Methane is a gas with one carbon atom attached to four hydrogen atoms commonly referred to as CH4. Scientists are very concerned that it is 21 times more capable of trapping heat in our atmosphere than Carbon Dioxide.
It is in the earth’s crust, under the permafrost, a byproduct of coal, in natural gas, in solid waste, manure, rice farms, waste water, generated by biofuel combustion and enteric fermentation. It’s everywhere and is the most plentiful hydrocarbon on earth while at the same time it could be the culprit for sending our climate back to 10,000 years ago.
Albert Einstein said “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”. Methane’s risk to global warming is also a great opportunity to supplying us with a bounty of fuel to take care of our social needs.
By managing the emissions of Methane, capturing them and using them for fuel we could actually support two solutions – global warming and energy.
Below are different opportunity uses for methane:
- Capture Methane trapped in the permafrost - Methane is trapped in the permafrost and is bubbling out as the permafrost melts. This is both worrying climatologist and attracting venture capitalist with ways to capture and store the methane.
- Methane Trapped in the earths crust – There are implications that methane in the Earth may exist at depths of 100 to 200 Km.. The methane comes from the reactions between water and rock, not just from decomposition of living matter. There are challenges and dangers. Oil and Gas wells are only 5 to 10 Km deep. Additionally, the Methane reserves are so much that uncontrolled releases of the gas would be very damaging to the climate.
More about methane trapped in the earths crust
- Use of Bacteria to store energy as methane gas – The research being done on this is very promising. The idea is that surplus power from wind, solar or tidal sources can be fed into bacteria and then combined with CO2 to create Methane. Although you do not get all the energy back the process is relatively inexpensive since it does not use noble metals
More about the use of bacteria to store energy as methane
- Fixed Film Anaerobic Digester – Consist of a tank filled with plastic media on which bacteria attaches and grows. It takes the waste and makes a biogas to be used or collected to heat water or generate electricity. Presently being used, this method reduces farm emissions of Methane while providing energy. The amount of biogas produced in winter is still uncertain. In Vermont a 200kW generator is producing enough energy to power 300-400 homes while providing more than @120,000/ yr to a dairy farm
More about fixed film anaerobic digesters
- Power from Trash – Methane emissions from landfills are being looked to by the EPA to generate electricity in states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
More about extracting methane from trash / rubbish dumps
- Small Biogas Units – Danish and African engineers have constructed a simple, portable biogas unit to produce gas for cooking and lighting needs
More about small biogas units producing methane
- Methane from Biogas – By collecting biogas, it can be transported in existing natural gas pipelines and used to generate needed energy.
More about methane from biogas
- Methane Hydrates – Natural gas locked up in methane hydrates could be the world’s next great energy source–if engineers can figure out how to extract it safely. the extraction process, if done improperly, could cause sudden disruptions on the ocean floor, reducing ocean pressure rates and releasing methane gas from hydrates
More about methane hydrates
There is much work still to be done with methane. There is no doubt that it can meet part of our energy needs and demand.
By using the Methane emissions from our waste we can simultaneously provide energy and reduce the effects of green house gases on our climate.