Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) said Aug. 8 it plans to turn agricultural waste into renewable natural gas (RNG) as part of what could become California’s largest RNG pilot project.

The project, which would be developed by San Joaquin Renewables LLC in McFarland, Calif., would produce up to 4.5 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of RNG annually from 400,000 to 500,000 tons of agricultural waste, if the project is approved. SoCalGas has submitted its application for the project to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

“Instead of burning this agricultural waste, this project could produce more RNG annually than the entire state of Hawaii uses each year, putting this waste to good use to help shore up energy reliability and resiliency as we transition to a clean energy economy,” said Neil Navin, chief clean fuels officer at SoCalGas.

As part of ongoing clean energy efforts, the CPUC requires utilities to hit biomethane procurement targets to reduce emissions. The state’s short-term 2025 target aims for 17.6 Bcf of biomethane, which it says corresponds to 8 million tons of organic waste diverted annually from landfills. The medium-term 2030 target is for utilities to procure 72.8 Bcf of biomethane per year, to move the state closer to its goal of reducing methane emissions 40% by 2030.

Utilities are also required under the state’s Renewable Gas Procurement Standard, which was adopted in February 2022, to replace a certain percentage of traditional gas with RNG by 2030. SoCalGas said it is required to replace about 12.2% of the traditional gas it delivers to customers with RNG by 2030. Its interim goal is about 3% RNG by 2025.

If the company is successful in securing approvals for the RNG pilot, the project could go online in late 2026 and more than double SoCalGas’ 2022 RNG deliveries.

Plans are to use a non-combustion process to transform agricultural waste such as chipped wood and nut shells, into a mix of gases—including hydrogen—that is then cleaned and compressed for use as RNG, SoCalGas said.

The project is expected to deliver carbon-neutral fuel that is equivalent to removing up to 52,000 gasoline-powered vehicles from roads each year, according to SoCalGas.