Blog: Synthetic Methane – Why, How, and What?

Finland aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. Achieving this ambitious goal requires rapid investments and technological advancements. Synthetic methane, specialized in its production technology, is crucial for replacing fossil fuels and capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

To rapidly reduce emissions worldwide, the use of fossil fuels must be significantly reduced. At the same time, the goal is to keep homes warm, lights on, and cars moving. Realistic alternatives to oil, natural gas, and coal must be invented. It can be said that the energy system needs to undergo extensive and rapid changes, requiring all available technological solutions.

At the systemic level of the energy system transformation, two major questions need to be addressed:

  1. How can we produce enough sustainable and carbon-free energy?
  2. How can the logistics of sustainably and carbon-freely produced energy be managed: storage, transmission, distribution, and utilization?

Our mission at Q Power is to promote the transition towards a sustainable society by providing concrete solutions in the fight against climate change. After reading this article, you will understand why we address both questions above by developing and commercializing technology for synthetic methane production.

Toward a Carbon-Free Energy System

Carbon-free electricity is crucial for carbon-free energy production. It can be generated on a large scale through wind, hydro, and solar power plants as well as low-emission nuclear power plants. Net-zero emission electricity and heat can also be produced from renewable biomass. However, the sustainable utilization of biomass is limited in each region, , as it must not deplete soil carbon stocks or reduce biodiversity throughout its life cycle.

Electricity is needed to replace the electricity currently produced by fossil fuels and for new purposes. For example, electricity can be used to produce hydrogen, and electrification can directly reduce emissions in many industrial processes.

However, energy logistics are just as essential as energy production. Energy production is meaningless if it cannot be used. Logistics is one of the reasons why weaning off fossil fuels has proven to be challenging. Hydrocarbons, including fossil fuels, are energy-dense carriers that can be easily stored, transported, and distributed through pipelines and various containers. They have been invaluable for meeting society’s energy needs due to their abundant availability, ease of storage, and energy density.

Since the use of oil and natural gas needs to be phased out rapidly, but hydrocarbons still offer undeniable advantages, it is crucial for the energy economy to learn how to produce carbon-free hydrocarbons on a large scale and in a cost-effective manner In practice, this requires both biofuels and synthetic fuels.

Synthetic Methane as an Energy Storage and Net-Zero Fuel

Synthetic fuels generally refer to hydrocarbons produced by combining carbon dioxide and hydrogen through various chemical processes. In Q Power we develop and sell production technology for synthetic methane as our core business.

Synthetic methane is a carbon-free (or even net-negative) fuel that is chemically identical to natural gas. Producing carbon-free methane requires carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and a reactor that efficiently combines these raw materials into methane. Q Power’s specialty and competitive advantage lie in a reactor based on over 10 years of product development work using a microbiological process. In our reactor, methane is produced with exceptionally high efficiency, at low temperatures, under normal pressure, and without a catalyst. Additionally, our microorganisms tolerate impurities in the input gas and, due to their simplicity, the operational costs of the system are highly competitive.

In methane production, the required carbon dioxide can be obtained from various sources. At its simplest, the generated carbon dioxide stream can be driven directly to the bioreactor this works for example, at a bioethanol plant or brewery. Raw biogas from a biogas plant or landfill gas can also be used as it is. In our pilot plants, we have been amazed to see that our microorganisms can even break down siloxanes from raw biogas, which are typically problematic and impure compounds for the utilization of biogas and landfill gas.

The hydrogen used as a raw material is typically produced through electrolysis of pure water, utilizing renewable electricity. Ideally, hydrogen is produced when there is excess electricity available in the market, leading to a drop in energy prices.

Methane can be utilized to meet various energy needs in society. In its simplest form, carbon-free gas can directly replace the use of natural gas in the energy system. For example, vehicles and other gas-powered means of transportation can run on synthetic methane just like they do on bio or natural gas. Methane can also be burned in boilers in various industrial facilities if desired.

From the perspective of the future energy system, we see synthetic methane playing a particularly central role as an energy storage medium and enabling capacity reserve in the electricity grid. As the production of variable wind and solar power increases, reserves are needed in the electricity grid to serve peak hours of electricity demand, even when the production does not match the demand in real-time. Producing hydrogen through electrolysis and further converting it into methane creates such a reserve in the grid. Methanated hydrogen can be easily stored, for example, in the gas grid, and can be converted back into electricity in case of need using a generator or fuel cell. . In this way, the electricity producer practically receives a guaranteed price in the gas market for the electricity they produce, even in challenging demand conditions. Gas can also be stored, if desired, and used in nearby industrial facilities of the electricity producer.

Synthetic methane is a versatile fuel with numerous applications beyond grid-level use. It works excellently as a transportation fuel, both in passenger cars and heavy-duty road transport as well as in maritime transport. Particularly for the energy needs of heavy-duty and maritime transport, high-energy-density methane is superior to battery technologies. Purely combustible methane can also be used in heat and power production for community and industrial use. The carbon dioxide produced from methane combustion can be captured and recycled for re-methanation. As mentioned above, in a society based on hydrocarbons, it is not difficult to find uses for carbon-free hydrocarbons.

Bold steps forward

The challenge posed by rapidly advancing climate change to the world’s energy systems is enormous. However, the scale of the challenge should not paralyze and hinder taking action. In the 2020s, we need to get on the right path toward a fossil-free society that produces net-negative emissions. Changing direction requires rapid innovation and bold investment decisions.

We firmly believe that energy solutions based on synthetic methane have a significant role in paving the way on the right path. If you are interested in the possibilities of methane, please contact us!

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Sami Lakio

Sales Director
Q Power Oy
040 588 2728
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