How can methane emissions be reduced?

21 October, 2022

Methane emissions are the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for almost a quarter of the temperature increase.

However, although methane has a greater global warming potential than CO2, it also has a shorter lifetime (roughly 10 years in the atmosphere). For this reason, a prompt reduction of methane emissions is one of the most effective measures to curb climate change.

These emissions come mainly from agriculture, landfills and the energy sector. However, methane emissions associated with the activity of European gas operators accounted for less than 0.5% of total EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2019 and around 4% of total methane emissions according to the report ‘Gas system operators in joint effort to continue curbing emissions and to support the Global Methane Pledge’, jointly developed by ENTSOG, Eurogas and GIE.

A prompt reduction of methane emissions is one of the most effective measures to curb climate change.

Short-term measures

Innovation plays an essential role in reducing methane emissions in the short term.

Initiatives such as accurately tracking global methane emissions using the MethaneSAT satellite, the brainchild of Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defence Fund, will provide a much-needed source of data for governments, corporations and citizens to take action to reduce methane emissions everywhere.

Having a vision from space can provide very interesting solutions to climate change. Another good example of this is the collaboration between Enagás and Satlantis, to carry out calibration tests of high-precision optics for space microsatellites that will detect and quantify methane emissions on our planet.

Detecting, monitoring and mitigating methane emissions in the gas value chain is a crucial part of reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In fact, it is one of the priorities of GERG (The European Gas Research Group), an institution that works with Europe’s energy community to develop innovative gas infrastructure solutions.

Detecting, monitoring and mitigating methane emissions is a crucial part of reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

Recent projects include a pioneering initiative in Europe to increase knowledge of new gas quantification technologies, in which the accuracy of new sensors and methodologies was analysed through a series of controlled methane emission tests.

Work is also currently underway on a pilot project to develop reconciliation methodologies that involve combining top down (site level) and bottom up (focused on the detection of each individual emission source) emission quantification approaches. Both projects have been spearheaded by Enagás with the support of GERG and various European gas operators and associations.

Long-term measures

While action must be expeditious, it must not be forgotten that change must be permanent. Accordingly, measures that have a long-term impact must also be taken.

In the energy sector

Leading companies are already taking measures to reduce emissions, including methane, and in many cases, campaigns to detect, quantify and mitigate emissions are included in their annual maintenance plans.

In addition, the Regulation for the reduction of methane emissions in the energy sector, which establishes rules for the reporting and reduction of methane emissions, is expected to be approved in the coming months. These include the use of the latest technology that allows the same or better performance with a focus on sustainability.

But it is also important to continue with efforts for a gradual transition to meet the decarbonisation targets set in Europe for 2050, which places renewable energy at the forefront of the energy mix.

Leading companies have already included campaigns to detect, quantify and mitigate emissions in their annual maintenance plans

Waste recovery

Methane can also be produced when organic waste decomposes due to a lack of oxygen. Such uncontrolled emissions of waste must be phased out and, in fact, this is standard practice in many industrialised countries. In this way, waste-to-energy has the dual advantage of reducing waste while generating energy that can be harnessed, such as biogas.

This would also include wastewater, where the use of covered lagoons or the application of microalgae can prevent the formation of gases.

Reducing deforestation and planting trees

While it is important to reduce emissions, it is also possible to increase sinks, systems that capture or degrade greenhouse gas molecules. Afforestation is also a well-known system in the fight against climate change, as trees have the capacity to store carbon and thus reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

In livestock farming

Livestock farming is a sector that emits large quantities of methane, something that can be gradually reversed.

The main strategies focus on a more balanced diet for the animals (allowing, for example, emissions to be reduced), including the introduction of innovations such as the use of algae or new feed additives.

From the consumer’s point of view, a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy products in society is recommended. Rationalising the intake of these products, which is generally very high in developed countries, can help reduce emissions; but it also offers benefits for individual health.

Reducing methane emissions is one of the most effective ways to curb climate change, and it is within our reach.