OREANDA-NEWS. April 20, 2018. Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and Opus 12 today announced the successful demonstration of a new process to convert the carbon dioxide in raw biogas to methane in a single electrochemical step, a critical improvement in the science of upgrading biogas to pipeline quality natural gas, and a simpler method of converting excess renewable electricity into storable natural gas.

Opus 12, a clean-energy startup incubated in the prestigious Cyclotron Road program at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, used a new type of Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) electrolyzer to convert carbon dioxide to methane, showing that instead of wasting the carbon dioxide in raw biogas, it can be converted to methane using renewable electricity. 

The research is part of SoCalGas' development of technologies known as power-to-gas (P2G), a cutting-edge method of storing excess renewable energy. Because gases can be easily stored for long periods of time using existing infrastructure, power-to-gas technology has two distinct advantages over storing renewable electricity in batteries.

The nine-month study was funded by SoCalGas along with two start-up-funding organizations, the Rocket Fund of Caltech's FLOW program and Elemental Excelerator.  

"Southern California has ideal conditions for this type of solution, with significant biogas resources and high penetration of renewable electricity," said Nicholas Flanders, Opus 12's chief executive officer. "SoCalGas has identified this regional advantage, and with their scale and expertise in P2G and biogas, the company has been the ideal partner for this project."

Raw biogas is mostly methane, but also contains about 30 to 40 percent carbon dioxide, which is typically vented to atmosphere in a biogas production facility.  While other power-to-gas systems convert water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity, Opus 12's method would likely be implemented adjacent to biogas production so it can make use of a greenhouse gas that would otherwise contribute to climate change.

This feasibility study was the first phase of research that will also explore new catalysts, modifying the catalyst layer formulation, and other ways to enhance the system's methane conversion performance. 

About SoCalGas
Headquartered in Los Angeles, SoCalGas® is the largest natural gas distribution utility in the United States, providing clean, safe, affordable and reliable natural gas service to 21.7 million customers in Central and Southern California. Its service territory spans 22,000 square miles from Fresno to the Mexican border, reaching more than 550 communities through 5.9 million meters and 101,000 miles of pipeline. More than 90 percent of Southern California single-family home residents use natural gas for home heat and hot water. In addition, natural gas plays a key role in providing electricity to Californians—about 60 percent of electric power generated in the state comes from gas-fired power plants.