TotalEnergies, TES mull large-scale US synthetic methane project [Gas in Transition]
France’s TotalEnergies and Belgium’s Tree Energy Solutions (TES) are launching a study in preparation for the development in the US of a large-scale production unit for e-methane, otherwise known as synthetic methane.
There are advantages for locating the project in the US, where gas infrastructure is extensive and there is growing renewable power generation capacity, not to mention the support that such initiatives can receive from the Biden administration’s 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
The two companies will be equal partners in the project, expected to produce 100,000-200,000 metric tons of e-methane annually. TotalEnergies, with experience in renewable power generation, large-scale management, and LNG, is to serve as operator, while TES, which concentrates on multiple energy options and their application in the energy transition, will supply its expertise in e-methane. The companies plan to take a final investment decision (FID) on the $2bn project in 2024.
The initial plan calls first for the generation of green hydrogen using a 1-GW electrolyzer that will be powered by 2 GW of wind and solar energy supplied by TotalEnergies through long-term power purchase agreements. The second step will see the hydrogen combined with biogenic CO2 to produce synthetic methane that can be used to replace natural gas without any major changes to the infrastructure that the gas industry now employs.
“The resulting e-natural gas (e-NG) produced can be transported and/or liquefied, then sold like natural gas, using existing infrastructure, and end customers will be able to use it without any adaptation to their facilities,” the companies said in a joint statement.
Biogenic CO2 is considered a natural product that is carbon neutral and not a greenhouse gas. Because it comes from wood, plants, soil, manure and other organic materials, it is categorised as renewable, making e-NG a sustainable fuel, and a significant player in the war on CO2.
“The synthetic fuel will contribute to the energy transition by helping our customers to decarbonise their activities, notably the ones that are difficult to electrify,” Stephane Michel, president of gas, renewables and power at TotalEnergies, said in the statement. “This product presents two significant advantages. First, it does not require any new logistical infrastructure since e-NG and natural gas have the same properties and can therefore be mixed in existing infrastructures. Second, our customers will not have to change their current industrial processes,” he said.
One facility that might want to put e-NG to the test is Rio Grande LNG. Located in southern Texas, TotalEnergies earlier this month announced that it would be joining the project by acquiring a 17.5% stake in NextDecade, which is leading the project, for $219mn. TotalEnergies will also have a 16.7% interest in the first phase of Rio Grande LNG, which is located in Brownsville. An FID for first phase development is expected soon, and start-up is scheduled for 2027.
A key aspect of Rio Grande LNG is that it is reported to be the first and only LNG project in the US looking to cut direct CO2 emissions by 90% using carbon capture and storage (CCS). Up to 5mn mt of CO2 will be stored annually.
TotalEnergies’ deal with NextDecade gives it the right to participate in the facility’s CCS activity, and it has said it wants to expand the CCS capability to 10mn mt/yr by 2030.
A honed focus on e-methane
Back in France, TotalEnergies this month signed a purchase agreement with Saint-Gobain France covering the supply of 100 GWh of biomethane, with deliveries set to begin in 2024 and last for a three-year period.
Biomethane is similar to e-NG in that it does not give off fossil fuel-like CO2 provided the fuel is produced from organic materials. Biomethane is a naturally occurring gas that is produced by the so-called anaerobic digestion of organic matter such as dead animal and plant material, manure, sewage, and organic waste. Of course, it too gives off CO2 when it is burned. However, the CO2 produced is part of the natural carbon cycle and does not increase the CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
The biomethane that TotalEnergies will supply to Saint-Gobain will be produced at the company’s BioBearn biomethane plant which started operating at the beginning of this year. The production from the plant has been certified sustainable, receiving the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC), which is the highest sustainability criteria for the European Union REDII Directive.
Total Energies is one of the first biomethane producers to obtain this certification, the company said in a statement, adding that the contract with Saint-Gobain is an example of a purely commercial sale, non-subsidized, of biomethane.
TotalEnergies said that by acquiring the Guarantees of Origin and the sustainable certification, “Saint-Gobain will be able to attest, within the framework of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, to the decarbonization of its energy consumption in France.”
“With this contract, TotalEnergies is supporting Saint-Gobain in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in France, in line with TotalEnergies’ ambition to help its customers decarbonise their activities,” Stephane Michel [cited above] said in a statement. “It is also a first step towards the emergence in Europe of a merchant biomethane market, allowing the development of production without public subsidies.”
He added that the contract between the two companies “opens up promising prospects for biomethane players to develop infrastructures on the French territory.” It diversifies the source of decarbonized energy, and supports the development and viability of new local energy networks.”