Biogas Official Advocates for Biogas as Flexible Renewable Fuel Source

When Julia Levin talks about biogas as a renewable resource, she does so with a sense of urgency.

For Levin, who is executive director of the Bioenergy Association of California, biogas is an important flexible baseload renewable power source. And she believes biogas has not gotten its due.

“With renewables we’ve made a lot of progress on the electricity side, but not as much on the biogas side,” said Levin during an Aug. 17 talk at the California Energy Commission.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Levin, who was an Energy Commissioner from 2009 to 2010. She also served as deputy secretary for climate change and energy at the California Natural Resources Agency.

Levin believes biogas will be essential to reducing short-lived climate pollutants, especially methane.

Biogas comes from a mixture of different gases produced by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. It can be produced from agricultural waste, manure, municipal waste and plant material.

Methane is an aggressive short-term greenhouse gas. It is 25 times more aggressive than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

California ranks first in the United States for methane production potential from biogas sources, according to the American Biogas Council.

Source: American Biogas Council
Most of the methane emitted into California’s atmosphere comes from dairy farms. Landfills and wastewater treatment facilities are also sources.

“Dairies are responsible for half of California’s methane,” said Levin.

Methane emissions from manure and enteric fermentation at dairies should be captured and used as transportation fuel, Levin said.

Biogas can be compressed in the same way that natural gas is compressed as clean natural gas for transmission through pipelines. However, that process comes with challenges for biogas, including the financing of biodigesters, biogas cleanup, access to pipelines for fuel distribution, and eventual competition with natural gas.

California has supported the development of biogas as a renewable source. Senate Bill 1383, which passed in 2016, allows ratepayer funds to be used to install pipeline infrastructure for dairy biomethane projects. The bill also requires a 75 percent diversion of organic waste by 2025 and various measures to reduce methane emissions from dairies.

Turning biogas into fuel is not new in California.

At the Langerwerf Dairy in Durham in Butte County, manure is fed into a digester and the resultant biogas fires an 85 kilowatt (kW) capacity gas engine. The engine, which operates at 35 kW, drives a generator to produce electricity.

The system, which became operational in 1982, offsets all of the dairy’s energy demand.

Listen to Julia Levin's full presentation here:

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The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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