SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A panel of experts talked about the barriers preventing broader use of anaerobic digesters and other forms of bio-gas in the state at the recent Anaerobic Digesters Renewable Bio-Gas Symposium.
Kevin King, deputy ag commissioner; Janet Joseph senior vice president of strategy and market development for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority; and Jared Snyder, deputy commissioner of air resources, climate change and energy, were on the panel.
King said that dairymen began storing manure as a matter of convenience as well as to contain odors. But farmers, he said, should view that stored manure “as an opportunity.”
Joseph said that her organization’s partnering with Cornell has been valuable in testing business models and developing innovative business ideas for using anaerobic digesters.
“We’re looking to get designs that can be replicated over a number of farms, a standardized design,” she said. “We see many custom-designed engineering projects, but that’s not scalable. We need designs that are replicable.”
Joseph said scalable design would lower costs and streamline equipment maintenance, repairs and replacement, as well as facilitate connecting digesters to the grid to sell excess energy.
Another issue hampering widespread use of digesters is the cost of the initial equipment.
“We’re building an average of one and a half digesters a year,” Joseph said. “We need to build more. The key is how to leverage a co-digester model and make it more modular and replicable.”
Co-digestion would help supply a more reliable stream of material, she said, and would also generate more energy than using manure alone.
She said that working with experts in waste management would relieve some of the burden put on dairy farmers to produce energy from manure.
When it comes to subsidies for buying digester equipment, Joseph said that she doesn’t see that model as sustainable. She said that developing a separate digester industry would enable farmers to make their digesters self-supporting and even profitable.
Snyder said anaerobic digestion will help farmers address the issue of climate change by helping reduce emissions on farms.
“This is a priority to address in New York,” Snyder said.
He praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo for legislation to reduce carbon emissions and said that reducing methane emissions “is an important part of this. It’s 25 times more potent at trapping heat than CO2.”
Although manure comprises only 4 percent of the state’s methane emissions, Snyder said that “as long as we have dairy farms, we’ll have methane. We need to figure out how to capture and eliminate methane.”
Snyder echoed Joseph’s sentiment about making manure digesters affordable and scalable, and possibly bringing in waste from off-the-farm sources to help make them more sustainable. Snyder suggested food waste as a source.
Cuomo has proposed legislation to ban commercial and institutional food waste from landfills, potentially providing a reliable supply for co-digestion projects as well as a source of alternative energy.
Snyder said that 150 digesters would generate the energy equivalent of 30 million gallons of diesel fuel annually. That amounts to about 3 percent of the state’s requirement for diesel. It’s not a lot, but Snyder said it would keep more money and jobs in New York to operate the digesters.
“Many opportunities are available,” he said. “The challenge is using those in a way that builds on those opportunities.”
Curt Gooch of Cornell Pro-Dairy followed the panel with an overview of manure-based anaerobic digestion in the state.
He said dairy farmers are ready to meet the state’s goals for reducing methane emissions, but he also echoed the same challenges as the panelists: lack of a scalable model and expense.
Gooch said that at this point anaerobic digesters don’t deliver enough monetary value for most farmers. He said that one way to maximize the benefit from digesters is to use the heat waste to warm other areas of a farm, such as a greenhouse.
Until farmers can make money from anaerobic digesters, he said, they won’t become widely used.