Overhauling Carbon Accounting

The following is an article originally published July 7, 2023, by Biomass Magazine.

Overhauling Carbon Accounting

Improved carbon accounting methodology for biogas projects will be a game-changer for the industry.

By Brad Pleima, EcoEngineers President

Currently, the biogas industry lacks a comprehensive accounting methodology that enables a standardized, stable market environment for carbon reduction and removal resulting from biogas projects. This will be especially valuable to market buyers engaged in voluntary carbon reduction activities.

To solve this problem, the American Biogas Council has engaged EcoEngineers to plan, develop and publish an improved carbon accounting methodology. This new methodology will use frameworks from existing methodologies to measure the carbon intensity of all biogas projects and more diverse end uses, by the end of 2023. ABC and Eco hope this methodology will make it easier for biogas projects to quantify and market carbon benefits from renewable natural gas (RNG), biogas electricity and digestate.

Demand for low-carbon and carbon-negative products has never been stronger. Carbon accounting, carbon reporting and verification, and product labeling are emerging as some of the biggest business disruptors of this century. Corporations across the spectrum are looking for ways to decarbonize, incorporate carbon reduction transparency and accountability into product strategies, supply chains and operations across their entire value chain, thus enabling competitive differentiation, growth and value creation.

RNG, electricity from biogas, and digestate are low-carbon substitutes for natural gas, grid electricity and synthetic fertilizers, respectively. End users can claim carbon reductions by substituting fossil-derived fuel, electricity or nutrients with equivalent products derived from biogenic feedstocks. This claim is quantified by a lifecycle carbon analysis (LCA) and its resulting carbon intensity (CI) score, which, when compared to a business-as-usual baseline, quantifies the carbon reduction in metric tons (MT) of CO2 equivalent. These carbon reductions can then be sold on carbon trading platforms and markets, or used for internal carbon reduction goals.

Using existing frameworks as a basis, such as the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard pathway for RNG and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, this improved methodology will develop a strong, science-based carbon accounting framework. The framework can be used to measure the carbon intensity of biogas projects more completely and more accurately, looking at lifecycle CI improvements from a broader array of feedstock baselines, biogas system designs, and a more diverse array of end uses and products, beyond what the current frameworks contemplate.

Today’s Method
Currently, California’s LCFS and its modified Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Technologies (GREET) model are the standard used to represent the reduction in carbon footprint where specific feedstock-to-end-use pathways for RNG or biogas electricity for transportation are eligible to earn credits. However, the rules are somewhat arbitrary—for example, the California LCFS currently recognizes methane capture at dairies, but not at beef cattle lots or other types of manures.

Another common framework includes private, voluntary carbon registries, mostly used today by landfill biogas systems. These are, again, for unique feedstock to end-use pathways allowed by specific rules of the registry. Other entities allow the sale of RNG without a CI label, but once again, limit it to an arbitrary list of permitted pathways and assumptions.

LCA and CI scores for biogas are inconsistently valued and applied across regulatory and voluntary markets, opening the sector to unnecessary scrutiny. For example, environmental coalitions and some nongovernmental organizations have challenged the carbon reduction potential of biogas-based systems when combustion occurs at any scale, when agricultural lands are used for production, or when manure storage is involved. An improved lifecycle methodology, as undertaken by the Eco and ABC work, seeks to make the true carbon impact of those pieces of the pathway clear, consistent and transparent. The current patchwork of systems excludes valuable contributions to carbon reduction efforts, and in some cases, leaves biogas systems ineligible to participate in programs and markets.

The Solution
Eco has been hired by ABC to develop a methodology and associated protocols to measure, report and validate the carbon reduction and removal embodied in typical biogas systems, including those producing RNG, electricity and nonenergy products like digestate. To develop the methodology, we are providing multiple opportunities for stakeholders across the industry to engage and provide valuable feedback that will ultimately shape the final product.

By combining a science-based approach with industry concerns and know-how, this improved methodology will cover the most common biogas projects and provide a clear roadmap to quantify and monetize the environmental benefits associated with energy and nutrient production.

With the help of this methodology, biogas owners, developers and customers will be able to determine the CI of their specific biogas project and be more inclusive of feedstocks and project types not currently recognized by the LCFS for methane avoidance credits. In addition, the methodology will attempt to remain within the bounds of common greenhouse gas protocols.

Since RNG, electricity from biogas, and digestate are prime candidates to take advantage of the global surge in demand for decarbonized products, this methodology should make it easier for biogas projects to engage with the growing voluntary carbon marketplace. It will create a more universal language for biogas systems and foster innovation within the sector as new technology, design and sustainable agricultural practices emerge as contributors to carbon reduction opportunities, leading to greater investment across the industry.

Finally, to build confidence in and adoption of the resulting methodology, a strong carbon accounting framework, methodology, monitoring, reporting and verification plan is needed. Beyond biogas, this new methodology can act as a starting point for other sectors that may use biogas as an input to their products, advanced liquid biofuels or hydrogen, and can serve as a framework for developing similar methodologies in other industries. It will be game-changing.

For more information, please contact:

Brad Pleima, President, bpleima@ecoengineers.us

Brad Pleima

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