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2007 Could Be the Year of Biomethane

Biomethane, chemically the same as natural gas yet available from essentially any kind of organic waste, is emerging as a viable renewable alternative to fossil fuels.

Biomethane's fundamental production efficiencies make it competitive with such better known liquids as biodiesel and ethanol, even though vehicles need special fuel tanks to handle it.

That's the word from Fleets & Fuels, a newsletter on advanced technology vehicles and the fuels that drive them.

Biomethane is made from waste -- from animals, crops or even municipal sewage -- so unlike the liquid biofuels, its production involves no diversion of foodstuffs. Production costs are unaffected by world energy market swings.

"We're extremely excited about the potential for biomethane," said Fleets & Fuels editor Rich Piellisch.

"It's potential production efficiencies are terrific, and not at all dependent on the fossil fuel markets," Piellisch said. "And, because its production actually consumes potent greenhouse gases that are often vented to the atmosphere, there's a double benefit in terms of climate change mitigation.

"The single investment in suitable vehicles pays off many times during the life of those very clean vehicles.

"Biomethane is fast proving itself in Europe, and entrepreneurs and policymakers in the United States are becoming aware of it too," Piellisch said.

Biomethane is most commonly made via anaerobic digestion of organic biomass material. Thermal gasification of cellulosic (woody) material is emerging as a viable production route too, with production efficiencies shown to be far better than those of liquid biofuels.

Biomethane can be injected into existing natural gas pipelines, and drawn from the pipeline network for vehicle use or any other natural gas application.

Biomethane can easily be processed into compressed natural gas (CNG) for natural gas vehicles or the more energy-dense liquefied natural gas (LNG). There are more than 5 million natural gas vehicles (NGVs) worldwide.

Biomethane (chemically CH4) can also be used as a renewable hydrogen source.

The January 1 issue of Fleets & Fuels is dedicated to biomethane. The newsletter comprises ten pages of original reporting, setting forth the potential for biomethane and detailing some of the projects, in Sweden, Switzerland, France and elsewhere in Europe, that are supplying fuel for substantial numbers of NGVs, today. Nascent projects in the United States are detailed, and the issue includes a profile of Prometheus Energy, the Seattle-based company that's leading the charge to tap landfills and other sources of biomethane gas to supply fuel for vehicles.

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