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USDA, DOE and EPA release Biogas Opportunities Roadmap

By Erin Voegele | August 04, 2014

The USDA has published its Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, a document that builds on progress made to date to identify voluntary actions that can be taken to reduce methane emissions through the use of biogas systems. It outlines strategies to overcome barriers limiting further expansion and development of a robust biogas industry in the U.S. The USDA also noted that the roadmap supports the U.S. dairy industry’s 2008 goal to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25 percent by 2020.  The Biogas Opportunities Roadmap is related to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which was released in June 2013, and the Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, which was released by the White House in March. 

As part of the March 28 release of the Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, the White House indicated the USDA, U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Energy would release a biogas roadmap this summer, an action that has now been completed with the Aug. 1 publication of the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap. In March, the White House’s strategy also noted the EPA would take action to reduce methane emissions from new landfills. Proposed rulemaking to do that was released on June 30.  

The roadmap estimates there are currently approximately 2,000 sites in the U.S. producing biogas. With proper support, more than 11,000 additional biogas systems could be deployed in the U.S. “If fully realized, these biogas systems could produce enough energy to power more than 3 million American homes and reduce methane emissions equivalent to 4 to 54 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030, the annual emissions of between 800,000 and 11 million passenger vehicles,” said the authors in the report.

Within the roadmap, the USDA, EPA and DOE outline four specific actions the federal government will take to increase the use of biogas. First, the USDA, EPA and DOE will promote biogas utilization through their existing agency programs by ensuring that existing criteria for technical and financial assistance considers the benefits of biogas systems. This includes leveraging more than $10 million in research funding to enhance the economic viability and benefits of biogas systems and coproducts and strengthening programs that support the use of biogas for clean energy, transportation fuel, renewable chemicals and biobased products.

Second, the initiative will foster investment in biogas systems. To help overcome the financial barriers to widespread investment in biogas systems, the USDA will lead efforts to improve the collection and analysis of industry financial and technical data needed to track the performance of anaerobic digesters, evaluate current loan and grant programs for opportunities to broaden the financing options available for biogas systems and review federal procurement guidelines to ensure products of biogas systems are eligible for and promoted by applicable government procurement programs.

Third, the USDA, DOE and EPA will aim to strengthen markets for biogas systems and products. This includes the review of opportunities to overcome barriers to integrating biogas into electricity and renewable natural gas markets, including the modernization of existing federal incentives provided for renewable energy generation.  In addition, USDA, EPA and DOE will drive the creation of tools to help industry broaden the market development for energy and non-energy biogas systems products.

Finally, the USDA will establish a Biogas Opportunities Roadmap Working Group that includes participation from the DOE, EPA and dairy and biogas industries. In collaboration with industry, the working group will publish a progress report in August 2015 that identifies and prioritizes policies and technology opportunities to expand the biogas industry and reduce GHG emissions.

Representatives of the American Biogas Council have weighed in on the release of the roadmap, noting its potential to boost current efforts to expand the biogas industry. "Federal agency commitments in the biogas roadmap will boost industry efforts already underway to grow U.S. biogas business," said Patrick Serfass, executive director of the ABC. "Biogas system technologies are commercially proven but certain existing policies, plus a lack of awareness and recognition of biogas system benefits, limit industry growth. The activities outlined in the Biogas Roadmap, when properly executed, will take a large step forward to remove obstacles currently limiting construction of new biogas systems."

"While the roadmap appropriately increases federal and local government focus on the significant environmental benefits biogas systems bring to air, water and soil, we in the industry also see the opportunity to build strong businesses," said Wayne Davis, chairman of the board of the ABC. "The policy adjustments and new voluntary initiatives in the biogas roadmap will help create a more fertile environment to stimulate business growth using programs and resources already in place, but better coordinated and utilized."

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federal, said the roadmap will help stimulate the merging biogas market in ways that could provide revenue-generating opportunities for dairy farms. “This validates the proactive and voluntary path the industry is already taking to reduce methane emissions, and provides direction for future actions and opportunities,” he said.

A full copy of the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap can be downloaded from the USDA website.