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"Got watt?" Digester summit draws more than 350

by 5m Editor
11 July 2003, at 12:00am

US - For the casual observer, some of the technical concepts presented were rather difficult to digest. But for the more than 350 scientists, policy makers and industry professionals...

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... who attended the two-day national summit on anaerobic digestion in Raleigh, North Carolina, the examination of the technology's potential was nothing less than electrifying.

Sponsored by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Water Environment Federation, USDA's Rural Development agency, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and USDA's Office of Chief Economist, the summit took place the first week of June. The gathering provided a unique forum to explore the opportunities for the public and private sectors to work together to increase the use of anaerobic digester technology as part of manure management systems.

In addition to a series of technical and public policy presentations, the summit featured a tour of Julian Barham's hog and tomato farm in nearby Zebulon, North Carolina. Barham uses an anaerobic digester to reduce odors and to generate electricity for the farm's greenhouses and other operations. For conference participants, it was a chance to see (and not smell) the practical on-farm application of anaerobic digester technology, first hand.

Nationwide, approximately 250 million dry tons of animal manure is produced yearly. Much of it is applied to farm fields, but some agricultural sites are already saturated with nutrients, making it increasingly necessary to reduce waste solids volume and to transport the manure off-site for use or disposal. One potential solution to this issue is anaerobic digester technology. This technology can be used as part of an overall manure management system to create small-scale power plants on livestock farms - like the one used on the Barham farm.

By controlling the environment of bacteria in a covered tank of manure, farmers can harness the gas that is produced as the bacteria interact with the manure and other bacteria. The gas is burned to create electricity, which can then be used to power the farm, or even sell excess energy to the community. In the process, waste volume, odors and pathogens are reduced. Anaerobic digestion also helps control the use or disposal of nitrogen that could adversely impact water quality.

NRCS Chief Bruce I. Knight said the event has helped set the stage for a wider use of anaerobic digester technology in animal agriculture. "The summit has provided an important foundation for the public and private sectors to work together to make this technology more practical and accessible to our nation's animal agriculture producers," he said. "The challenge before us now is to build upon that foundation in order to use this technology to the maximum extent practicable," Knight said.

For its part, the NRCS released its proposed practice standards on anaerobic digesters during the second day of the summit, clearing the way for potential financial assistance from USDA's conservation and rural development programs. Practice standards define conservation practices, where they apply, and how they are expected to perform.

"The release of the practice standards opens the door for producers to request assistance from NRCS to help offset the cost of on-farm anaerobic digester installation," Knight said. "The release of the standards is a significant step in bringing this technology to within the reach of more producers than ever before," he said.

To help ensure the exchange of digester technology and its subsequent advancements continue well beyond the summit, the conference sponsors are making the proceedings available through the world wide web. According to conference officials, the proceedings will be available in mid-July at www.biosolids.org.

Source: USDA-NRCS - 8th July 2003

5m Editor