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Biogas and Renewables Trends – Fresh from California

Monday, July 21, 2014 10:34 AM | Anonymous

Thanks to some low airfares, I recently attended AgSTAR's 2014 National Workshop in San Diego, and also spent a day at BioCycle's related conference called REFOR14 West. AgSTAR is the Environmental Protection Agency's voluntary outreach and educational program that encourages the recovery and use of biogas (e.g. methane) collected from animal manure and other agricultural waste. The REFOR14 West conference focused on renewable energy from organics recycling.

Organics recycling has expanded to include recovering food scraps. This is often part of an effort where a city or business decides to attain zero-waste status. Some states, like Massachusetts, are running out of landfill space and have to find new ways to get rid of waste.

My friends look askance at the composting container on my sink, but I learned to do this from my grandma and mom, who had farming in their families and always recycled nutrients for the soil. Now, the hot trend in organics recycling is to build an anaerobic digester and collect food scraps on a large scale. This technology is well-developed in Europe, where Germany has over 6,800 large scale digesters. Austria is next with 551, France has 468, Switzerland 459, and the Netherlands and Sweden each have over 200. The U.S. is early in implementing the technology, with around 1,700 digesters located at wastewater treatment plants and farms, only a fraction of which uses the gas to power production. This is where a utility can be a useful consumer of the gas by using it to drive an electric generator and produce renewable energy.

Santee Cooper already uses biogas at six landfills to produce electricity and has three anaerobic digester projects under contract. One of these, the GenEarth facility in Berkeley County, produces gas and 1.6-megawatts of electricity from wastewater sludge, grease-trap waste, and poultry processing-plant waste. It's roughly enough electricity to power 800 average-sized homes.

Additionally, there are many other benefits to digesters. The methane that is burned is an extremely potent greenhouse gas and accounts for 9 percent of the greenhouse gases the U.S. emits. Also, the digester byproducts are a high-quality mulch or animal bedding that is free of any pathogens. The process returns nutrients to the soil and removes odors from lagoons at animal farms.

Building digesters and using the methane is a proactive strategy for helping our country protect its lands and agricultural industry. Santee Cooper is doing its part to understand and use this new tool in our toolkit.

By Elizabeth Kress, Santee Cooper

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