Understanding How Sustainable the First Sustainable Gas Pipeline Is

Understanding How Sustainable the First Sustainable Gas Pipeline Is

The world's first sustainable gas pipeline was recently introduced, sparking skepticism among environmentalists while marking a potential new era of innovation in the gas sector.

In January 2024, the world’s first sustainable gas pipeline emerged. Environmentalists and climate activists view these headlines with reasonable skepticism. How could a pipeline ever become sustainable? Discover how energy professionals are spinning this story to innovate the gas sector, bringing it into a new era.

What Is This Sustainable Pipeline?

The pipeline’s home is in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and it is a joint effort between French gas distributor GRDF and Belgian chemical producer INEOS. They are installing a single kilometer of piping to test live operations. Their powers combined forged a gas pipeline made with bio-based high-density polyethylene (HDPE). The polymer has a lower carbon footprint than traditional cast iron, cement, steel or PVC.

Bio-based HDPE sounds ideal, but how did INEOS make it? INEOS leveraged the paper industry’s wood processing waste byproduct to create eco-friendly feedstock for the GRDF pipeline. The process used makes the material completely recyclable. The novel recipe performs identically to conventional pipelines, making it easy to justify upgrading other infrastructure.

Influences may extend outside natural gas and into other utilities, like water providers. The bio-based HDPE may be more resilient to extreme temperatures, improving the value of preventive maintenance by preventing pipe bursts. Using bio-based materials for water transmission could make it easier to maintain sanitation and reduce public health risks while fashioning it to be more eco-conscious.

The revolutionary invention will render natural gas operations much safer. It is a dangerous industry, and repairing and monitoring heavy, gas-ridden pathways has always been risky. Eliminating some of the volatile characteristics of older pipelines will make it easier for GRDF to adhere to worker safety standards.

Why the Pipeline Achieves Sustainable Objectives

The collaboration’s strategy is sound. It sought an organic byproduct from an established industry, like wood processing, and reduced its waste production while simultaneously cutting fossil fuel reliance. The ideas promote circular economic practices by taking advantage of found materials and recycling them for new uses.

Additionally, the pipeline received the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) under their rigorous ISCC Plus system. The recognition is monumental because the companies received approval from a third-party authority. GRDF and INEOS met external sustainability standards, meaning this pipeline alternative is valid. Normalizing third-party auditing is essential to encourage corporate social responsibility accountability.

The fact INEOS is using found waste material instead of harvesting new-growth trees to make the feedstock is another positive point. Organic feedstocks used to create products, such as biofuels, are contentious because they can monopolize agricultural lands or impede urban development by taking up too much space. 

Corporations could easily purchase land to plant fast-growing trees, sapping the soil of its nutrients and exploiting labor. However, repurposing the paper industry’s trash from processing eliminates most concerns, as long as they do not resort to these strategies in the future. Preventing these scenarios requires smart scaling and financing to make it long-term viable from a green point of view.

How the Pipelines May Misconstrue Climate Goals

It is advantageous for natural gas companies to seek greener construction and fuel transportation alternatives to appease more demanding clientele in a climate-aware world. What are the drawbacks? The well-intended publicity allows fossil fuel and natural gas interests and infrastructure to remain operational. 

Similar discourse surrounds carbon capture technology. Natural gas companies still monetize from environmentally destructive fuel sources even though they retrieve carbon fossil fuels produce. The same is true when considering the comprehensive sustainability of this reimagined pipeline. It solves part of the problem but might detract from the big picture of moving away from natural gas forever.

Natural gas companies must find ways to decarbonize, and it is promising that they are considering more than just their fuel. There are countless ways for energy providers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Construction and infrastructure are an impactful place to begin. However, focusing on a pipeline may ignite greenwashing claims from activists, supporting natural gas defers funding and positive reception away from renewable energy prospects. 

True decarbonization requires leaving the comforts of fossil fuels, even though the sustainable pipeline’s efforts aid in the interim. Hopefully, the technology will translate to other sectors, like industry and construction, to give them new ways to build with more eco-friendly materials. 

Is HDPE Enough to Reduce Carbon Footprints?

Ultimately, the sustainable pipeline is a positive step in the right direction. They are taking the right actions, though it might distract from other green energy innovations. However, this landmark moment for natural gas may inspire other fossil fuel corporations to change their tone and treat the environment with greater care and urgency.

About the Author

Jane Marsh is an environmental writer. You can keep up with her work on her site Environment.co.