A Pipe Dream or Climate Solution?

Issue Brief
June 15, 2020

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Averting the worst effects of climate change will require us to transition away from fossil fuels and replace them with renewable resources like wind and solar energy. Some argue that biogas (methane produced from organic sources such as food scraps or animal waste) and synthetic gas (methane or hydrogen created using electrical power) are also “renewable” alternatives that could someday replace fossil gas in America’s pipelines. While biogas and synthetic gas can be a part of the climate solution toolbox, they come with a host of limitations, such as resource availability, cost, and human health and environmental impacts. Most significantly, the potential availability of biogas and synthetic gas is dwarfed by the current level of fossil gas use in the United States.

Ultimately, while biogas and synthetic gas have a role to play in avoiding the use of some fossil gas, that role will be limited due to availability and costs. Biogas and synthetic gas, commonly referred to as “renewable natural gas,” are often not as climate-friendly as claimed, and burning fuels like methane still creates harmful air pollutants. We must be strategic about how we deploy them and keep our focus on ramping up scalable truly renewable and clean energy resources.