EPA, USDA invest in energy from farm biogas

By Lisa Gibson
Through an extension of the U.S. EPA's AgSTAR program, the EPA and USDA will provide up to $3.9 million over the next five years to help farmers capture methane emissions from their livestock operations and use them to produce energy.

The collaboration will expand technical assistance efforts, improve technical standards and guidance for the construction and evaluation of biogas recovery systems, and expand outreach to livestock producers, assisting them with pre-feasibility studies.

Many livestock feeding operations generate a continuous supply of biogas that can be recovered and used for multiple purposes. AgSTAR estimates that more than 8,000 dairy and hog farms in the U.S. are good candidates for feasible projects, yet there are only about 150 anaerobic digestion systems currently operating, according to the EPA. That's less than 2 percent of total potential. If all 8,000 farms implemented biogas systems, methane emissions would be reduced by more than 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, according to the USDA. Those projects could also generate more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy.

"The capture and use of biogas allows us to protect and conserve natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce renewable energy and green products," according to an EPA spokesperson. "It expands opportunities for rural economic development and allows livestock producers to diversify their revenue sources. Finally, it builds interest and farm-based opportunities for the next generation of farmers."

In the initial phase of the AgSTAR project in the 1990s, the EPA contributed minimal direct funding to anaerobic digester projects to demonstrate farm-based digester technologies, according to the EPA. Under the current agreement, however, the agency is not planning to directly allocate money to biogas projects. Instead, funding will be used to expand the technical assistance, outreach and education efforts of the AgSTAR program.

After the five-year agreement is up, the EPA and USDA will reevaluate the state of the market, as well as trends, to determine how the program can continue to have the most impact in encouraging biogas recovery systems at animal feeding operations.