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Waste-to-Energy Systems Face Cost Barrier

pig farm Energy ManageConverting animal waste into energy gained some steam in the United States about 10 years ago as a means for large dairy farms to manage manure, but it never achieved the momentum necessary for broad adoption.

Despite the benefit of reducing the strength of the greenhouse gases emitted from animal operations and the tremendous availability of organic waste resources that could be used to generate renewable fuels and electricity, the cost associated with building and maintaining waste-to-energy systems remains the largest barrier, according to Waste360. Implementing energy harvesting systems would also require the creation of additional infrastructure on US farms as well as at the business or utility seeking to use that energy.

Regardless, some companies, organizations and agencies are continuing to look for ways to increase waste-to-energy production in the United States. In 2006, Winston-Salem, NC-based consulting firm Cavanaugh & Associates partnered with the Nicholas Institute at Duke University to develop a system for harnessing energy from swine manure. The system was commissioned in 2011 through the Loyd Ray Farms Project in Boonville, NC, which currently has nine barns housing 8,640 swine that produce 50,400 cubic feet of biogas a day. That biogas generates 65 kW of electricity, according to AgSTAR, an outreach program designed to reduce methane emissions from lifestock waste management operations by promoting the use of biogas recovery systems.

The Dairyland Power Cooperative, based in La Crosse, Wis., has digester project operations at two dairy farms, a food processing plant waste water treatment facility and a combination hog and beef cattle operation.

Last year, the Maryland Department of Agriculture awarded a $970,000 grant to Biomass Heating Solutions (BHSL) for a manure-to-energy project at a Dorchester County poultry farm.

There are currently 247 farms in the United States that convert animal waste into energy. The United States should be doing more to leverage its existing waste management infrastructure to create energy resources, the article argues.

Photo via Shutterstock.

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