Overview of the U.S. Agricultural Biogas Industry and AgSTAR Technical Resources

AgSTAR is a voluntary program coordinated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that supports farmers and industry in the development and adoption of anaerobic digester (AD) systems. In addition to producing biogas, AD systems can help achieve other social, environmental, agricultural and economic benefits. AgSTAR offers a variety of resources and tools to assist those interested in exploring the use of AD systems, including:

    • Outreach materials addressing system design, selection, and use and project development tools that help assess digester feasibility.
    • Events including workshops and webinars to promote sharing of knowledge, information, and experiences.
    • Website information on operating digesters, including nationwide statistics as well as in-depth project profiles that provide details on digester system design, biogas use, and benefits realized.

AgSTAR’s presentation will provide a market overview of agricultural biogas projects in the United States, including trends and outlook for the future of this sector, and highlight two resources currently under development for industry stakeholders.

What did we do?

AgSTAR’s mission is to educate and inform stakeholders on biogas production in the United States and support the development of new projects. AgSTAR has developed a number of market studies, technical tools and outreach resources for agricultural biogas projects over the years. The AgSTAR national database for digester projects contains a wealth of information on digester projects in the United States. As of January 2019, there are 248 anaerobic digesters operating on livestock farms in the US.  AgSTAR estimates that in 2018, digesters helped reduce 4.27 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e). Since 2000, digesters on livestock farms have reduced direct and indirect emissions by an estimated 39.3 MMTCO2e.

The biogas industry in the livestock sector has a lot of room to grow. AgSTAR estimates that biogas recovery systems are technically feasible at more than 8,000 large dairy and hog operations. These farms could potentially generate nearly 16 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy per year and displace about 2,010 megawatts (MWs) of fossil fuel-fired generation.

To meet this massive opportunity, innovation is needed.  Several policies and business models that are driving the growth in this sector include:  

    • Policies:  
      • Food Waste Diversion from Landfills
      • Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) Incentives
    • Business Models:  
      • RNG to vehicle fuel
      • Third-party owned and operated systems
      • Eco-markets for co-products

AgSTAR continues to educate stakeholders on these industry trends and encourage new opportunities.

New and Updated products coming soon!

The AgSTAR program pleased to announce two resources coming in 2019 to help facilitate the implementation of AD-biogas projects:

    • AgSTAR Project Development Handbook (3rd Edition) – The Handbook is intended for agriculture and livestock producers, farm owners, developers, investors, policymakers, implementers, and others working in agriculture or renewable energy who are interested in AD/biogas systems as a farm manure management option.  The handbook is being substantially redesigned for this 3rd edition to help users gain insight into AD and current state-of-the-art discussions on project development, economics, co-digestion feedstocks, manure management issues, including agronomic application, potential carbon impacts, and financing/operational/ownership options.  The document provides basic information about biogas production and outlines many of the considerations and questions that should be addressed when evaluating, developing, designing and implementing a farm-based digester project.
    • AgSTAR Anaerobic Digester Operator Guidebook – The Operator Guidebook is a new resource to assist on-farm AD/biogas system operators to increase operational uptime and performance and efficiency as well as to help prevent common pitfalls that can lead to system shutdown and neighbor complaints.  The Guidebook spans nearly every part of the AD and biogas production process, providing industry expert experience and advice on dealing with potential issues within an AD/biogas system. The Guidebook is designed to answer fundamental questions about what it takes to successfully operate and maintain an AD/biogas system on an agricultural operation and it can be used as a resource to maximize profitability by increasing biogas yield, improve biogas quality, and minimize operating and maintenance expenses.  It is intended for use as a training tool for AD/biogas system owners, managers, operators, and other project stakeholders.

What we have learned?

Anaerobic digesters on livestock farms can provide many benefits compared to traditional manure management systems, including:

    • Diversified Farm Revenue
    • Rural Economic Growth
    • Conservation of Agricultural Land
    • Energy Independence
    • Sustainable Food Production
    • Farm-Community Relationships

While technology choices are important when implementing AD projects, a viable business model is critical.  

Future plans

The AgSTAR Program intends to continue working with its government, academia, industry, and non-profit organization stakeholders to promote the use of biogas recovery systems to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste.  This includes sharing information on industry trends; promoting and conducting events and webinars; and preparing outreach materials and project development tools, such as the AgSTAR Project Development Handbook and Anaerobic Digester Operator Guidebook.


Nick Elger, Program Manager, U.S. EPA AgSTAR & Global Methane Initiative, Elger.Nicholas@epa.gov

Additional information

Additional information and resources can be found on the AgSTAR Program website at: https://www.epa.gov/agstar.

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