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The entire RNG sector should be subject to a strategic environmental assessment, according to a report from the Institute of Environmental Sciences. x27;environment of UQAM.

GNR&nbsp ;: has Quebec overestimated its biomass sources?

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The Biomethanization Center of the agglomeration of Quebec.

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Has Quebec overestimated its capacity to massively develop the renewable natural gas sector? At a time when Énergir is banking on RNG to decarbonize its network, a new report highlights gaps in the assessment of the biomass potential available to ensure the energy transition by 2050.

As fossil fuels are expected to be gradually replaced by energy sources that emit less greenhouse gases, renewable natural gas has carved out a niche for itself. place of choice to compensate for the abandonment of fossil natural gas.

The government of Quebec, which sees this as a solution for the future, has established that the share of RNG in the network should rise to 10% by 2030. The company Énergir, main gas distributor in Quebec, estimates that it can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

For the moment, RNG represents at most 1% of the natural gas distributed by Énergir and comes mainly from American producers. However, the company says it is in a “good position” to increase this share to 2% this year.

To develop its own production of RNG, Énergir joined forces in 2022 with the Danish company Nature Energy, a sector of the oil company Shell which specializes in biomethanization, with the aim of building around ten ;installations in Quebec. Of the billion-dollar investment, $400 million is provided by Énergir.

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ELSE ON NEWS: Canada is not considering any troop deployment to Ukraine< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">According to the trajectory estimated by the company, RNG could constitute more than half of its decarbonized distribution in 2050.

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Table taken from Énergir's 2023 Climate Resilience Report.

Major uncertainties, however, undermine the credibility of the current orientations of the Quebec government which support the development of this sector, according to a new report from the Institute of Sciences of the environment (ISE) of UQAM, commissioned by the Common Front for the Energy Transition.

The volume of RNG that it would be possible to produce in Quebec is uncertain and certainly much lower than the figures that have circulated so far, we note.

Grey areas remain regarding the quantity of biomass actually available, summarizes Éric Pineault, president of the ISE scientific committee, who supervised the report produced by Marc Dionne.

Biomethanation plants need biomass to produce renewable natural gas. This biomass can come from residual materials, such as food waste or gases generated by landfill sites.

It can also be from sources agricultural (manure, slurry) or forestry (trees affected by forest fires, residues from forest industry processing, etc.).

Énergir wants volume, volume, volume. But our forests, fields and cities cannot support this demand. There is not enough biomass, it is not realistic.

A quote from Éric Pineault, president of the scientific committee of the Institute of Environmental Sciences< /blockquote>

Since 2018, three studies – two commissioned by Énergir and one by the former Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Quebec – have been commissioned to draw up an inventory of the biomass available in the province. According to the most recent, which dates from 2021, it is the forest which would provide most of the biomass to produce RNG.

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But as the mandate of these studies was limited, they turned out to be incomplete and ignored the economic reality of Quebec, notes Mr. Pineault. They made it possible to evaluate the biomass potential without however considering the uses to which these residues are intended, today as in the future, nor the competitive uses.

For example, products resulting from the transformation of forest biomass are already recovered by industry, which uses them in particular to make particle boards.

Theoretically, these resources could be used, but in practice, they are already used for something else, explains Éric Pineault. And when you take all that out of the equation, there's not that much left.

According to the report, it seems unlikely that forest biomass can play the predominant role predicted. Still at the experimental stage, the technology for producing RNG from this biomass may also require significant financial support from the State when it reaches maturity. An economic obstacle to consider, according to the professor.

The volumes of biomass from waste and the agricultural sector would be greatly overestimated, according to the report .

In the absence of more exhaustive research on this subject, it is worrying to see the emergence of mega-slurry biomethanization plants in Quebec and to observe that the government financially supports these operations by drawing on energy transition funds. /p>A quote from Extract from the report

In a report published in 2023, Énergir recognizes that several factors could influence its ability to inject RNG into its network, such as access to organic materials and the time it will take to develop the infrastructure necessary for production.

To have a better idea of ​​the potential volume of biomass, the costs and the environmental viability linked to its extraction, the authors of the report recommend carrying out a strategic environmental assessment of the entire RNG sector.

This analysis must be done from one end of the pipe to the other, both on the harvest side and on the distribution side, illustrates Mr. Pineault, who is also a professor in the sociology department of the ;UQAM.

An independent study should first determine the available sources by prioritizing uses and considering different criteria such as gas emissions at greenhouse effect, effects on biodiversity, social acceptability and economic profitability.

And at the other end of the pipe, we have to ask ourselves questions about the use we want to make of this renewable natural gas, says Mr. Pineault.

As the quantity of RNG with high environmental quality will be limited, a serious, detailed and rigorous study should look into the critical uses of RNG to determine the sectors where alternatives to fossil natural gas are becoming rarer.

Instead of powering homes and businesses, renewable natural gas should be intended first and foremost for industries, which do not ;have no replacement solution for their high temperature processes, according to Mr. Pineault. However, at the moment, we are doing the opposite in Quebec, he notes.

At the end of January, the Régie de l'énergie du Québec granted Énergir the green light allowing it to impose RNG on any new customer in the residential, commercial and institutional sector who wishes to connect to the network.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Of the same opinion, organizations united within the Let's take out the gas! deplored that GNR found itself diluted in the Énergir fossil gas network.

For Éric Pineault, there is no doubt that GNR has the potential to contribute to the province's energy transition. It is still necessary to demonstrate that its use is thoughtful and beneficial, both for the climate and for the population. The development of the sector has not been the subject of a broad public debate, he emphasizes.

According to the report, injecting RNG into existing networks without prioritizing its potential uses or those of the biomass sources necessary for its production would be the worst scenario.

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