Renewable natural gas project will be the topic of June 28 webinar

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Biomethanation, a unique and sustainable approach to renewable natural gas, will be the topic of a one-hour, web-based seminar offered by Penn State Extension, beginning at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 28.

The event will feature Kevin Harrison, program manager of the hydrogen owner energy systems integration facility; and Nancy Dowe, group research manager, biological science; both with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

They will discuss the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory collaboration with Southern California Gas Co. to evaluate a new "power-to-gas" approach. The innovative method produces methane through a biological pathway using tiny microbes called archaea, and stores it in the expansive natural-gas infrastructure. 

This method has the potential to change how the power industry approaches renewable generation and energy storage, according to Harrison and Dowe.

"The two-step process starts with low-cost renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen," Harrison said. "The hydrogen is combined with a carbon dioxide source — which could be an ethanol facility, dairy or wastewater treatment plant, to name a few — in a bioreactor where organisms make the conversion to methane, water and heat."

The technology will enable higher penetrations of renewable electricity sources, which will help decarbonize the economy by recycling carbon and provide long-duration energy storage in the form of chemical bonds — namely renewable methane.

"This approach is elegant in that it operates at moderate temperatures — both the electrolyzer and bioreactor — in the range of 60-80 degrees Celsius," Dowe said. 

"The idea of using a self-replicating biocatalyst versus other metals in a pressurized bioreactor to improve hydrogen mass transfer has many benefits, too," she said. "We are basically establishing an environment — sea water — in which the methanogens have flourished for millions of years doing this conversion."

She added that it's exciting to see this living biological system take a central role in turning renewable hydrogen and otherwise emitted carbon dioxide into a useful commodity.

The presentation is part of Penn State Extension's Shale Education monthly webinar series. Upcoming webinars include the following:

— July 19: "Introduction to Electric Markets and Procurement Strategies," presented by Scott Harford, an energy-management consultant with the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute.

— Aug. 23: "Marcellus Shale Landowner Coalitions: Form, Function, and Impact," presented by Grace Wildermuth, doctoral degree student in rural sociology at Penn State.

The webinar is free, but registration is necessary. To register, visit the Penn State Extension Natural Gas Events webpage. More information is available by contacting Carol Loveland at 570-320-4429 or at

Previous webinars, publications and information also are available on the Penn State Extension natural-gas website, covering a variety of topics such as liquid natural gas; seismic testing; methane emissions; water use and quality; the Marcellus and Utica basins; natural gas reserves; gas-leasing considerations for landowners; legal issues surrounding gas development; and the impact of Marcellus gas development on forestland.

Last Updated June 18, 2018