More and more, we’re hearing stories of enterprising dairy farms, from Canada to New York to the Pacific Northwest, putting their mounds of manure to good use — turning it into biogas with the help of anaerobic digestion technology. Now, having caught wind of the numerous economic and environmental benefits and potential for biogas systems on dairy farms in the US, the White House has released a Biogas Opportunities Roadmap.
“Dairy farmers are taking many steps to provide nourishing dairy foods and beverages that are responsibly produced,” said Tom Gallagher, CEO of the Innovation Center for US Dairy. “Biogas systems are one example of many technologies available to the industry today that help us continuously improve our stewardship and contribute to our communities.”
Biogas systems — which recycle organic material, including cow manure and food waste, into valuable co-products such as renewable energy, fertilizer, separated nutrients and cow bedding — offer a wide range of potential revenue streams, creating jobs and boosting economic development for communities. To develop the Roadmap, The White House worked with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and worked with the dairy industry through the Innovation Center for US Dairy, which was established under the leadership of dairy farmers.
The Innovation Center brings together leaders of dairy farmer organizations, cooperatives, processors, manufacturers and brands to foster innovation and help dairy farmers and importers sell more milk and dairy products. Biogas initiatives completed by the Innovation Center helped inform the Roadmap, including 2013 research that identifies a $2.9 billion market potential for anaerobic digester systems that co-digest dairy cow manure and food waste.
“The Biogas Opportunities Roadmap will help stimulate the emerging biogas market in ways that could provide revenue-generating opportunities for dairy farms of all sizes,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, which sits on the Board of Directors for the Innovation Center, and develops and carries out policies that advance the well-being of dairy farmers and the cooperatives they own.
The Roadmap strategies are entirely voluntary, not regulatory.
“This validates the proactive and voluntary path the industry is already taking to reduce methane emissions, and provides direction for future actions and opportunities,” Mulhern said.
The USDA, DOE and EPA will take these steps to promote the development of biogas systems:
- Fostering investment in biogas systems: To help overcome barriers to the widespread investment in biogas systems, USDA will lead efforts to better understand and track the performance of anaerobic digesters, seek opportunities to broaden financing options, and review Federal procurement guidelines.
- Strengthening markets for biogas systems and system products: The Roadmap identifies activities that could strengthen the market for biogas systems and system products, including energy and other value-added products. For example, dairy farms of all sizes could enhance their revenues through nitrogen and phosphorus recovery.
- Improving communication and coordination: USDA will establish a Biogas Opportunities Roadmap Working Group including the dairy industry to implement the strategies in the Roadmap, with a goal to identify and prioritize policies and technology opportunities by August 2015.
- Promoting biogas use through existing agency programs: Leveraging existing programs will provide a way to enhance the use of biogas systems in the US by ensuring existing criteria for technical and financial assistance, leveraging research funding, and strengthening programs that support the use of biogas for clean energy, transportation fuel and other bio-based products.
“On dairy farms, digesters can increasingly be part of the solution to manure-management challenges and enhance our ability to sustain our farms for the next generation,” said Jim Werkhoven, a dairy farmer in Washington and chairman of Darigold, Inc.
Biogas systems could help the dairy industry, which contributes approximately 2 percent of total US greenhouse gas emissions, to further reduce its carbon footprint. In 2009, the dairy industry established a voluntary goal to reduce its carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2020. The Dairy Power project is one of a portfolio of projects to help achieve that goal; it focuses on harnessing the value of manure and realizing the potential of biogas systems for US dairy farmers.
Visit USDairy.com/DairyPower for information and case studies about biogas projects on dairy farms, and watch this video to see how a coalition of urban and rural partners — including the Cleveland Browns — used a biogas system to recycle cow manure and food waste.