Digitalising to unlock the net zero potential of biomethane

By Adam Kingdon, CEO at Utonomy
Adam Kingdon, CEO at Utonomy, on increasing the injection of biomethane into the grid

When it comes to ‘greening’ the gas system, the headlines often focus on hydrogen. While the potential for hydrogen injection is undoubtedly an exciting prospect, the most feasible option right now would be increasing the injection of biomethane into the grid. 

The good news is that this is already in progress. It’s been a year since the UK government introduced its Green Gas Support Scheme (GGSS), which provides financial incentives for new anaerobic digestion biomethane plants to increase the amount of green gas in the country’s gas grid. 

However, there are barriers to even more progress, and this starts with looking at the current structure of the UK’s gas network. Designed more than four decades ago, the network isn’t set up to cope with the multiple entry points required for injection, or the variety of gases that will be required to help the UK with the huge task of reaching net zero. 

But, as we move into 2023, there is a solution that uses intelligent pressure management automation technology. The smart tech enables remote pressure control of networks, using connected actuators placed on the existing governors, that can prioritise the feed-in of greener gases.

What is biomethane and what is its net zero potential?

Biomethane is the product of a number of processes to ‘clean up’ the gaseous output of anaerobic digestion. The output biomethane conforms with the gas quality requirements set out in Schedule 3 of the Gas Safety (Management) Regulations 1996, and is therefore considered suitable for injection into the natural gas grid.

Biomethane is considered a carbon neutral source and, as such, supports the UK’s emission reduction targets – including reaching net zero by 2050. The carbon released is from organic materials and able to offset emissions during its lifetime. Not only that, through biomethane injection into the gas grid, we can divert methane away from landfill and prevent it from being released into the atmosphere. Biomethane injection, therefore, is an essential element of decarbonising gas. It provides significant economic and environmental benefits, and is one of the most realistic ways we can replace natural gas, in an economical and secure way.

Digitalisation and preparing the gas network

So, how can we increase the levels of biomethane injection into the UK’s gas grid?

This is where digitalisation comes in. The gas grid of the future, which will be able to cope with the simple feed-in of green gases, needs increased automation and smarter networks using machine learning digital tools. 

For example, while a growing number of biomethane plants are connecting to the networks, these are often located in rural areas where there is a supply of feedstock. They therefore connect into a lower pressure tier of the network and there may be times when there isn’t enough demand from this part of the network for all the biomethane being produced to be injected. As the plant can’t quickly reduce its output, it may have no choice but to flare the gas which is very wasteful and releases CO2. 

If smart pressure management is used to control the governors feeding the network, the biomethane can be prioritised at all times. This enables the biomethane plant to maximise its feed-in and support a greener gas network.

With this technology in place, a huge obstacle to biomethane injection is overcome. Crucially, installing these devices doesn’t require a huge overhaul of the gas network as they can be retrofitted onto the existing governors.

The technology is here and therefore the time is now to begin this latest, digital, transformation of the gas network and truly unlock the net zero potential of biomethane injection. 

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