Farming operations turning waste into renewable natural gas

Written by: Madelyn Collins, East TN Clean Fuels

Source: Photo by Flash Dantz on Unsplash

Cows are known for a lot of things, but their gas may have the most infamous reputation.

Cows are responsible for about 40% of global methane emissions, which according to scientists, the methane cows produce is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than even the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. They are a big piece of the climate change puzzle, and, because of this, some farms have begun making changes to mitigate this harmful effect their animals have on the environment. 

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Renewable natural gas (RNG) is an alternative fuel that poses a solution to this methane problem. By using an anaerobic-manure digestion system, methane from manure can be used to create RNG.

When created from animal manure, RNG avoids more emissions than it generates, leading it to be carbon negative (in terms of carbon dioxide emissions avoided per quantity of fuel consumed). Farms can eliminate greenhouse gases and produce greener fuel for the transportation sector through this biodigester system.

Another positive for converting animal manure to RNG is cost savings and revenue. Disposing of animal waste can be a timely and expensive process, which can be a burden for farmers in an industry that is already suffering financially.

So, farms have begun to partner with companies that specialize in addressing waste issues in agriculture to help not only solve waste disposal problems but also receive funds for it.     

Here are examples of five farming operations that are taking their manure and turning it into an opportunity to help the environment, their community and their farm.

Salisbury, Vermont

According to an article in Progressive Dairy, the Goodrich family has been farming since 1956. Starting out with a handful of cows, the farm in 2020 now has 900 milking cows.

That’s 900 cows producing methane at an extraordinary rate. Recognizing the harm their animals posed to the environment, the Goodrich family contracted with Vanguard Renewables. Vanguard Renewables is a company that develops systems to solve waste disposal issues and turn that waste into RNG.

By leasing Goodrich’s property, an extra source of income for the family, Vanguard built an anaerobic manure-digestion system. This system has allowed the family farm to pipe RNG directly up the road to a local school where it will provide 100% of the school’s thermal needs. 

Source: Photo by Oren Yomtov on Unsplash

Milford, Utah 

Coming in as one of the biggest RNG operations, a network of 26 family farms that raise hogs banned together and contracted with Align Renewable Natural Gas as the first large-scale methane-to-RNG conversion in the state of Utah.

Align Renewable Natural Gas is a $500 million joint venture by Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods that is all about greening American hog farms.

The farms will produce enough RNG to heat more than 3,000 homes and businesses and reduce annual emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons. This impact is equivalent to taking 23,000 cars off the road or planting 1.8 million new trees each year. 

Boardman, Oregon

Threemile Canyon Farm uses its methane digester in many ways. Their digester cuts around 136,000 metric tons per year of CO2, which is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 28,875 passenger vehicles.

Once the methane is converted it is used for a variety of things like powering over 30% of their annual operations, heating local homes and businesses and producing carbon-negative RNG.

Another output for the digester is the soft fiber from the machinery. The fiber is used as bedding for the dairy cows and for compost for their crops.     


Fair Oaks, Indiana

AMP Americas is a business that develops and operates on-farm dairy RNG projects.

Their first project, located in Fair Oaks, Indiana, was not only awarded the first EPA Renewable Fuel Standard pathway for a dairy waste-to-vehicle fuel project in the U.S, but they also received the first dairy waste-to-vehicle fuel pathway certification by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB). 

This operation converts 1.5 million gallons of dairy waste per day from 36,000 cows across nine dairies feeding five digesters and two gas processing plants.

AMP Americas also has operations in Idaho and Minnesota. The company stated they plan to not only double their dairy gas output but also aim to deliver its 100% RNG product to all 20 of its fueling stations in the future. 

Alto, Michigan 

Swisslane Farms is a farming operation that is no stranger to sustainability. Recently winning the Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award, it is no surprise that the farm would look into making their farm even greener.

Last year, it was announced that Swisslane Farms, in agreement with Consumers Energy, will construct a $17 million biodigester facility.

According to a press release, the two-million-gallon facility, with the ability to expand to a four-million-gallon facility, will be able to produce enough RNG annually to power nearly 1,000 homes. The amount of methane being captured will be like removing 4,000 gasoline-powered vehicles from the road each year.


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