Reduce Methane & Impacts of Global Warming

Cutting methane emissions is the fastest opportunity we have to immediately slow the rate of global warming, even as we decarbonize our energy systems. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Methane is a big contributor to global warming. Methane has accounted for roughly 30 per cent of global warming since pre-industrial times and is proliferating faster than at any other time since record keeping began in the 1980s. In fact, according to data from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, even as carbon dioxide emissions decelerated during the pandemic-related lock downs of 2020, atmospheric methane shot up. Sixty-percent of the global methane emissions result from human activity. Addressing methane emissions is critical for fighting climate crisis.

Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices, land use, and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills. China was the world’s largest methane emitter in 2022, having released 55.7 million metric tons worth of methane. The United States and India ranked second and third that year, with each country emitting roughly 30 million metric tons of methane. Around 40% of China’s methane emissions are gas that escapes during the mining of coal. Another 42% is from agriculture, including livestock and rice cultivation, says the iGDP. The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the United States is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. The two predominant sources of methane emissions in India are ‘enteric fermentation’ (methane from the intestines of animals) and paddy cultivation (from standing water).

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. This means that even if emissions were immediately and dramatically reduced it would not have an effect on the climate until later in the century.  But it takes only about a decade for methane to break down. So, reducing methane emissions now would have an impact in the near term and is critical for helping keep the world on a path to 1.5°C. According to the International Energy Agency, the annual increase in methane concentration from 2020 to 2021 was the highest on record and real-time data shows that levels continued to increase in 2022. When using fossil gas for electricity generation, lifecycle methane emissions must not exceed 3% of delivered volumes, because in climate terms, it would then be better to use coal for electricity generation. Abating methane emissions is therefore highly relevant to achieving the 2050 climate objectives.

One-third of methane production from human activity comes from the energy sector. For oil and gas, companies would need to frequently survey their equipment to detect leaks. If found, they would need to be repaired immediately, mostly within 5 or 15 working days and monitored to ensure that repairs were successful. The proposal also bans venting and routine flaring, allowing venting only in exceptional or unavoidable circumstances for safety reasons. It allows flaring only if re-injection, utilization on-site or transport of the methane to a market are not technically feasible, with more restrictive rules for how it can be carried out. At COP27 in 2022, the EU also confirmed its commitment on methane emission reduction by endorsing a ‘Joint declaration on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels’, together with the United States, Japan, Canada, Norway, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

For coal, the proposal envisages a phase out of venting and flaring of methane, ensuring that safety aspects in coal mines are accounted for. The proposal also obligates EU countries to establish mitigation plans in the case of abandoned coal mines and inactive oil and fossil gas wells. Methane is naturally destroyed by both chemical and biological processes, including reaction with atmospheric hydroxyl [OH] and chlorine, and by methane-consuming bacteria (methanotrophs) in soil and water. Abating methane from ventilation systems is the single most important measure the coal industry can take to reduce its emissions. It would reduce CMM on a global level by almost 30%. It is estimated that around 70% of methane emissions from fossil fuel operations could be reduced with existing technology. In the oil and gas sector, emissions can be reduced by over 75% by implementing well-known measures such as leak detection and repair programmes and upgrading leaky equipment.1

When we landfill organics, it produces greenhouse gases (GHG’s). Reducing your organic waste is one thing many can do to reduce GHG emissions and help protect the environment. Waste prevention and recycling (including composting) divert organic wastes from landfills, reducing the methane released when these materials decompose. Recycling is the most popular method of waste diversion and comes in many forms. While not all materials are eligible for recycling, it is very efficient with some materials, such as paper (making it the most commonly diverted material in the world). Approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. In cities, food often makes up the majority of waste that ends up in landfills. Only 1% of Sweden’s trash is sent to landfills. By burning their trash, another 52% is converted into energy and the remaining 47% gets recycled. The amount of energy generated from waste alone provides heating to one million homes and electricity to 250,000.

Methane is an important greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming with a short-term climate impact many times greater than carbon dioxide. It is also the primary component of natural gas. As a result, methane emissions occur throughout the oil and gas industry, which is Canada’s largest anthropogenic source of those emissions. Natural gas is not just one gas but a combination of them, such as methane, ethane, propane, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Natural gas is mostly methane – around 95%. This gas comes to your home via pipelines or compressed natural gas (CNG) tanks. Coal production, transportation, storage and use account for roughly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The most effective way to address coal mine methane emissions is to reduce the use of coal, particularly in power generation.

Methane generation is accomplished by anaerobic digestion (biological oxidation in the absence of oxygen) of organic substances such as livestock waste and plant refuse. The gas produced in an on-farm digester is only about 65 percent methane, the rest being carbon dioxide and trace organic gases. One potential use for digester gas just now receiving attention is as a heat source to operate an on farm alcohol production plant. Some producers are experimenting with a system of fermenting corn to alcohol that includes feeding the`stillage grain’ byproduct to livestock, using livestock manure to generate methane, then using the methane directly to fuel the alcohol production process. Anaerobic digestion for biogas production would take place in a sealed vessel called a reactor, which is designed and constructed in various shapes and sizes specific to the site and feedstock conditions.2

Researchers have found that 37% of methane emissions from human activity are the direct result of our livestock and agricultural practices. This makes agriculture is a significant source. Livestock emissions – by burps from ruminant animals, primarily dairy and beef cattle – is the number-one source of emissions; and from manure – account for roughly 32 per cent of human-caused methane emissions. Feed additives for cattle show promise at reduction:  additives such as, 3-NOP, which is made from nitrate and alcohol, and red seaweed extract can be incorporated into feedstock. Trials have shown that it could reduce methane emissions between 20 to 90 percent, although there are some questions about how long the effects might last. The other major source of methane emissions from animal agriculture comes primarily from concentrated animal feeding operations with more concentrated production systems with liquid waste lagoons. The most popular solution to this issue to date is to build methane digesters, which capture emissions while also producing energy.3

Scientists are using artificial photosynthesis to make methane out of carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. A new device could be added to solar panels to essentially recycle fossil fuels. The expansion of green methanol as an alternative fuel to fossil fuels is particularly attractive to the maritime industry because, being liquid at room temperature, it is much less costly to store and transport than gaseous fuels, and has the lowest carbon footprint of all liquid fuels. It can also be used in both internal propulsion engines and to power fuel cells, providing flexibility depending on individual needs. Researchers at the University of Florida studied an above-ground liquid manure storage structure which was modified for use as a methane digester. The study employed a large, covered storage tank, with waste additions made daily. Gas production was about 60 percent of that in a conventional digester.

Feed additives for cattle, new rice-farming techniques, advanced approaches to oil and gas leak detection, coal methane capture, and modern water and waste facilities can all be effective. The next frontier: composting organic waste on an industrial scale provides a tremendous natural resource. All the organic waste you don’t want or need can, if properly separated, can be recycled back into the soil and used to feed crops of every kind and size. Processing organic waste can even put all that harmful greenhouse gas to good use – biogas produced by organic waste can be converted into renewable electricity and heat. The by-products are turned into fertilizer, which is used to grow crops. Feed additives for cattle, new rice-farming techniques, advanced approaches to oil and gas leak detection, coal methane capture, and modern water and waste facilities can all be effective. Continue to reduce methane and you reduce the impacts of global warming.

1 https://ember-climate.org/insights/commentary/why-the-world-must-act-on-coal-mine-methane

2 https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ae/ae-105.html

3 https://civileats.com/2021/10/06/methane-from-agriculture-is-a-big-problem-we-explain-why/

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