1. What is methane?
Methane (CH4) is a hydrocarbon that is a primary component of natural gas. Methane is also a "greenhouse gas," or GHG, meaning that its presence in the atmosphere affects the earth's temperature and climate system. Methane is the second most prevalent human-influenced GHG next to carbon dioxide (CO2).
2. Why is there concern about methane emissions?
Methane is 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Over the last two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, largely due to human-related activities. Methane now accounts for 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Because methane is both a powerful greenhouse gas and short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, achieving significant reductions would have a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming potential.
3. Where does methane come from?
Methane is emitted from a variety of both anthropogenic (human-influenced) and natural sources. Anthropogenic emission sources include agriculture, coal mines, landfills, and natural gas and oil systems. About 60% of global methane emissions come from these sources.
4. Who are the biggest methane emitters?
China, India, the United States, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Ukraine, and Australia are estimated to be responsible for almost half of all anthropogenic methane emissions. The major methane emission sources for these countries vary greatly. For example, a key source of methane emissions in China is coal production, whereas Russia emits most of its methane from natural gas and oil systems. Landfills are the largest source of U.S. methane emissions.
5. Why concentrate on actions to capture and use methane as an energy source?
Reducing methane emissions has many important energy, safety, economic, and environmental benefits. First, because methane is both a potent GHG and has a short atmospheric lifetime, methane reductions can produce significant near-term results. In addition, methane is the primary constituent of natural gas. Thus, the collection and utilization of methane provides a valuable, clean-burning energy source that improves quality of life in local communities and can generate revenue and improve living standards. Producing energy from recovered methane can also replace higher-emitting energy resources such as wood, coal, or oil. This can reduce end user and power plant emissions of CO2 and air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (a major acid rain contributor), particulate matter (a respiratory health concern), and trace hazardous air pollutants. Capturing methane from coal mines can also improve safety conditions by reducing explosion hazards.
6. What efforts are being made in the United States to capture and use methane emissions?
U.S. industries—along with state and local governments—collaborate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement several voluntary programs that promote profitable opportunities for reducing emissions of methane. These programs are designed to overcome a wide range of informational, technical, and institutional barriers to reducing methane emissions, while creating profitable activities for the coal, natural gas, petroleum, landfill, and agricultural industries.
Many of the available methane emission reduction opportunities involve the recovery of methane emissions and use of the methane as fuel for electricity generation, on-site uses, or off-site sales of methane. For example, in the case of coal mining methane is removed from underground mines either in advance of mining, during mining activities, or after mining has occurred to reduce explosion hazards. Instead of releasing this methane to the atmosphere, profitable uses for the methane can be identified and implemented. Some of these options include natural gas pipeline injection, power production, co-firing in boilers, district heating, coal drying, and vehicle fuel. For more information on methane reduction opportunities and EPA’s voluntary programs, please visit EPA’s web site at www.epa.gov/methane.
7. Have efforts to reduce methane emissions in the United States been successful?
The collective results of EPA’s voluntary methane partnership programs, which started in 1993 and 1994, have been substantial. As of 2005, these programs have contributed to reducing total U.S. methane emissions more than 11% below 1990 levels, in spite of significant economic growth over that time period. EPA expects that these programs will maintain emissions below 1990 levels in the future due to expanded industry participation and the continuing commitment of the participating companies, municipalities, and other organizations to identify and implement cost-effective technologies and practices.
8. Why aren’t efforts to capture and profitably use methane emissions more widespread?
Even with these multiple benefits, methane recovery is not widespread for several reasons. First, methane is generally a secondary issue in the industrial processes from which it is emitted. Coal mines, for example, want to vent methane from the mine workings because it is explosive and historically, mining companies have not viewed methane as an energy resource in its own right. Second, those responsible for the emissions may not be familiar with the technologies available for methane recovery or the potential for profitable projects. This is especially true in developing countries where increased information exchange and technical training would be beneficial to generating support for methane recovery projects. Finally, poorly functioning energy markets and financially-insolvent utilities and municipalities within many countries fail to provide the private sector with a climate that will attract their investment in projects to capture and utilize methane.
9. What is the objective of the Global Methane Initiative?
The Global Methane Initiative is an action-oriented initiative that reduces global methane emissions to enhance economic growth, promote energy security, improve the environment, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The initiative focuses on cost-effective, near-term methane recovery and use as a clean energy source. This is achieved internationally through collaboration between developed countries, developing countries, and countries with economies in transition — together with strong participation from the private sector. The Global Methane Initiative targets four major methane sources for action: landfills, underground coal mines, natural gas and oil systems, and agriculture (manure management).
10. What countries are participating in the Global Methane Initiative?
Partners in this effort share certain characteristics, including generating significant levels of methane emissions, range of emission sources, special expertise, and geographic and economic significance. In the future, it is expected that the initiative will be expanded to include other countries where methane is an important emission source. The United States and 13 other countries launched the Global Methane Initiative in November 2004. Since then, 6 additional national governments as well as the European Commission have joined the Initiative, for a total of 21 partners.
- Republic of Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
- European Commission
More information about our partners >>
11. What commitments do countries make that are participating in this initiative?
Participating countries sign a Terms of Reference that outlines the purpose, organization and functions of the Initiative. While the details are worked out by the Partners through a consensus-based process, core activities often include:
- Identifying and promoting areas of bilateral, multilateral, and private sector collaboration on methane recovery and use.
- Developing improved emissions estimates and identifying the largest relevant emission sources to facilitate project development.
- Identifying cost-effective opportunities to recover methane emissions for energy production and potential financing mechanisms to encourage investment.
- Improving the legal, regulatory, financial, institutional, and other conditions necessary to attract investment in methane recovery and utilization projects.
- Identifying and implementing collaborative projects aimed at addressing specific challenges to methane recovery, such as raising awareness in key industries, removing barriers to project development and implementation, identifying project opportunities, and demonstrating technologies.
- Developing collaborative action plans that outline a series of concrete activities and actions that directly support the core goals and functions of the Initiative.
- Developing and implementing a process for evaluating progress and reporting results.
In addition, developed country partners assist developing countries and countries with economies in transition in expanding methane recovery projects through cooperative technical assistance and technology deployment. The U.S. has committed up to $53 million over a five year period to facilitate the development and implementation of methane projects in both developing countries and countries with economies in transition through a range of activities, including the export of EPA’s successful U.S. voluntary methane programs, data development and institution building, feasibility assessments and technology demonstrations.
12. Can the private sector and non-governmental organizations participate in the Global Methane Initiative?
Active involvement by private sector entities, financial institutions, and other non-governmental organizations is essential to building capacity, transfer technology, and promoting private direct investment that will ensure the Initiative's success. The Project Network serves as an informal mechanism to facilitate communication, project development and implementation, and private sector involvement. This Network is key to reaching out to and organizing the efforts of the private sector, governmental and non-governmental organizations, including representatives from local governments, the private sector, the research community, multilateral and regional development banks, and other governmental and non-governmental organizations.
13. What are the expected benefits of the Global Methane Initiative?
The Initiative has the potential to deliver by 2015 annual reductions in methane emissions of up to 50 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE) or recovery of 500 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas. These measurable results would be in addition to methane reductions being achieved as part of the U.S. EPA's domestic voluntary partnership programs. If achieved, these reductions could lead to stabilized or even declining levels of global atmospheric concentrations of methane. To give a sense of scale, this would be equivalent to:
- Removing 33 million cars from the roadways for one year, planting 55 million acres of trees, or eliminating emissions from fifty 500 MW coal-fired power plants; or
- Providing enough energy to heat approximately 7.2 million households for one year.
14. How much methane will be recovered and reduced in the U.S. as a result of this partnership?
Potential methane reductions achieved by the Global Methane Initiative do not include results expected from U.S. EPA's domestic methane emission reduction activities. Since 1993, the EPA has been collaborating with U.S. industries and state and local governments to implement several voluntary programs that promote cost-effective opportunities for reducing emissions of methane. These programs include the Natural Gas STAR Program, Landfill Methane Outreach Program, the Coalbed Methane Outreach Program and the AgSTAR Program. Collectively, these programs are projected to achieve annual methane emission reductions of approximately 16 MMTCE by 2015.
15. What contributions has the U.S. made to the Initiative?
As of 2006, the Initiative's efforts have resulted in full-scale projects around the world which, when fully implemented, will deliver estimated annual emissions reductions of more than 9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (or almost 3 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE). This number is based on just those projects that the U.S. government is involved in. The Initiative released the "U.S. Government Accomplishments in support of the Methane to Markets Partnership" in September 2007, and is developing a comprehensive report of all Partnership activities to release in November of 2009.
16. What contributions has the U.S. made to the Initiative?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plays a lead role in the Initiative by building on the success of the Agency's voluntary domestic methane partnership programs and by managing the Administrative Support Group for the Global Methane Initiative. Other federal agencies also play a central role in the Initiative. These include the Department of State, which leads on international climate change policy and activities; the Department of Energy, which has valuable expertise in natural gas and coal mine methane technologies; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which facilitates development in emerging markets by promoting U.S. partnerships in high priority overseas projects; the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides important technical expertise in the economic reform of energy sectors to create markets that support private sector projects in developing countries and those with economies in transition; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides technical expertise in the animal waste management sector.