This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

May 05, 2010

EPA and USDA to Promote Renewable Energy Generation from Livestock

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new interagency agreement on May 3 to promote renewable energy generation and slash greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations. The agreement expands the work of the AgStar program, a joint EPA-USDA effort that helps livestock producers reduce methane emissions from their operations. The beefed-up program will provide up to $3.9 million over the next five years to help the facilities overcome obstacles that prevent them from recovering and using biogas, the methane-rich gas produced by the decomposition of manure. The collaboration will expand technical assistance efforts and improve technical standards for the construction and evaluation of biogas recovery systems. The partnership will also expand outreach to livestock producers and assist them with pre-feasibility studies.

Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so capturing it and burning it yields a net reduction in greenhouse gases. To accelerate the decomposition of manure and the production of the methane-rich biogas, farms and livestock facilities can feed their manure into an anaerobic digester, which combines bacteria and elevated temperatures to "digest" the manure. Biogas emitted from the digesters can be used to produce electricity, heat, or hot water. There are about 150 on-farm manure digesters now operating at livestock facilities across the United States, and an additional 8,000 other facilities that are good candidates for renewable biogas systems. Tapping that resource could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of more than 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, roughly equal to the annual emissions from 6.5 million passenger vehicles. In addition, these projects could generate more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy. See the EPA press release, the AgStar Web site, and the section of DOE's Energy Savers Web site that focuses on anaerobic digesters.

The most recent agriculture census counted more than 20,000 farms and ranches that were producing renewable energy via solar panels, wind turbines, and methane digesters. To find out more, the USDA is now conducting the first national On-Farm Energy Production Survey, with results to be published in February 2011. And to further accelerate the use of renewable energy, the USDA announced on May 4 that it is seeking applications for four renewable energy programs. Rural producers and small businesses installing renewable energy systems can apply for grants and loan guarantees under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), with applications due by June 30. The funding may also be used to purchase energy-efficient equipment, add insulation, and improve heating and cooling systems. In 2009, REAP helped fund 1,485 energy projects throughout the United States. The USDA is also planning to accept applications for three other renewable energy programs: the Biorefinery Assistance Program, Repowering Assistance Program, and the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels. The solicitation for those programs will be published in the Federal Register by May 7. See the USDA press releases on the survey and the funding, the REAP solicitation (PDF 77 KB) as published in the Federal Register, and the REAP Web site. Download Adobe Reader.