DOE, USDA, EPA release update of biogas activities

By Erin Voegele | December 16, 2015

The U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. EPA and USDA have released a report providing an update of the federal government’s progress to reduce methane emissions through biogas systems since the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap was completed by the three agencies in July 2014. The updated report, titled Biogas Opportunities Roadmap Progress Report, highlights actions taken by the agencies to date, along with a description of challenges and opportunities. It also identifies next steps that will be taken to support the growth of a robust biogas industry.

In March 2014, the White House released the Climate Action Plan—Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. As part of that strategy, the DOE, EPA and USDA were directed to work with industry to formulate a biogas roadmap in order to encourage cost-effective strategies for voluntary reductions.

According to the USDA, the 2014 roadmap identified more than 2,000 sites across the U.S. that produce biogas, with potential for an additional 11,000 biogas systems. If full potential is reached by 2030, biogas systems could produce enough energy to power more than 3 million homes while reducing methane emissions by an amount equivalent to 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of greenhouse gases from 11 million passenger vehicles. “Biogas offers American farmers, municipalities, and other stakeholders a way to reduce their waste outputs while adding another revenue stream by recovering resources with biogas systems for energy, nutrients, and other beneficial uses,” said the USDA in a statement.

The updated report lists several achievements made by the agencies to date. In July 2014, the DOE completed an update to the resource assessment on renewable hydrogen potential from biogas in the U.S. During the same month, the EPA published a proposed final rule for renewable fuel standard (RFS) pathways which qualified biogas as a cellulosic biofuel. In December 2014, the USDA published a final rule for the Rural Energy for America Program that developed a streamlined application and new scoring criteria for energy generated for saved per REAP dollar requested. According to the department, anaerobic digesters should score well under the revisions. In March, DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office Multi-Year Program Plan expanded the definition of biomass to include “wet waste,” municipal solid waste, urban wood waste, and food waste. The following month, the Rural Utilities Service updated its website announcing the availability of Federal Financing Bank loan guarantees to project developers of distributed generations projects that produce wholesale and retail electricity. In addition, the Rural Business Cooperative Service published an interim final rule in June on the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program and a funding notice for the program to provide loan guarantees to eligible projects.

Some of the challenges identified by the report include a lack of awareness of biogas benefits and unpredictable biogas market conditions. The report also cites a lack of market maturity, lack of full valuation, and inconsistencies across federal, state and local governments. In addition, the report notes there is a lack of technical and applied research and development.

Regarding next steps, the report indicates the USDA is currently updating the conservation practice standard for anaerobic digesters. A draft is scheduled to be posted in the Federal Register for public comment in the spring. In addition, the DOE’s Clean Cities, which has included renewable natural gas in its strategic planning activities since 2010, began developing a new strategic plan in February 2015 that will benefit biogas. DOE has also launched a modeling effort with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to understand the marketplace dynamics of various utilization pathways for biogas. The EPA is partnering with dairy and swine producers and others to launch an innovation challenge for nutrient-recovery technologies that can help manage livestock manure. The agency is also expanding the scope of AgSTAR’s national mapping tool to include sources of wasted food and other organic wastes as well as facilities with capacity to receive these materials. In addition, the EPA is launching a new website for anaerobic digestion and biogas.

The progress report in brief and full report can be downloaded from the USDA website.