Natural gas and biogas

Natural gas plNatural gas plays a major role in the Dutch energy supply. a major role in the Dutch energy supply.

Gaseous fuels, usually in the form of natural gas, play a major role in the current energy supply in the Netherlands. The vast majority of homes and other buildings in the Netherlands are heated with natural gas. Half of the electricity in the Netherlands is generated from natural gas, and the industry uses natural gas for heat in production processes. Gaseous fuels are also produced in industrial processes, which are used by the industry itself or in power stations. Other gaseous fuels include gases such as propane, landfill gas, and anaerobic digester gas. Some gaseous fuels are of renewable origin and produced by fermenting biological materials, such as residual flows from the food industry or manure.

Replacing natural gas and other fossil-based gaseous fuels with renewable alternatives can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

A large part of fuel consumption can be replaced by electricity in the course of the energy transition, but not all. There are good alternatives to natural gas for heating buildings and for electricity production, but the high temperatures required for certain industrial processes are difficult to replace with the use of electricity, and thus fuels will still be necessary. Gaseous fuels will continue to play an important role even if energy savings measures have reduced the demand. Biogas and hydrogen are possible alternatives for energy needs in the industry sector, although the potential for biogas is limited. There is also non-energetic use of gas, for example, natural gas and hydrogen made from natural gas are used on a large scale by industry as a raw material, and there will therefore have to be an alternative.

There is a multitude of renewable gases that can be used as an alternative to fossil-based gases.

Fossil-based gaseous fuels encompass natural gas, refinery gas, coke and blast furnace gas and hydrogen made from natural gas. For the Netherlands, fossil alternatives to domestic natural gas are imports from Norway and Russia, and LNG imports. To prevent an increase in the greenhouse gas concentration, these fossil fuel gases will have to be replaced by renewable variants, unless CCS can be applied. Another important reason to replace Dutch natural gas is the earthquakes caused by gas extraction from the Slochteren field. Hydrogen is one of the possible alternatives. The CO2 emissions of hydrogen production from natural gas can be greatly reduced by applying CCS. This is called low-carbon or blue hydrogen. Hydrogen production without CO2 emissions is also possible using electrolysis in combination with electricity from renewable energy sources; this form is often called green hydrogen. Renewable gas can also be biogas (from vegetable origin, from manure, from sewage water, or from all kinds of biogenic waste) made by fermentation. “Raw” biogas can be cleaned and upgraded to natural gas standards. There is also non-biogenic renewable gas, namely synthetic gas, such as hydrogen from electrolysis, which can also be used to make methane. The advantage of methane is that it is easier to handle. Disadvantages are additional conversion losses and the formation of CO2 during the combustion of synthetic methane. This means that the application of this type of gas should take place where the emission can be captured.

Hydrogen production can play an important role in utilizing large-scale electricity production from sun and wind.

Biogas has limited availability and electrolysis is still expensive, so that the current demand for natural gas will not yet be fully met with bio and synthetic gases. Like other energy conversions, converting hydrogen into electricity results in losses (+/- 25% calculated with the higher heating value). If hydrogen is used as a storage of electricity and the hydrogen is converted back into electricity with a fuel cell, the losses increase to 50%. However, that does not have to be an obstacle to the production of hydrogen using electrolysis because there is a wide range of energetic and non-energetic applications. The use of renewable electricity by capturing part of it in chemical bonds makes a much larger-scale application of electricity production from wind and sun possible, increasing its contribution to the energy transition. There are already plans for large-scale hydrogen production using electrolysis on islands in the North Sea, where electricity from offshore wind farms is used. Due to the fall in solar energy prices, production of hydrogen using electrolysis in sunny countries could become profitable and it could be exported. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), ammonia is also a candidate for storing solar energy and exporting it to other countries.

Gaseous fuels will continue to be needed as feedstock, for heat production and for CO₂-neutral dispatchable electricity production.

As stated, a complete electrification of the energy system is not considered to be feasible; the share of electricity will remain at around 50%, meaning that an equal amount will have to be filled in by other energy carriers. In addition to heating buildings, natural gas is used as a heat source in industry. Hydrogen will remain necessary as a raw material for the chemical industry. CO2-neutral dispatchable power will be required in the electricity supply, which is quite possible with gaseous fuels; also because there are already many gas-fired power stations and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) installations. All these applications could also be filled with renewable gas. However, availability is limited, which is a reason to use it where alternatives are not available or poorly available.