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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.