The United States has an enormous amount of untapped potential for collecting biogas from organic waste streams to produce useful forms of energy. Most of the U.S. biogas development in the last 20 years has used dairy manure as a feedstock source. Development has also occurred at wastewater treatment facilities or food processing facilities with a wastewater stream.
A livestock sector that has not received much attention for anaerobic digestion implementation opportunities is swine. According to a Market Opportunities report from US EPA AgStar there are 5,596 swine farms nationwide that are candidates for AD. Currently, there are 26 operational systems in the U.S. Given the gulf between potential and operational; we could be doing much better.
In 2012, I partnered with my colleague Joe Kramer at the Energy Center of Wisconsin to take a much closer look at the challenges and opportunities for implementing anaerobic digestion at swine farms in the top four swine producing states; Iowa, North Carolina, Minnesota and Illinois. We conducted a literature review to get a sense for the depth and breadth of past research in this area, interviewed 30 experts in the field to gather and gathered additional information on this topic. All of our finding are presented in this whitepaper.
The whitepaper is not the final word in this area and our research concluded that there is more to be done to actually increase the number of AD installations on swine operations. The whitepaper is intended to provide an overview of the challenges and opportunities for AD implementation at swine farms and offer suggestions for future areas of research. Just so summarize a few of the high level findings.
First, the good news. Any of the current barriers that exist to implementing AD on swine farms can be solved by improving the overall economics of the system. This would not only be of benefit to swine farms, but to other livestock and organic waste stream AD projects. Improving the economics of these systems requires increasing the value of the energy produced and figuring out a way to monetize external benefits such as odor control or improved nutrient management.
Second, supportive public policy can go a long way towards driving the implementation of systems across the country. Although no state is a clear leader in the field of AD on swine farms, North Carolina does have policies in place that provide some incentives for AD implementation on swine farms. The top states for hog production have a real opportunity to lead other states in providing a supportive framework for biogas systems in the swine sector.
Taken together improving the economics of systems and supportive public policy are the greatest needs for this sector. Additionally, there is also a significant amount of additional information that could gathered and presented to help swine producers and the industry make more informed decisions when it comes to anaerobic digestion. For example, in-depth case study information on the systems that are currently operating in the US could go a long way towards improving the level of understanding when it comes to operating these systems.
Although there are obstacles that need to be overcome, the manure from the nation’s pigs could play a valuable role in the development of a more robust anaerobic digestion sector and make significant contributions towards a more diverse renewable energy mix.