How food waste could become a new source of natural gas

In the US, about 40% of the food purchased each year is wasted and around the world, about 1.4 billion tons of food is thrown away. Capturing the energy from all that waste could be a useful way to address environmental issues and save huge amounts of money.

According to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, food waste drives about 18% of the methane emissions from landfill sites, which means that it can contribute significantly to climate change.

That’s why researchers are currently developing efficient methods to turn food waste into a viable energy source. “Food waste should have a high value. We’re treating it as a resource, and we’re making marketable products out of it,” said Roy Posmanik, a postdoctoral researcher from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “Food waste is still carbon – a lot of carbon.”

One process being studied at Cornell is “pressure cooking” food waste, which creates a liquid that is then turned into a biofuel. What remains is further broken down into methane that is burned to create electricity and heat.

Love Your Waste, meanwhile, is a French company dedicated to turning biowaste from schools, companies and hospital canteens into energy. “The biowaste we produce ends up being incinerated or buried, polluting the atmosphere, when it could create renewable energy,” explained a spokesperson.

Canada is also involved in transforming food waste into new energy source. A growing number of Canadian cities are enriching biogas, taking it from a methane concentration of 55 to 60 percent to 90 percent or higher. This produces renewable natural gas (RNG), which is similar in quality to conventional natural gas. It can also be delivered via existing natural gas pipelines and used to heat buildings and fuel vehicles. It is estimated that the project could produce 140 million cubic meters of RNG from biogas using residential organic waste alone.

Natural gas trading

When trading natural gas, there are numerous important factors that affect prices, all of which should be taken into consideration by traders. These include the weather, the availability and prices of other commodities, natural gas supply and storage issues and economic growth in the main markets for natural gas.

The US Energy Information Administration explains that “because of limited alternatives for natural gas consumption or production […] even small changes in supply or demand over a short period can result in large price movements.”

Usually, when supply increases, natural gas prices generally decrease. Conversely, if demand increases, then prices tend to rise – especially if supply decreases. And even though RNG is some way off being a reliable energy source, because high price volatility often defines natural gas trading, it’s a firm favorite of in-the-know traders.

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