The big business of biogas

 By Michelle Leslie

Recently, Carbon Cycle Energy announced plans to build the largest biogas plant in the United States. The facility, which will be built in North Carolina, will take food and animal waste and convert it into energy. Almost a million tons of organic waste per year will be converted into renewable biogas, where it will flow through a pipeline and deliver power to thousands of homes while simultaneously diverting climate changing GHG emissions and eliminating waste.

“Using waste that would have been bound for a landfill, we are able to produce roughly four times more energy than we consume. That’s what makes biogas so attractive as an energy source,” according to Jess Kutrumbos, Director of Corporate Communications, Carbon Cycle Energy, LLC. “This facility will demonstrate the viability and important contribution that biogas can make to the renewable energy landscape.” Over half of the world’s population lives in darkness. According to the United Nations, over a billion people either have limited or no access at all to electricity. Billions more rely on energy that pollutes the air and has cascading health impacts. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that nearly 4 million people die prematurely as a result of indoor air pollution.

The need for sustainable and reliable energy is one of the main targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the world demand for energy is escalating. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook the world will require almost 50 percent more energy by 2040 in order to meet the demands of a growing global population and to move people out of poverty. In India alone, the energy challenge is monumental. Almost 25 percent of the country’s residents live in the dark. Biogas development provides huge energy potential for countries like India. In the village of Khamtara, for example, the move to biogas reduced indoor air pollution by an astonishing 80 percent; reducing the risk of disease and avoiding climate emissions.

In Khamtara Villagers say that since the installation of biogas, fights and squabbles on petty issues have declined in the village and co-operation among neighbours has increased

Animal manure, organic waste materials and even wastewater are biogas options. Other sources, like peat and algae are additional energy alternatives for biogas. Produced by anaerobic digestion, without oxygen, the organic matter is digested inside a bioreactor. Under the right conditions—temperature, pressure and mixing rate—the organic material is broken down.

A renewable source of energy, the business of biogas is booming. The World Biogas Association (WBA) in their Global Bioenergy Statistics 2016 reported that “Bioenergy is the third largest renewable electricity generating source. It is the largest derived and direct heat generating renewable energy source.” Biogas is also leading the way in renewable energy for the transportation sector. “By diverting manure and other organic waste from being landfilled or land-applied, anaerobic digestion and biogas capture prevent large amounts of methane from being released into the atmosphere,” stated Kutrumbos. “Additional benefits of biogas production include the domestic security that comes from providing a renewable, domestically-produced alternative to fossil fuels, as well as the creation of renewable CO2, solid nutrient soil amendments and other sustainable co-products.” The U.S. commitment to biogas extends well beyond its borders. The United States Agency for International Development partnered with the Dairy and Rural Development Foundation to bring biogas to farms in Pakistan. The investment in biogas will provide a clean source of energy while boosting the income of local farmers.

In an interview with The Express Tribune, Minister Arif Saeed stated that “The vast potential of biogas should be explored further to provide an alternative to 122 million people in Punjab as it has no reliable source of energy. With the help of USAID and DRDF, the biogas unit will serve as a model for investors and rural communities to replicate and reduce reliance on firewood or dung cakes for cooking and heating.” In India, the potential for biogas to boost business is astounding. The benefits from cattle waste alone could produce 5,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 5 million homes! Globally, biogas jobs are growing. According to the latest data from International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), there were over 8 million jobs in the renewable sector in 2015 up 5 percent from the year prior. The global bioenergy sector employed just under 2 million people.

In addition to the facility in North Carolina, Carbon Cycle Energy has its sights set on similar projects around the United States. “We do expect at least two more locations to commence late-stage development before the end of 2017,” said Kutrumbos. Biogas is making a renewable, greener tomorrow, possible today.

SEE MORE: Biogas gets greener by Robin Wylie

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.