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SoCalGas and Calgren complete largest dairy RNG facility in the US

In the United States (US), Calgren Dairy Fuels LLC, and Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), the largest gas distribution utility in the country, joined state and local elected officials to announce the completion of Calgren's dairy renewable natural gas (RNG) facility. The project, located in the Central Valley community of Pixley, is the first of its kind in California (CA) and is expected to become the largest dairy biogas operation in the US when fully operational.

On July 29, 2019, Calgren Dairy Fuels LLC, and Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas), the largest gas distribution utility in the country, joined state and local elected officials to announce the completion of Calgren’s dairy renewable natural gas (RNG) facility in Pixley. SoCalGas presented Calgren with a US$5 million incentive check authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to support the development of renewable energy projects (photo courtesy SoCalGas).

At the new facility, Calgren collects cow manure – a potent source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – from four local dairy farms and processes it in an anaerobic digester (AD) that accelerates the natural decomposition process. Methane emissions (biogas) from that process are captured and converted to make renewable vehicle fuels.

Producing pipeline-quality renewable natural gas (RNG) that is then injected into the SoCalGas pipeline system which allows Calgren to supply RNG to existing compressed natural gas (CNG) refueling facilities. Ultimately, this also has the potential to be delivered to customers to fuel ultra-low emissions trucks and buses, generate clean electricity, and heat homes and businesses.

Largest of its kind in the US

With its affiliates, Calgren has been producing renewable fuels in California’s Central Valley since 2008. The company also produces low carbon renewable biodiesel from waste feedstocks without the use of chemical catalysts and the carbon intensity of its fuel ethanol is among the lowest available.

As a result of its pipeline dairy digester project, Calgren adds bio-CNG to its slate of products and it plans to partner with eight additional dairy farms by the end of 2019, which will make the facility the largest dairy biogas project in the nation.

Calgren is proud to be the first facility in California to operate a dairy digester pipeline cluster and to work with both the dairies and SoCalGas to mitigate emissions. This facility alone will eventually capture methane produced from the manure of more than 75 000 cows, preventing about 130 000 tonnes of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of taking more than 25 000 passenger cars off the road for a year, said Walt Dwelle, Principal Owner of Calgren Renewable Fuels.

At a ceremony on July 29, 20219, marking the completion of the project, SoCalGas presented Calgren with a US$5 million incentive check authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to support the development of renewable energy projects.

As part of our vision to be the cleanest natural gas company in North America, we have committed to replacing 20 percent of the natural gas we deliver today with renewable natural gas, primarily from organic sources, by 2030. Renewable natural gas is a ready, reliable and realistic way to reduce GHG emissions and pollution from heavy-duty transportation and buildings and will help ensure that families and businesses have an affordable option for heating and cooking as California transitions to a clean energy future said Jeff Walker, Vice President of Customer Solutions at SoCalGas.

Increased use of RNG in transportation

RNG is already helping eliminate emissions from trucks and buses. According to SoCalGas, over the last five years, the use of RNG as a transportation fuel has increased 577 percent over the last five years

SoCalGas is working to build on RNG’s success in the transportation sector by making it available to fuel the homes of the company’s 21 million customers across Southern California. Earlier this year, SoCalGas’ committed to replacing 20 percent of its traditional natural gas supply with RNG by 2030 – as part of a broad, inclusive and integrated plan to help achieve California’s ambitious climate goals.

To kickstart the plan, SoCalGas will pursue regulatory authority to implement a broad RNG procurement program with the goal of replacing five percent of its natural gas supply with RNG by 2022. The company also recently filed a request with the CPUC to allow customers to purchase RNG for their homes and expects to have CPUC approval of its voluntary program by the end of the year.

Increased RNG cost-effective GHG reduction for California

According to SoCalGas, research shows that replacing about 20 percent of California’s traditional natural gas supply with RNG would lower emissions equal to retrofitting every building in the state to run on electric-only energy and at a fraction of the cost.

Using RNG in buildings can be two to three times less expensive than any all-electric strategy and does not require families or businesses to purchase new appliances or take on costly construction projects.

Renewable natural gas is a smart way to address climate pollution. It not only helps develop new businesses and economic opportunities, but it also reduces emissions while allowing people to keep the option of using gas for home heating, cooking, and other needs, said Assembly Member Devon Mathis (26th District).

Today organic waste from farms, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) account for 80 percent of methane emissions in California. A 2016 law requires 40 percent of methane from the state’s landfills and dairies to be captured, with provisions to deliver that energy to customers. This will bolster the supply of RNG that is already growing rapidly as cities and towns across the country look to divert organic waste from landfills.

In California, scientists at the University of California, Davis estimate that the state’s existing organic waste could produce enough RNG to meet the needs of 2.3 million homes.

Renewable natural gas is a viable and cost-effective solution to achieving emissions reductions in this state. Tulare County is the dairy capital of the world, and it’s fantastic to see industries working together to have a positive impact on our air and environment. Innovation like this will not only reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality, it will provide job opportunities for county residents and economic growth, said Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel.

More projects throughout the state

The dairy digesters in the Calgren project and others like it are also partly funded under California’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program, which aims to reduce GHG emissions from manure generated at state dairy farms.

The state currently has about 30 operational dairy RNG projects and 50 more in various stages of development that will result in more than 50 million tonnes of GHG reduction (CO2e) over the next 20 years, according to the industry group Dairy Cares. Experts estimate as many as 120 projects could be funded and operating in the next five years.

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