California Dairies Offered New Opportunities for Biogas Production

dairy cows biogas
Credit: Henrik Hjortshøj

Dairies and agricultural companies in California have new opportunities to address methane emissions under a program encouraging the development of diary biogas in the state. Four utilities recently announced they will start accepting proposals for pilot projects that successfully capture and process biogas from dairy cows to produce natural gas.

In a joint announcement, SoCalGasCo, SDG&E, PG&E, and Southwest Gas requested dairy biomethane pilot project proposals. Ultimately the utilities will select at least five to support.

The projects are part of a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUP) program aimed at reducing methane emissions from agriculture in the state by 2030. “Proposed projects will be selected by the CPUC, California Air Resources Board, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA),” the announcement says. “The agencies will jointly choose projects based on an evaluation of the proposed business model, likely greenhouse gas reductions realized, and cost effectiveness of achieving these reductions, environmental benefits, disadvantaged community benefits, and project readiness.”

As the utilities note, a $35 million grant last year from the CDFA has been spurring dairy biogas development in California. The CDFA is expected to offer $61 million to $75 million more in grant funding this year, according to the utilities. “There are currently about 40 projects in the works, and experts expect there could be as many as 120 projects being developed by 2022.”

Regulators see renewable natural gas produced from dairy cows as a replacement for traditional natural gas, the publication Natural Gas Intelligence’s Richard Nemec pointed out last month. “In the case of the dairy pilot projects, the utility would own and operate all facilities downstream of the biogas conditioning and upgrading facilities, including pipeline laterals,” Nemec explained.

In late 2017, Calgren Renewable Fuels held a groundbreaking ceremony for a dairy fuels project in California to take the gas from 11 dairy farms to an ethanol plant in Pixley, Biomass Magazine reported. Maas Energy Works came on as a general contractor for the project to build the pipeline and dairy digesters.

“Working with the ethanol plant, we went out and proposed to all of the local dairymen that Calgren would build digesters for them, and use that gas off the digesters to fuel the ethanol facility, which has a high appetite for natural gas,”Maas Energy development manager Doug Bryant told the magazine. “To be able to get some renewable natural gas was very appealing to them.”

Dairy biogas is a growing option in other areas, especially places with lots of agricultural activity where solar and wind power may not be viable. Last year BMW announced that dairy operations were helping to power automotive production at its Rosslyn Plant in South Africa. A local Bio2Watt biogas power plant that takes manure from an organic cattle farm provides electricity for BMW’s facility. Previously, the facility got electricity from coal-burning power plants.

Mark your calendars: The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver. Learn more here.

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