What about Biogas?

By Anna Simet | November 16, 2012

After finishing up Biomass Magazine’s last-of-2012, industry outlook issue, it is clear that there is a lot at stake for renewables as we move into the next year. While Obama was clearly the better choice for our industry’s growth and success, what Congress will do (or…NOT do?) in the coming weeks, month and years remains a mystery.

Another thing that was clear post-December issue is that biogas here in the U.S. has got to be one of the most underrated and unutilized means of renewable energy (well actually, I already knew this was the case so perhaps it more reiterated the fact).

In an article I wrote detailing a biomass technology cost analysis released by the International Renewable Energy Agency, I touch on the fact that Germany, which in 2011 had 7,090 digesters, is the leading country for both the quantity of plants and the amount of installed capacity of 2,394 MW of electricity. Most of it is in the agriculture sector, driven by a feed-in tariff in Germany that supports electricity generation from biogas.

The U.S. is lagging behind at a ridiculous rate. German farmers operate nearly 200 times more biogas capacity per capita as American farmers, a fact that I found astounding, as U.S. capacity is somewhere around 60 MW for on-farm digester projects (which represent the strong majority).

I’m happy to say the December issue is littered with news stories about biogas, including predictions for industry expansion in Germany, as well as some new mapping tools available and new projects online.

Something I like to point out to those who sneer at the biomass industry as being clear cutters, tree haters, etc., is that biomass doesn’t just mean the combustion of wood to make energy. It includes so much more—biogas/anaerobic digestion, gasification, pyrolysis, combined heat and power and torrefaction, and feedstocks aren’t just limited to wood—there is municipal solid waste, animal manure, food waste…the list goes on.

I’ve yet to hear an argument as to why biogas energy is an evil renewable. Hopefully, as more farmers are educated about the benefits of biogas, and with any help on the policy side of the equation, we’ll start to see more industry growth in the U.S. over the next four years. 



5 Responses

  1. Silvia Lugea



    Anna, I totally agree with your comments. There are many countries, districts and cities with huge problems to dispose municipal solid. Nevertheless there is a belief, among some technical and politicians that the technology is not commercially available to fulfill the needs. It will very helpful build a summary of countries and its way having implemented this treatment . Cheers, Silvia

  2. Dean Foor



    In no way is the technology evil. In fact, multiple researchers show it to be the most sustainable form of biomass energy known. Yet, on farm anaerobic digestion in the US is rarely financially feasible. In addition, when it is feasible the commercial banks are loath to lend. The farm owners are not typically willing to risk everything and why should they be in a nation with no national energy plan and nearly no stable government support? Dean Foor

  3. AJ Nick



    Most people in the US recognize the merits of AD technology, especially for agricultural and MSW applications, however... The two major problems being: 1. Cost. AD facilities are expensive to build (and finance). The Germans have led the way and demonstrated viability (and places like Sweden), but being so expensive to install, is a deterrent. In fact a question often commented to us is "why is it so expensive?" Most vendors touting their wares here are European based. Elsewhere in the world, technology providers are about half the cost of German counterparts and ...not so unsurprisingly, just as efficient. There are a lot of ways to generate biogas - where are the American thinkers and innovators behind this technology? 2. Permitting requirements. We submitted a plan in January 2010 to install a 150ton/day AD facility dealing with food waste. We even had it financed...but, with $250K in expenses just getting EIR's, permitting, etc is a major time constraint (regardless of the cost). One city we are currently working with have already stated that it will not be until 2015 that any shovel cracks the ground on an AD facility that they themselves put the RFP out for this year. Not many companies can wait 3 years just for the "maybe" they'll choose our technology (German) over the other 12 vendors/installers, all vying for the same business. That said, once the ball starts rolling, yes, the potential here is enormous, if not particularly to save on fossil fuel spending (America has cheap(er) power compared to the rest of the world), but more so, just a practical, more responsible method to deal with the ridiculously large amounts of trash that get generated every day in the US.

  4. Karoloriginal



    Review by Midwest Book Review for Rating: Written by solar thermal coalustnnt Bob Ramlow, Solar Water Heating: A Comprehensive Guide To Solar Water and Space Heating Systems is a straightforward guide to heating water with the sun in one's home for the sake of energy conservation and energy economics. Chapters discuss the costs of fossil fuels and the history of solar heating, types of solar collectors, how to choose and install the right system for one's needs, and much more. Black-and-white diagrams illustrate this handy, easy-to-follow guide to a facet of eco-friendly living, which can save significant money in the long run.

  5. Gihan



    Biomass does not create bio fuel, yet.Biomass is uslualy sent to a biomass plant that converts it to electricity. Yes it is small trees and brush or even walnut shells that are chipped then burned in a massive furnace heating water into steam that turns a turbine generator that produces electricity.It can be converted into ethanol gas but currently its to expensive to pay off.I'm a lumberjack


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