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The Burning Question

Gas flaring, landfill and wasted energy opportunities

As those of us working in the industry know all too well, the energy sector has and is undergoing fundamental changes.

Driven by overarching demographic change, a push towards decarbonisation, and an increasingly decentralised system, what were once considered immutable characteristics of the sector have evolved rapidly in a fairly short space of time.

Yet despite the strides the industry has taken to adapt to shifting dynamics, one important issue remains largely side-lined. Despite the valiant efforts of organisations like the UN and the World Bank in particular, the issue of waste gas, created primarily via associated petroleum gas or landfill, remains largely unresolved – a stubborn reminder of old practises in an otherwise rapidly transforming sector. 

To understand the extent of the problem, you first need to look at the numbers. Though some reports have suggested a slight downturn in recent years, an estimated 140 billion cubic meters of gas is still wasted through flaring each year worldwide. In monetary terms, this is the equivalent of an eye-watering 20 billion USD, but the cost of wasted gas goes beyond just the financial, flaring adds as much CO2 to the atmosphere every year as 200 million cars.

Waste to Energy

But notwithstanding the various advantages and disadvantages of each of these methods, it’s safe to say that many of them have been implemented to great effect – often in countries which have historically had waste gas surpluses and electricity shortages.

Take Nigeria, for example. Once the second largest flarer in the world, up there with other large flaring countries including Russia, the US, and Iraq, Nigeria now sits at number 7 in the tables. By committing to a project of gas gathering and building almost 600km of new gas pipelines to connect power plants to gas supply pipelines, Nigeria has reduced its flaring from 25% to 10%. The country’s latest ambition to reduce flaring levels to zero has been well documented, and given the success in recent years, could soon be a reality.

In a similar vein, though it remains the world’s largest gas flaring country, Russia also saw the largest decline in flaring last year, using flared gas to generate electricity or monetising it through the pipeline network. Besides, the country is levying heavy fines on flaring less than 95% of the associated petroleum gas.

When it comes to the issue of landfill gas, arguably there’s an even easier solution available to us. Several countries and organisations are increasingly turning to biogas plants, which work by turning waste into an anaerobic digester, to produce gas. The Dutch government, for example, is set to commit $2.5m into Kenya to launch a biogas grant programme to develop 8,000 domestic plants in rural areas. The objective is to reduce household reliance on forestry resources and kerosene for cooking and lighting purposes.

Similarly, some developed countries are doing particularly well in collecting methane from landfill installations to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and to manage the air pollution.

In European countries in particular the installations are collecting methane, supported by EU regulation and local feed-in tariff. These examples all demonstrate a clear blueprint for success, if the effort and budget is there among companies, governments, and stakeholders alike. This requires a collective sense of responsibility to the planet from companies such as Aggreko, as businesses can’t always rely upon government action to encourage sustainable practices.

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