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US EPA and USDA Boost AD and Biogas

US EPA and USDA Boost Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas as a Major Renewable Energy Source

The US EPA and USDA have recently updated and extended their anaerobic digestion and biogas plant sections. This will further boost the uptake of anaerobic digestion technology and biogas/ biomethane production as a major renewable energy source.

At the same time, there is recognition that anaerobic digestion has many other benefits, and these too are being better appreciatesd within these organisations.

USDA Offers Funding To Help Farmers Turn Manure into Energy

New Mexico is one of several states taking part in the construction of anaerobic digesters as part of EPA/ ASDA programs. The plan is to generate electricity using manure as a fuel.

Through the USDA's rural development, natural resources conservation service (NRCS), and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the goal is to build them over a four-year period.

As long ago as 2017, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced funding for 19 biodigester projects in eight states as part of the USDA's Rural Energy for America initiative.

EPA, USDA invest in energy from farm biogas

Innovative agricultural producers are currently using anaerobic digestion to convert farm animal excrement into sustainable energy around the country.

Anaerobic digestion is a proven technique that is currently available to farmers and promises a significant economic opportunity for rural America while also addressing the country's energy and climate issues.

This system makes use of microorganisms that break down all sorts of organic waste and produce methane and a certain amount of carbon dioxide, as a mixture known as biogas.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest $8.8 million to improve advanced biofuel production and maintain jobs at renewable energy facilities in 39 states, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Where the Investment will be spent

The money will be used to increase advanced biofuel production and keep jobs in 39 states.

USDA claims to be leading the way in promoting advanced biofuel production, from implementing the revised farm bill bio-refinery programme to launching the green fleet with the Navy and developing the biogas opportunities roadmap.

The roadmap outlines voluntary strategies to overcome barriers to the growth and development of a strong US biogas industry.

According to the USDA, food waste (FW) accounts for 30-40% of the food supply in the United States, and a large percentage of this material is disposed of in landfills, causing considerable environmental harm.

This loss amounted to 133 billion pounds (218.9 pounds per person) in 2010 or $161 billion in food.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have set a domestic goal of a 50% reduction in food loss and waste by 2030, as well as incentives for developing value-added goods from unavoidable trash.

What are the EPA and USDA Doing?

The USDA recognises that “biogas,” is a major technology for turning farm waste to clean energy while also producing fertiliser as a by-product.

The EPA and USDA will fund up to $3.9 million over the next five years through an extension of the Agstar programme to help farmers capture methane emissions from their livestock operations and use them to generate energy. The collaboration will increase technical assistance, develop technical standards and advice for the construction and evaluation of biogas recovery systems, and reach out to livestock farmers to help them with pre-feasibility studies.

According to the United Nations' food and agriculture division, large dairy industries account for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The US Department of Agriculture has struck a three-year deal with the U.S. Innovation Center. The dairy industry is represented by US Dairy. Their relationship, which began in 2009 to improve the sustainability of dairy operations, has now been extended.

Role of Biogas in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS)

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released its own biogas opportunities roadmap to promote biogas as a useful kind of renewable energy, after the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recent decision to prioritise the use of biogas in the renewable fuels standard (RFS). Under the direction of the White House, the USDA is collaborating with the EPA, the Department of Energy (DOE), and industry leaders to reduce methane emissions and expand the biogas business.

Every year, over 30% of the world's food supply is lost or squandered. Food waste amounted to around 133 billion pounds (66. 5 million tonnes) in the United States in 2010, largely from the home and commercial food sectors. The EPA's food recovery hierarchy prioritises source reduction first, followed by using extra food to address hunger; animal feed and energy production are lower priorities. Food should only be thrown out as the last option.

In 2012, the United States generated 251 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW). Food waste is the second-largest component of MSW, accounting for 15. 5% of the total MSW generated. Of that only 4.8 per cent of food waste is recovered or reused due to a number of barriers in doing so.

Composting methods are currently most commonly used to divert most of the generated food waste from landfills and incinerators for recovery (EPA, 2014a). This very low rate of food waste recovery makes no sense because it can be easily digested for energy capture under anaerobic circumstances, and the leftovers can be used as fertiliser or soil amendment.

Biogas technology has been used for decades around the world, with large-scale, high-tech commercial systems in Europe (with limited penetration in the United States) and small-scale, low-tech “household” type systems in Asia being the most common applications.

The potential for biogas technology to be used on small-scale farms in the United States is enormous for providing a clean, renewable source of energy for on-farm applications (thermal energy for water heating, food processing, etc.) and for managing on-farm organic wastes (manure, on-farm food processing).

Agstar: Biogas Recovery in the Agriculture Sector

Agstar is a public awareness campaign that promotes the use of biogas recovery devices to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste management operations.

The Agstar is a programme of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). It has been assisting farmers and communities across the country in developing and implementing anaerobic digestion (AD) biogas systems for over 26 years.

These systems are essential for reducing methane emissions from manure management operations, as well as other environmental and economic benefits. As a trusted partnership programme, Agstar educates the public on best practises for digester design, implementation, and maintenance, as well as bringing together leading professionals to discuss prospects and challenges for the biogas industry.

Biogas Recovery Systems

Anaerobic digesters that absorb and combust biogas to produce power, heat, or hot water are known as biogas recovery systems in Agstar's lexicon.

Agstar supplies producers with knowledge and tools to help them evaluate and implement these systems. It is a collaboration between the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the United States Department of Justice.

The majority of AD systems in North America are designed and optimised for the agricultural sector. The Agstar program, which is a partnership between the US EPA and Agstar, aims to reduce methane emissions from animal waste management operations by increasing the use of biogas recovery equipment.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the United States Department of Energy collaborate to provide the Agstar Program.

Agstar has funded 176 digester projects to date (2017), reducing manure-related methane emissions.

Anaerobic Digester Projects in the U.S.

1st of October, 2020 The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the selection of 12 grantees who will receive around $3 million in funding to assist in the minimising of food loss and waste and divert food waste from landfills by increasing anaerobic digestion capacity in the US.

Feasibility studies, demonstration projects, technical support, and training are among the project categories that have been selected for financing.

The capital cost of an on-farm anaerobic digester, according to the EPA Agstar organisation, ranges from $400,000 to $5,000,000, depending on the size of the facility and technology used.

According to some estimates, a typical on-farm anaerobic digestion unit costs around $1. 2 million. The cost of a unit varies depending on its size, design, and features.

The type of anaerobic digester required for any operation (and thus the cost of the anaerobic digester) varies depending on the number of animals and technical factors like ambient temperature in the AD plant location.

EPA Information on Biogas and Landfill Methane Emissions

Landfills are still the most common designated locations for the disposal of waste collected from residential, industrial, and commercial entities in the US. But this needs to change.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the country (EPA).

Biogas from landfills is also called landfill gas (LFG), as the digestion process takes place in the ground rather than in an anaerobic digester. According to the EPA, there were around 564 operational LFG projects in the United States as of June 2020.

Agstar Livestock Anaerobic Digester Database

The livestock anaerobic digester database contains vital information about anaerobic digester projects on US livestock ranches. The database map, database table, or downloadable excel file provide access to project data.

Agstar updates this website on a regular basis (usually twice a year) to improve public access to information and to encourage the development of biogas recovery projects. However, because the material in the anaerobic digester database is compiled from a range of voluntary sources, Agstar cannot guarantee its accuracy.

USDA: $400 million still available for biogas projects funding through REAP program

Small rural companies and farm producers can use the REAP renewable energy and energy efficiency program to buy, instal, or build bioeconomy development projects like an anaerobic digester.

For the purposes of this programme, a rural area is defined as any location other than a city or town with a population of more than 50,000 people, as well as the urbanised area of that city or town.

The term “small” is defined according to the Small Business Administration's criteria for the type of business.

Tom Vilsack said in 2011 that the USDA Rural Development's Rural Energy for America Program would fund 19 biodigester projects in eight states (REAP).

USDA contributed about $21 million in biodigester assistance in the fiscal year of 2011 through the reap programme, which leveraged over $110 million in project development.

The awards, which are provided on a competitive basis, can cover up to 25% of the cost of a project. They can't spend more than USD 500,000 (Euro 353,000) on individual renewable energy projects, USD 250,000 on energy efficiency projects, and USD 50,000 on renewable energy feasibility studies.

Conclusion – Biogas Converting Waste to Energy

Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled its biogas opportunities roadmap, in 2011 progress was slow.

Now in the summer of 2021, the administration is taking new steps to address upstream emissions associated with the oil and gas industry. These reports and plans are part of the administration’s new climate action plan strategy to reduce methane emissions. They are including biogas and especially biomethane in the plans.

However, whether or not the government encourages the development of the biogas industry in the US there are indications that large numbers of farms are ready to go ahead with their AD projects whatever the government does.

Livestock manure can be a valuable nutrition source for crops. It is becoming abundantly clear that to avoid nutrient losses to the environment in the air, ground, and/or surface water, manure must be appropriately managed.

Prior to properly recycling organic material back to arable fields, manure must be stabilised. Composting, aerobic digestion, anaerobic digestion, lime stabilisation, and heat drying are all methods for stabilising livestock wastes. The stabilisation procedure reduces organic matter and water content, as well as unpleasant aromas, pathogenic microbe concentrations, and weed seeds.

Now with a much-heightened awareness of the perils of climate change, anaerobic digestion scores very highly as a stabilization method for agricultural wastes.

Although AD and composting (in-vessel or in windrows) both treat identical wastes, they are complementary rather than competing processes. There is an advantage in having an AD stage initially, followed by composting. The benefits occur in terms of energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

The advantage of an AD process is that it generates energy in the form of biogas, whereas composting uses energy in the processing steps, such as aerating the waste and treating any leachate produced by the process.

The news is that private investment has sparked a biogas and renewable natural gas (RNG) production boom, aided by federal and state laws.

The biogas industry's next growth possibilities will come from utilising these policies and identifying partners in towns and sectors that have not yet implemented advanced waste management systems.

Will the need to decarbonize gas utility operations and supplies, be the next growth driver? What is biogas and RNG's full potential in the United States?

Whatever direction the AD and biogas industry takes the EPA and Agstar/ and USDA will be there to provide necessary assistance.

The following is the original article first published in August 2014, which we think you will find is still relevant:

US EPA and USDA Boost Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas

Support for the implementation of anaerobic digestion from governments is the most important driver for uptake for AD and biogas technology worldwide.

Technical experts can win the case for the viability of innovative technologies in utility service provision, as they have for biomass energy using the AD process:

  • Businesses may offer great new technologies which clearly solve problems.
  • But in business sectors like the energy industry, it is not until the political will exists to see the implementation of a promising technology that large scale investment takes place.

A US Biogas Plant opening event - promoting US EPA and USDA Boost Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas.

Image shows an event in anaerobic digestion in connection with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center: Deer Island; Paul Sellew, CEO of Harvest Power, was speaking at Deer Island AD Plant on anaerobic digestion. (Via Flickr – filename: 9271495544_80e0612824_o.jpg)


Markets need the confidence that large scale investments like renewable energy facilities, such as biogas plants, will be supported by government policy in the long term.

That's why the recent developments in the US are particularly gratifying and in particular, the recent emphasis on the use of biogas in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) by the EPA. This will be a big boost to the industry in America.

In a similar way, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published a Biogas Opportunities Roadmap update.

There will clearly be abundant work for AD and Biogas Contractors if they are engaged and achieve anything like the 11,000 Additional Anaerobic Digestion Biogas Plants identified in the USDA Roadmap.

But, don't take our word for it! Below are links to some of the recently published articles on this subject (in 2014) :

USDA Biogas Opportunities Roadmap – Breaking Energy


“Breaking Energy USDA Biogas Opportunities Roadmap-  Following the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recent decision to emphasize the use of biogas in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has come out with their own Biogas Opportunities Roadmap … and more »” Click here.

To find out more about “USDA Biogas Opportunities Roadmap – Breaking Energy” and anaerobic digestion, click here.

Biomethane Production at California Dairy

“John Fiscalini describes how cow manure is digested into biogas and then upgraded to biomethane for electricity generation at his Modesto, CA dairy. CALSTART…”

Indeed, what is also becoming clear is that the US will also be following Europe and many other nations to cease reliance on power (electricity) generation as the revenue-generating product of the energy created by anaerobic digestion. Instead, biogas will be upgraded to provide an even more valuable commodity. That is as a low-emissions, clean, transport fuel, for example, as described in the following article:

City eyes biogas to fuel vehicles – Sharonherald


“City eyes biogas to fuel vehicles: Sharonherald: He explained that the plant will produce a biogas that is “dirty,” meaning it contains water, hydrogen sulfide and siloxanes, but that those materials will be removed. The lone remaining contaminant will be carbon dioxide, which would be removed by the …” Sharon Herald biogas in the News

To find out more about “City eyes biogas to fuel vehicles – Sharonherald” and anaerobic digestion, click here.

Earlier, we mentioned those 11,000 biogas plants, which is explained below:

UDSA Backs 11000 Additional Anaerobic Digestion Biogas Plants – Waste Management World


“Waste Management World: UDSA Backs 11,000 Additional Anaerobic Digestion Biogas Plants: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published a road map detailing how an additional 11,000 anaerobic digestion plants could create the huge emissions savings by using biogas to either produce energy from waste, or as transport fuel.and more »” 11,000 biogas plants article.

In recent months, some of the largest engineering companies have been buying into the AD and Biogas sector, such as GE and Siemens which is a massive vote of confidence in the continuing expansion of this form of bio-energy process. There is room for much optimism that many specialist AD technology innovators will also see enough orders to bring them profitability and long-term success.

[Article first uploaded August 2014; Updated in July 2021.]

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