WASHINGTON — Billions of gallons of fossil fuels could be reduced through renewable energy sources produced from animal waste with a little ingenuity and modest government support.
A group of seven bipartisan U.S. senators, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, have introduced groundbreaking legislation that promotes the development of biogas — a natural gas substitute created by the conversion of organic waste, such as the anaerobic digestion of animal waste — through tax incentives.
“This bill puts an existing byproduct to a productive use,” said Brown, the first Ohioan to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in more than 40 year.
“Ohio’s strength in agriculture, along with its growing renewable energy industry, positions us be a leader in the production of renewable natural gas. By encouraging its production, we can create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and improve the environment.”
We already have the technology to break down animal wastes to create biogas, according to Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. But it needs encouragement from the federal government to become a commercially-viable alternative to natural gas. This new energy source would benefit rural communities and the environment while lessening our dependence on fossil fuels and ensuring energy security.
“We shouldn’t waste the waste; we should promote biogas development,” Nelson said.
Biogas is produced through technologies such as anaerobic digestion that can convert animal wastes and other agricultural or organic wastes into at least 50 percent methane (the principal ingredient of natural gas). Biogas can be used as is on the farm or co-located with another facility such as an ethanol plant, or as a renewable substitute for natural gas, propane or other fossil fuels.
This legislation, the Biogas Production Incentives Act of 2009, would encourage greater production of biogas for energy purposes by providing biogas producers with a tax credit of $4.27 for every million British thermal units of biogas produced. This could mean more jobs and a boon for rural communities. This could mean more jobs and a cleaner environment.
Biogas production also offers environmental benefits such as a reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane and improved water quality through better manure management. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if the U.S. used half of its waste biomass, biogas could replace about 5 percent of the natural gas currently being used, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by another 45-70 million metric tons per year.
This legislation is supported by the Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio Farmers Union. The bill creates opportunities for Ohio farmers to turn manure from a waste product into a source of renewable energy. The legislation is also supported by Schmack BioEnergy, a Cleveland-based company that specializes in creating clean renewable natural gas from biomass and waste products.
The Biogas Production Incentives Act of 2009 is also supported by the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, which recently received an Environmental Protection Agency award for its Green Energy Center. The center transforms landfill gas from Franklin County into compressed natural gas for vehicle fuel.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture cites a report by the Senate Agriculture Committee estimating that each year 1.37 billion tons of solid animal waste are produced in the U.S. — the production of biogas could help turn much of this waste into a source of renewable energy.
Brown and Nelson were joined by Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Ron Wyden of Oregon, John Thune of South Dakota and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan in introducing the legislation.