The American Biogas Council (ABC), the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (CRNG) and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing about the untapped energy in domestic wastes. Waste streams—including manure, agricultural waste, waste water, food scraps and landfill gases—can be converted to biogas and upgraded to renewable natural gas (RNG) for electricity, pipeline injection, or vehicle use, while also providing valuable products such as fertilizer and compost. Using these products provides local jobs, improves air and water quality, assists in meeting multi-agency nutrient management strategies and helps to meet multiple policy goals espoused in both the Farm Bill and the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Bernie Sheff, Vice President of Engineering, ES Engineering Services, LLC; Chairman, American Biogas Council
- “There’s no waste, there’s only residuals and options.”
- Sheff provided an overview of how biogas is made and how it can be used. Biogas can be made out of wastewater solids, manure, and food scraps. These organic materials are heated and broken down in a digester, producing biogas and other digested material that can be used as fertilizer, vehicle fuel, and as fuel to generate electricity.
- The United States currently has 2,200 operating biogas systems, including 39 food scrap digesters. However, the United States has the potential to add 13,500 new biogas systems and operate 931 more food scrap digesters. This would provide as many as 335,000 short-term construction jobs and 23,000 permanent jobs, with yearly salaries estimated between $40,000 and $50,000.
Johannes Escudero, CEO, Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas
- Escudero discussed how the United States can grow its economy with renewable natural gas (RNG), which is biogas that has been upgraded to meet pipeline quality standards or transportation fuel grade standards. RNG is commonly referred to as biomethane.
- RNG can be produced from food waste, wastewater, agricultural waste, and landfill gas. The United States produces 66.5 million tons of food waste each year; it has 17,000 wastewater facilities, 8,000 large farms and dairies, and 1,750 landfills that could be used as RNG facilities.
- In 2011, when the RNG Coalition was founded, there were 31 operating RNG projects in North America. Since then, 26 new RNG projects have been developed. This rise in RNG projects can be attributed to the Renewable Fuel Standard and other state and federal clean energy policies.
- In 2017, we can expect RNG production of over 375 million ethanol gallon equivalents, with 24 percent used for off-site power generation and 76 percent used as transportation fuel. In 2018, the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas plans to develop 22 new RNG projects, which would produce a total of over 622 million ethanol gallon equivalents of RNG. This would be enough RNG to power 2-3 million homes annually, or displace at least 15 percent of diesel consumption in California.
- Each RNG project attracts an average of $16 million in investments and creates an average of 173 jobs (more jobs than any other renewable energy sector).
Grant Zimmerman, CEO, ampCNG
- Zimmerman’s company, Amp Americas, produces and distributes RNG to 22 compressed natural gas (CNG) stations. They partner with Fair Oaks Farm, a dairy farm with 18,000 milking cows that each produce about 150 pounds of waste every day. Fair Oaks Farm uses the manure to produce RNG that fuels their milk trucks and other heavy duty trucks. The process reduces the amount of waste that enters waterways, and it provides nutrients that are applied back onto the farm as fertilizers.
- 153 counties in the United States have problems with air quality. Heavy duty trucks contribute 25 percent of smog. By using RNG in a heavy duty truck, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is equal to taking 3.5 heavy duty diesel trucks off the road.
Caroline Henry, Vice President, Marketing, quasar energy group
- quasar energy group has constructed 14 anaerobic digesters across Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, and Maine, with the capacity to manage 700,000 tons of organic waste each year.
- quasar’s Columbus, Ohio, digester facility takes half of the region’s wastewater solids and other organic waste to produce one megawatt hour of electricity each day. This facility also has a publicly available fueling station on site. Fuel at the Columbus facility is sold at $2.25 per gallon.
- quasar also has used funds from USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to upgrade essential infrastructure like wastewater treatment plants. Through these upgrades, quasar is able to use the organic wastes from the plant to produce enough energy to operate the wastewater treatment plants and neighboring water treatment plants, essentially creating a microgrid. Since the 1980s, federal funding for upgrades of essential infrastructure has decreased by 90 percent.
Luke Morrow, Managing Director, Morrow Renewables
- Morrow Renewables is a family-owned company from Edinburg, Texas, that specializes in landfill gas production. In 2013, Morrow Renewables had 25 employees, but has since grown to over 100 employees.
- As a result, Edinburg now saves $500,000 each year on landfill gas gathering and receives over $1.3 million in annual royalties from Morrow Renewables. The annual emissions reduction from landfill gas production is equivalent to the emissions from 27 million gallons of gasoline.
- Renewable energy markets create manufacturing, trade, construction, technical, and operation jobs. Renewable energy and the Renewable Fuel Standard are also attracting new investment into what was once a troubled industry.
Brian Meek, Director of Plant Operations, Avant Energy
- Avant Energy is an electrical consulting firm, specializing in wastewater and biogas. They operate an anaerobic digestion facility in Minnesota that primarily uses agricultural and food wastes. The facility has the capacity to generate 8 megawatts of electricity.
- Meek explained that as solar and wind power increase, baseload power plants will need to shut down to prevent overloading the grid. However, they will need to restart in time for peak hours, which can put stress on the system. During this time, Avant can use stored biogas to quickly produce electricity until demand goes down again.
Patrick Serfass, Executive Director, American Biogas Council
- Serfass stated that there are enough existing policies and programs to sustain the biogas and RNG industries, but they need policymaker support to sustain them. Many programs in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE), and Department of Agriculture (USDA) provide funding for biogas and RNG projects, but these agencies are expecting funding cuts under the current administration.
- He stressed the importance of the Renewable Fuel Standard in encouraging industry advancement. Fossil natural gas is $3.00/MMBTU, but producing a D3 RIN (a cellulosic fuel) can be sold for $34.00/MMBTU and a D5 RIN (an advanced fuel) can be sold for $7.00/MMBTU.
- The Farm Bill has several programs that can help encourage biogas and RNG project development, including the Energy Title (IX), Conservation Title (II), and Research Title (VII).
- Serfass concluded by stating that biogas and RNG should have tax equity with fossil energy and other forms of renewable energy. He noted that it takes six times as much solar capacity to achieve the same amount of produced energy from anaerobic digestion.
Currently, most waste streams represent a missed opportunity. The United States produces over 70 million tons of organic wastes per year (food waste, manure, agricultural waste), yet only a small portion is used to make RNG, biogas and a variety of soil amendments (fertilizers, composts, peat moss replacement). According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Biogas Coalition, 8,241 dairy and swine farms, 3,888 wastewater treatment facilities, over 400 landfills and nearly 1,000 stand-alone food waste systems could be producing biogas, RNG and other commercial products from wet wastes.
These wastes can cause significant pollution problems. However, if utilized, they can reduce costs associated with waste remediation, provide value-added products and new revenue streams. Moreover, developing all the potential projects above would catalyze an estimated $40 billion in capital deployment for construction activity, resulting in approximately 335,000 short-term construction jobs and 23,000 permanent jobs to run the digesters and produce raw biogas.
Making RNG from biogas creates additional jobs and investment. Since 2014, 53 existing RNG facilities have created 4,000 direct and indirect jobs. Forty new RNG projects a year over the next decade could create as many as 70,000 additional domestic jobs—in rural and urban communities— adding $6.5 billion to the economy.
State waste resources are diverse and numerous. Briefing attendees had the opportunity to learn about the potential resources in their states, as well as economic and job opportunities, and policy drivers.