Data and Tools to Better Evaluate Biogas Potential

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Post date: February 17, 2015
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*This post originally appeared in Biomass Magazine here.*

Biogas projects come in all shapes and sizes and are implemented across a variety of industrial, municipal and agricultural applications. For a biogas project, there is no “one size fits all”. The variety of biogas feedstock sources and end-use applications sets it apart from other biomass project configurations. However, the variations among operational and potential biogas projects make it difficult to adequately access the resource potential for this underutilized renewable energy resource. Individual states are taking the lead to better evaluate and assess potential biogas projects. 

In the past year, the state of Iowa has worked to assess their biogas resource. I recently participated in a webinar where the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model was profiled. The model is an online, GIS, interactive map where a user can click on different layers of data to study  the biogas resource or conduct an initial screen of where a potential project could be sited based on feedstock and infrastructure availability within a certain geography. IBAM was developed by EcoEngineers under contract with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The tool is available at www.ecoengineers.us/ibam

The IBAM tool provides a wide variety of biogas-based feedstock data. Users can assess the feedstock availability of animal manure, crop residue and potential substrates or identify colocation opportunities with existing biodiesel, ethanol, food and paper manufacturers. In addition to the feedstock data, there is also energy infrastructure data on the locations of natural gas pipelines, electric and gas service territories, and existing power plant locations. Users can also identify the locations of operational biogas projects at agricultural, landfill or wastewater treatment facilities. 

A complementary tool to the GIS map is a preliminary economic assessment spreadsheet. The downloadable spreadsheet provides users the availability to modify inputs and assumptions to conduct a preliminary economic evaluation for a potential biogas project. Both the IBAM map and spreadsheet will require more robust analysis and engineering designs for any project moving forward, but these publically available tools can help users from the private and government sectors to conduct an initial project screen or quantify the potential for biogas projects in Iowa. 

The Iowa tools build on work previously done by the state of Wisconsin to develop a user-friendly biogas resource map and economic analysis for potential biogas projects. Having these tools available provides critical information to biogas proponents and project developers to assess resource potential, describe the location and nature of potential projects, and identify specific locations for future projects. In addition to Wisconsin, there are examples from other states and U.S. regions that have developed similar tools and economic assessments. 

To further enable increased development of biogas projects, it is essential that we continue to use data and visual tools to better evaluate the biogas resource. These tools can provide critical information in the early formation of a potential project. They also help biogas proponents to categorize the resource potential in the context of other renewable energy options or waste management decisions. The diversity of biogas project configurations and feedstock sources is a real asset because every city, town, or rural area has some sort of potential for a biogas project, but without tools and data like those developed by Iowa, Wisconsin or other states, it would be more difficult to move projects from potential to operational.