On August 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Energy (DOE) released a Biogas Roadmap, outlining voluntary measures that farmers and dairy producers can implement to increase the use of methane digesters. Financial support is provided through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQUIP), as well as several programs from the Farm Bill’s Energy Title: the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, and the Biorefinery Assistance Program.
In March, the Obama administration unveiled its Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, as prescribed by the President’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) released last June. While shorter-lived in the atmosphere, methane is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), 84 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide in a 20-year period. Most of the attention has been focused on the emissions of the booming domestic oil and natural gas industry, but agriculture is the largest source of domestic methane emissions, at 23 percent. Currently, methane accounts for almost 9 percent of domestic GHG emissions, down from 11 percent of total GHG emissions in 1990, despite an uptick in methane-producing activities. However, methane emissions are expected to rise by 2030, unless further action is taken.
There is tremendous opportunity in biogas for American farmers. Cow manure is roughly 50 to 70 percent methane. Anaerobic digestion can turn a problem into a solution – the process converts manure, food scraps and agriculture waste into biogas and fertilizer, allowing farms to be more self-sustaining, economical, and environmentally friendly. The Roadmap estimates that 11,000 biogas systems could be added to farms and dairies in the United States, producing enough power for 3 million homes and reducing methane emission by 4 to 54 million metric tons by 2030. The Roadmap outlines steps that the Federal Government will take to support the use of anaerobic digestion in the agricultural sector, such as using existing programs at the USDA, DOE and EPA to provide technical support and financial assistance to those considering biogas systems; the collection of data by USDA to understand the financial and systemic barriers to further integration of biodigesters; a strengthened marketplace for biogas; and the creation of a Biogas Opportunities Roadmap Working Group. The Working Group will create an interim report by 2015, which will identify and prioritize policies to grow the biogas industry.
Anaerobic digesters make sense – particularly on dairy farms – yet barriers still exist. According to the EPA’s AgSTAR program, there are only 239 anaerobic digesters currently operating on the roughly 2.2 million commercial farms in the United States. The cost-effectiveness and benefits to farmers must be made clear. According to USDA, if there were 2,600 biodigesters on U.S. dairy farms, they would produce an astonishing 11.7 million megawatt hours per year of biogas (worth $894 million), $467 million dollars worth of nitrogen, $325 million dollars of phosphorous, and $217 million dollars per year of fiber. These numbers would be even higher if calculations included the potential for biogas production at hog, cattle, poultry and produce farms as well as waste from food manufacturers, restaurants and homes. . In Kewanee County, Wisconsin, for example, there are currently two anaerobic digesters and three wind farms. The total output of these facilities is enough power for 8,000 out of the 8,900 homes in the county –almost the entire county!
For more information see:
Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, U.S. EPA