Biomethanation to Upgrade Biogas to Pipeline Grade Methane

Research output: NRELPresentation


NREL is working closely with DOE, Electrochaea GmbH, and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) to reduce costs of a biomethanation process capable of megawatt-scale deployment that upgrades organic biogas waste streams to produce pipeline quality renewable natural gas (RNG). Biomethanation is a two-step process using a single-celled methanogenic archaea that converts low-carbon low-cost hydrogen (H2) and waste carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce renewable methane (CH4). The process upgrades the biogenic CO2 - while allowing the CH4 to pass through - from biogas sources like dairies, wastewater treatment plants, and landfills. The CH4 produced is a drop-in direct replacement fuel and producers can participate in the growing number of carbon markets; like California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard and the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard. NREL and Argonne National Laboratory have completed a life cycle analysis using the GREET model to show that the biomethanation process produces RNG that is carbon negative even when H2 production via low-temperature water electrolysis is driven by the existing carbon intensity of California's electricity grid. And of course, even further carbon negative (-233 kg CO2e/kWh) when the electricity is produced from low-carbon sources like wind and solar. Leveraging lessons learned from operating SoCalGas' 700L 18-bar bioreactor system, NREL is designing and building a flexible RD&D platform that will enable field trials at biogas and other CO2 sources. A custom 16' long trailer will house a 20L 18-bar bioreactor, 3 - 25 kW proton exchange membrane electrolyzer, and dosing, thermal, and controls systems to support operations with only power, biogas, and water feedstocks required by the field locations. The end-of-project goal is to demonstrate pipeline quality RNG production (> 95% CH4, < 4% H2, <1% CO2, < 0.2% O2 and < 4 parts per million H2 sulfide) using real biogas feedstocks - thereby recycling both greenhouse gases for injection into the natural gas network or to be used onsite.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages25
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NamePresented at the 2023 U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) Project Peer Review, 3-7 April 2023, Denver, Colorado

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5B00-85588


  • biogas upgrading
  • biomethanation
  • electrolysis
  • life cycle analysis
  • process integration


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