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SoCalGas marks opening of renewable natural gas fuelling station

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

SoCalGas Vice President Cedric Williams has recently joined Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh and local air quality regulators to mark the opening of a new compressed natural gas (CNG) fuelling station located in Bakersfield, California, US.

The new fuelling station is open to the public and will exclusively offer renewable natural gas (RNG), a clean, sustainable fuel made from methane that would otherwise be emitted from landfills, dairy farms, and other waste sources. The new RNG station extends the network of clean natural gas stations across a key regional goods movement corridor in the San Joaquin Valley, which experiences the worst particulate matter pollution in the state, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Over 20 000 trucks pass through Highway 99 in Bakersfield on any given day, emitting roughly 85 t of nitrogen-oxide emissions. Near-zero emissions natural gas trucks fuelled with RNG can virtually eliminate smog forming pollutants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) linked to climate change by as much as 80%.

Cedric Williams, Vice President of Construction for SoCalGas said: "Renewable natural gas use in trucking and public transit has grown tremendously in recent years since it offers drivers an affordable way to reduce emissions and delivers the power needed to get the job done […] SoCalGas is excited to offer drivers who travel through Bakersfield an environmentally friendly fuelling option that can immediately improve air quality in the region."

Mayor Karen K. Goh commented: "Bakersfield serves as the centre of a major movement corridor […] As one of the most important food and dairy producing hubs, having this CNG fuelling station in Bakersfield will help reduce the carbon footprint as needed goods are transported across the country."

RNG is not a fossil fuel, but a renewable form of energy produced from the methane emissions at dairy farms, wastewater treatment plants, landfills, and other waste streams. Depending on its source, RNG can be low-carbon or in some cases, even carbon neutral or negative. Capturing the methane from these waste sources and converting it into RNG keeps GHG from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change and reduces the use of fossil fuels.

In California, vehicles account for more than 40% of GHG emissions and 80% of smog-forming pollution in the state, with heavy duty trucks among the largest polluters. In the San Joaquin Valley, car and truck emissions make up about half of all measured airborne particulate matter, according to CARB.

Over the last five years, RNG use as a transportation fuel for heavy duty trucks and buses has increased by almost 600%, helping displace over seven million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. That's equal to the emissions from more than 1 million homes' electricity use for one year.

In California alone, there are currently 30 operational dairy RNG projects, with approximately 50 more in various stages of development. SoCalGas began directly injecting RNG into its pipelines for the first time in 2018 when the company began accepting RNG produced at a waste hauling company's anaerobic digestion facility in Pixley, California. In 2019, RNG produced at a dairy digester facility in California was also utilised in SoCalGas' pipelines for delivery. This facility is expected to eventually collect RNG from anaerobic digesters at 12 dairies, which would prevent about 130 000 t of GHGs from entering the atmosphere each year. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, estimate that California's existing organic waste could produce enough RNG to meet the needs of 2.3 million homes.

In addition to being used to fuel trucks and buses, RNG can also be delivered to customers to generate clean electricity and to heat homes and businesses. Nationally, a study released by ICF estimates that enough renewable natural gas will be available by 2040, and be able to replace about 90% of the nation's current residential natural gas consumption.

In 2019, SoCalGas committed to delivering 20% of the natural gas it buys for homes and businesses from renewable sources by 2030. SoCalGas is pursuing regulatory authority to implement a broad renewable natural gas procurement programme. The company has also filed a request with the California Public Utilities Commission to allow current natural gas customers to sign up to purchase renewable natural gas for their homes. A similar, voluntary programme was launched in Philadelphia earlier this month.

Several utilities and commercial fleets have committed to increasing the use of RNG as part of their sustainability efforts. For example:

  • Dominion Energy and Vanguard Renewables recently announced a US$200 million partnership that includes RNG projects in five states, with additional projects planned nationwide.
  • CR&R, a waste management company in Southern California, is using green waste diverted from landfills to make RNG being injected into SoCalGas' pipelines.
  • UPS last year agreed to purchase 170 million gal. equivalents of RNG through 2026, the largest commitment for use of RNG thus far by any US company.
  • French utility Engie plans to switch all of its gas operations to biogas and renewable hydrogen by 2050.

In addition, SoCalGas has worked with fleet owners to secure millions of dollars in incentive funding for the replacement of diesel trucks with cleaner, new near-zero emissions natural gas trucks. Each new natural gas truck that replaces a traditional diesel truck is the equivalent of taking 57 passenger cars off the road.

The new fuelling station in Bakersfield is the 15th public SoCalGas-operated CNG fuelling station to open, and is located at SoCalGas' Bakersfield operating base, a net-zero energy building that earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for its environmental benefits. These include a photovoltaic solar energy system, storm water management, drought-resistant and climate-appropriate landscaping, the use of natural lighting for the wellness of employees and a super energy-efficient air conditioning system power by natural gas instead of electricity.

SoCalGas' commitment to increase the use of RNG both in transportation and in buildings is part of a broad, inclusive and integrated plan to help California reach its ambitious climate goals.

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