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USDA, EPA Expanding Biogas Collaboration for Farms

May 18, 2010

[Source: SustainableBusiness.com]

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture announced a new interagency agreement promoting renewable energy generation and the reduction of 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 collaboration will provide up to $3.9 million over the next five years to help the farms overcome obstacles preventing them from recovering and using biogas. It will expand technical assistance efforts, improve technical standards and guidance for the construction and evaluation of biogas recovery systems, and expand outreach to livestock producers and assist them with pre-feasibility studies.

Biogas is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Biogas emitted from manure management systems called digesters can be collected and used to produce electricity, heat or hot water.

About 150 on-farm manure digesters are now operating at livestock facilities across the U.S. In addition, EPA estimates there are about 8,000 farms across the United States that are good candidates for capturing and using biogas. If all 8,000 farms implemented biogas systems, methane emissions would be reduced by more than 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent 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.

Energy Survey

USDA also will begin conducting the first national On-Farm Energy Production Survey this week. 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. This spring’s survey will further explore how this energy is generated and used.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is mailing the survey forms to farm and ranch operators nationwide who indicated on the 2007 Census of Agriculture that they were generating renewable energy. Recipients are required to respond by May 24 and NASS will publish the survey results in February 2011.

“This particular survey focuses on the use of wind turbines, solar panels and anaerobic digesters,” said Hubert Hamer, chair of NASS’s Agricultural Statistics Board. “But we will be expanding our data collection efforts in future years, looking at a full spectrum of issues related to the agriculture sector’s production and use of renewable energy.”

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