OK. I admit it. I am writing this article from a Summit about cow poop. No, this isn’t a joke to get 8-year olds rolling on the floor with laughter. This is serious.
I am reporting from the inaugural National Biomethane Summit, in Sacramento, California, where over 300 attendees including elected officials, government agencies, farmers, ranchers, landfill owners, facility owners and operators, technology leaders, researchers, regional planners, and carbon trading experts.
Biomethane is renewable natural gas because it is from biological sources. In some areas, biomethane is called renewable gas. Biomethane is a low carbon fuel – CH4. John Boesel, President of CALSTART, calls biomethane “Our lowest carbon fuel.” Just like the fossil fuel version of natural gas, biomethane can be converted into electricity or fuel.
Making money from meadow muffins is helping dairy farmers stay in business. Among the Western United Dairymen, 18 projects that capture biomethane from manure are generating 4.425 MW of electricity. Hilarides Dairy also converts enough biomethane into fuel to power two of its heavy-duty and five pick-up trucks. Michael Marsh, CEO of the Western United Dairymen quipped, “This smells like an opportunity.”
Dallas Tonsager, Undersecretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a former dairyman who sees big economic opportunity in methane from manure. Since 2003, USDA has helped 121 projects with co-funding and/or loan guarantees. These projects have generated 449 GW hours/year of electricity, reducing emissions 384,664 metric tons of CO2e and displacing 8 million gallons of oil.
The 121 projects include WI 24, PA 18, CA 14, NY 14, and VT 7. There are opportunities in every state. USDA is encouraging the growth of biomethane for energy and fuel. This is definitely a “shovel ready” opportunity to create green jobs.
Across the nation, ranchers, farmers, landfill operators, and all that generate agricultural waste, forest residue, and municipal waste can increasingly become energy independent. Through anaerobic digestion much of their biological waste can be converted into biogas which can run electrical generators, turbines, or fuel cells to generate electricity. Biogas can also be converted to cleaner biomethane for cleaner electricity and renewable fuel. These operations can generate their own electricity and fuel their own vehicles. Increasingly, excess electricity and fuel can be sold as added revenue streams.
A growing number of our nation’s buses, refuse trucks, delivery vans, airport and port equipment has been converted from diesel to natural gas. Michael Gallagher, CEO of Westport Innovations, has already sold 20,000 engines for such applications. He estimates that 20 percent of our nation’s diesel vehicles could be running on biomethane produced in the United States.
Nations like Russia and Iran that control the largest reserves of natural gas may not like this trend of making our own natural gas, but if we want energy independence then we need to follow W.C. Field’s advice, “Take the bull by the tail and face the situation.”