BLOG: Looking for a new energy source? Visit a farm
By Richard Payne, Managing Director
Energy can be created from many sources—the sun, wind, waves, and, yes, even waste.
Bioenergy is generated by organic materials from landfill, industrial, and animal waste. It’s the process of taking organic matter and turning it into energy that can power homes, businesses, and communities. Bioenergy has the opportunity to become a key player alongside wind, geothermal, and solar for sources of renewable energy.
Bioenergy dates back to the mid-18th-century in India, where the first bioenergy plant was built. Currently, there are 250 anaerobic digestion facilities in the U.S. and more than a thousand bioenergy plants all around the world.
While the industry is small, there is a large existing market for bioenergy from many industries including water treatment plants, and swine, poultry and dairy farms. The swine industry is a prime opportunity for growth in the bioenergy industry with more than 5,000 farms nationwide. But to date, there are only 43 anaerobic digestion facilities on swine farms. North Carolina has the potential to take advantage of the bioenergy produced from these farms because of the 2,000 swine farms that currently exist.
The key process to create bioenergy is anaerobic digestion, which breaks down organic materials to produce methane, which can be used as renewable natural gas. The energy created from anaerobic digestion can be used to power farms and local utilities. Plus, after extracting the methane, the leftover material can often be used as fertilizer or bedding for livestock.
In 2018, the energy generated by anaerobic digesters on livestock farms was approximately 1.14 million megawatt-hours (MWh), enough to power approximately 95,000 homes annually. For comparison, solar generation in 2018 was 4,178 million MWh, which could power roughly 350 million homes annually. This means solar produced at least 3,500 times more energy than bioenergy on farms. According to the EPA, there are more than 8,000 farms in the U.S. that have the potential to generate bioenergy. If one thing is certain, the opportunity for growth in bioenergy is there.
With millions of megawatt hours waiting to be tapped into, bioenergy is not only a source of virtually untapped renewable energy, but it mitigates the negative effects of industrial farming and of the unwanted waste.