Biogas industry offers new revenue opportunities
by Todd Campbell, Energy Policy Advisor, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Paul Gunning, Director, Climate Change Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Reuben Sarkar, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation, U.S. Department of Energy
Farmers have long understood the need to care for our air, land and water. They know that farms are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for. Protecting natural resources protects their bottom lines and may be able to improve them as well.
Farmers are always looking for ways to make a living and be good stewards of the land, which is why the emerging biogas industry is so important to rural America. Across the country, biogas systems that capture methane from farming operations and use it to generate renewable energy currently provide enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of almost 70,000 average American homes.
For example, in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, where agriculture is the third leading employer of county residents, there are two anaerobic digesters, both on dairy farms, and three wind farms in operation. Collectively, these systems generate enough power to support and sustain 8,000 households. With a total of 8,900 households located in the county, renewable energy is virtually powering the entire county.
The potential for the biogas industry is well demonstrated, but there are still relatively few biogas systems in use on farms across the country. Research indicates that an additional 8,000 livestock operations are candidates to support biogas projects, in addition to the 239 anaerobic digesters currently operating on farms across the country. If its full potential was realized, a cost-effective biogas industry could produce enough energy from the livestock sector to power 1 million average American homes.
That is why the “Biogas Opportunities Roadmap ”, released today by the Obama Administration, is so critical. It supports the Climate Action Plan-Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions and outlines voluntary actions to support the expansion of the American biogas industry and help it live up to its full potential.
A comprehensive plan to confront climate change should address methane as well as carbon emissions. Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities, responsible for about nine percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. Use of biogas reduces emissions of methane reduces the emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels, and supports the Administration’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.
The Opportunities Roadmap builds on progress made to date to address some of the barriers that currently limit biogas development and supports voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions already underway across the country. It also reflects a commitment to continue working with industry stakeholders on identifying steps to expand the biogas industry, including through the development of new technologies. Last year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the U.S. dairy industry renewed a partnership in support of a voluntary industry goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms by 25 percent by 2020. Methane capture systems are a significant component of this effort, and farmers stand to benefit significantly by the advancement of this technology.
It is important to point out that the emissions intensity of the production of meat and milk in the U.S. is much lower today that it was even a few decades ago. A recent report by FAO showed that North American production of milk and beef is among the most efficient in the world in terms of the GHG emissions per unit of production. With cost-effective technology deployment to utilize biogas, operations could capture increased revenues with reduced emission and other benefits, offering a “win-win” for farmers, communities and the country.
The Opportunities Roadmap also lays out a plan for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency to use existing programs to enhance the use of biogas systems in the U.S by conducting research to accelerate the development of bio-based products from biomass systems and strengthening programs that support farmers as they install these systems on their operations, among other things.
American farmers have a long history of innovation, and a strong commitment to conservation. These efforts are more important than ever as we face the challenges posed by a changing climate and weather variability. Supporting and expanding the biogas industry, using the plan outlined in the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, will help to strengthen those efforts while supporting new opportunities for America’s farmers, strengthening our economy, and ultimately making America more secure by increasing energy independence.