Supporting Biogas Production Just Makes Sense

By Rona Johnson | July 28, 2011

Although not a particularly pleasant or exciting process, anaerobic digestion is such an excellent way to use waste material to produce power, whether it’s at a processing plant or on a farm in rural America.

Despite its simplicity and obvious benefits, however, anaerobic digestion still hasn’t caught on as rapidly as it should mainly because of its upfront capital costs and, in some places where it’s needed most, running a digester just isn’t as easy as it seems. It may seem obvious to many of us that livestock producers should just do it because it makes sense not just for them but also for their neighbors. But, again, it’s not that easy.

That’s why I was excited to read Associate Editor Anna Austin’s feature “Dairy Diversification” about a project to build digesters on five farms in Massachusetts as a way to supplement their income when the price of milk and other crops drop. The great thing about this project is that it involves a group of farmers getting together with a developer to form a company, and bringing in experts to construct the facilities and to operate them as well (see page 32).

You see, most livestock operators get the anaerobic digestion thing and most like the idea, they just don’t have the money or the time to do it. Whether the dairy operators will reap the anticipated benefits of these digesters remains to be seen, so we will be checking in on them periodically to see how it’s working.

Missouri will soon have its first operating on-farm anaerobic digestion facility on a cattle feedlot in the north central part of the state. The project has received a lot of help from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Anaerobic digestion proponents in the state are hoping this project will spur others. For more information about Missouri’s biogas production potential see Associate Editor Lisa Gibson’s feature “Methanation in Missouri” on page 38.

Food processing facilities also hold great opportunities for anaerobic digesters, as has already been proven in Europe. To read about how the U.S. could follow their lead, see Austin’s “Industrial-Strength Waste to Energy” feature on page 20.

You can also read about a unique biodigester on the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus in the “Living, Learning Lab” feature starting on page 26.