ARB Research Seminar

This page updated November 17, 2016

The Feasibility of Renewable Natural Gas as a Large-Scale, Low Carbon Substitute

Photo of Amy Myers Jaffe

Amy Myers Jaffe

Photo of Nathan Parker

Nathan Parker

Amy Myers Jaffe, M.S., Executive Director for Energy and Sustainability at University of California, Davis with a joint appointment to the Graduate School of Management and Institute of Transportation Studies; and
Nathan Parker, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University

December 02, 2016
Cal EPA Headquarters, 1001 "I" Street, Sacramento, CA

Research Project


California will need high volumes of alternative low carbon fuels to be able to meet its climate change goals. In order to support these goals, this study investigated the technological and commercial feasibility of producing large quantities of renewable natural gas fuels for use in California. The study’s results indicate that there are substantial sources of RNG in California that are commercially competitive with existing fossil fuel-based transportation fuels because carbon externalities are taken into consideration in the California market through existing programs such as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) and the U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). At current credit prices including California’s LCFS and the U.S. federal Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credits, up to 82 billion cubic feet per year (bcf/y) of RNG supply could be attractive for private investment at competitive rate of return in developing RNG sources from landfill, dairy, municipal solid waste and waste-water sites combined. We find that the LCFS credit of $120 per metric tonne of CO2, if taken alone, enables economically viable production of up to 14 bcf RNG transportation fuel over the study period, which begins in 2013 and extends into the 2020s, 6.3 bcf from landfill, 1.5 bcf from waste-water treatment, 1.75 bcf from municipal solid waste, and 4.3 bcf from dairy. If current carbon credit prices persist into the future for programs like the LCFS, a substantial portion of natural gas consumption in the transportation sector can be satisfied by RNG. The analysis also shows that increasing tipping fees for municipal solid waste can influence private investment in RNG. Finally, the study investigates the impact of California’s quality standards for RNG and distance to central distribution systems on the level of investment in certain kinds of RNG. These results support the implementation of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Short-lived Climate Pollutant Strategy, and incentive programs by providing insight into feasible methods to maximize the production of RNG via the most cost-effective pathways, thereby providing practical means to meet the State’s long term climate goals.

Speaker Biography

Amy Myers Jaffe, M.S., is a leading expert on global energy policy, geopolitical risk, and energy and sustainability. Jaffe serves as executive director for Energy and Sustainability at University of California, Davis and Senior Advisor on energy and sustainability at the Office of the Chief Investment Officer, University of California Regents. Her research focuses on scenarios for peak oil demand and stranded assets; Low carbon fuels including renewable natural gas, biofuels and hydrogen pathways for freight, and California refining and competition with sustainable fuels. Jaffe is widely published, including as co-author of “Oil, Dollars, Debt and Crises: The Global Curse of Black Gold” with Mahmoud El-Gamal and co-editor of “Natural Gas and Geopolitics From 1970 to 2040.” She currently serves as a member of California’s Petroleum Marketing Advisory Committee, the US National Petroleum Council, and served as chair of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Oil and Gas with the World Economic Forum (Davos).

Nathan Parker, Ph.D., is an Assistant Research Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University. Dr. Parker develops simulation models to shed light on the economic viability and environmental implications of alternatives to petroleum-based transportation fuels. These models are spatially explicit, include important details about alternative fuel technologies, and bring together both the supply chain and demand components of these industries. In addition, his work analyzes policies aimed at catalyzing transitions to renewable energy. He holds a Ph.D. in Transportation Technology and Policy from University of California, Davis and a B.S. in Physics from Wake Forest University.

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