhaul their processes and set-up. Jens Schmidt, CTO of TES, explains how e-NG can slot into processes that currently use natural gas (LNG).
“We have a molecule that is identical and can be used in the same way, but it's not taken out of the ground with all the emissions that go along with that — it's entirely produced based on renewables in a well-controlled industrial reactor without any emissions. So while the end product is the same, the way we produce it is entirely sustainable and climate-neutral.”
e-NG is a green hydrogen-based synthetic fuel produced using existing state-of-the-art technologies and doesn’t require end-users to make any major infrastructural upgrades. While e-NG is identical to methane — the main component of natural gas — on a molecular level, it’s fundamentally quite different at every stage of the process.
Because e-NG is made using clean energy, green hydrogen, and recycled CO₂, TES completely avoids the emissions associated with the fossil fuel upstream value chain like drilling, cleaning, and compression.
But why add CO₂ to green hydrogen at all? And why does TES believe that e-NG is the best product to accelerate the green transition?
e-NG adoption can speed up decarbonization
The heart of TES runs on green hydrogen. However, as any hydrogen critic will tell you, this molecule is currently hard to transport and store. The infrastructure needed to support a rapid global rollout of pure green hydrogen is not yet available at scale.
“While there are ways to transport hydrogen and other derivatives, synthetic methane [e-NG] is the best way to do it because it's a drop-in solution [that can be used in] existing infrastructure. We know how to handle the molecules and customers know how to use it in their processes,” says Jens Schmidt. “That’s why it’s the best fit [to drive] fast and reliable decarbonization.”
There are many key reasons TES opted to create e-NG as opposed to other carriers. e-NG has an extremely low emissions profile, low levels of toxicity, and is easy to distribute via existing infrastructure. Inland customers who need green energy but can’t wait for the long-term hydrogen infrastructure to be built can already use e-NG to rapidly decarbonize.
An external life cycle analysis showed that producing e-NG using currently available standard technology and without converting to sustainable energy in the infrastructure like existing liquefaction plants resulted in a 80% climate footprint reduction compared to fossil natural gas. Schmidt and his team are currently working on ways to reduce this even further so that e-NG can become completely carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative. This is technically feasible if renewable energy is used to power every process, from CO₂ capture to e-NG liquefaction.
e-NG locks carbon in a closed loop
TES’ most exciting innovation thus far is its green cycle. This is the process by which the company generates e-NG and keeps recycled carbon from escaping into the atmosphere. The green cycle is key to e-NG’s status as a carbon-neutral, climate-positive e-fuel.
Jens Schmidt explains: “We start with renewable electricity from solar, wind, hydropower — anything that's renewable — [and we] turn that into green hydrogen. We combine the hydrogen with climate-neutral CO₂ to make it transportable as e-NG.
“We can then offer three different solutions: we can supply hydrogen by converting the e-NG back into hydrogen and CO₂ which is retained and recycled; we can provide green power by turning the e-NG into electricity, also retaining the produced CO2; or we can supply the e-NG as a green molecule to off-takers that want to have a direct replacement for natural gas.”
In each of these use cases, CO₂ emissions can be recaptured and returned to the green cycle where they are used to efficiently produce more e-NG using the Sabatier methanation process.
e-NG enables industry, mobility, and the broader energy sector to decarbonize rapidly without having to invest in costly upgrades or depend on expensive, time-consuming infrastructure builds or technology breakthroughs. That’s what makes e-NG a fast, effective, cost-efficient, and reliable way to cut methane emissions and drive decarbonization. It also allows to transition smoothly vs. a disruptive change over in case of other energy carriers for green H2.
e-NG makes immediate decarbonization possible
The global addiction to fossil fuels has driven our climate into crisis and there’s no doubt that we need to cut methane and CO₂ emissions as quickly as possible. However, we can’t simply call a halt to all fossil fuel use without offering practical alternatives. e-NG is one such pragmatic solution.
In developing e-NG, TES has taken the dual needs of our climate and our industries into account. It is a green, realistic, drop-in solution for the growing number of countries, industries, and governments that want to decarbonize quickly without impairing competitiveness and progress. This, says Jens Schmidt, is what’s really giving him hope in the face of the vast climate challenge.
“e-NG is a molecule that we know how to transport and distribute. Everything's in place so we can act today. The only thing that will accelerate the speed at which we can decarbonize is the speed at which we set up the electrolyzers and produce that e-NG. But the infrastructure to reach the customers, the application, and their processes can happen today."
“And that really gives me hope [because] we now have a solution that we really can [use to] kickstart decarbonization.”
Check out the full interview with Jens on our Youtube channel.
¹ Source: https://www.ccacoalition.org/resources/global-methane-assessment-full-report (https://www.ccacoalition.org/resources/global-methane-assessment-full-report)
² Source: https://www.iea.org/reports/global-methane-tracker-2022/strategies-to-reduce-emissions-from-fossil-fuel-operations (https://www.iea.org/reports/global-methane-tracker-2022/strategies-to-reduce-emissions-from-fossil-fuel-operations)