Valuing Feedstocks for Anaerobic Digestion – Balancing Energy Potential and Nutrient Content

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Why Study the Interaction Between Energy and Nutrients for Digestion?

To improve the energy production and revenue generation, many farm digester operators are including off-farm feedstocks in the blend.  Off-farm feedstocks are raw materials with high carbon concentrations that can be degraded anaerobically.  Common off-farm feedstocks include food service or retail waste, food processing byproducts, residuals from biofuels production and FOG (fat, oil & grease) resulting from food preparation.  Typically, off-farm feedstocks have a higher energy potential when compared to manure.  Manures generally have biogas potential in the range of 280 to 500 L of biogas/kg of VS, compared to off-farm feedstocks which can range from 300 to 1,300 L of biogas/kg of VS [1].  In addition to the increased biogas production, revenue can also be generated from tipping fees collected for feedstock brought onto a farm.  The tipping fee is typically comparable to the cost of disposing of the material at a landfill or wastewater treatment plant. 

The purpose of this ongoing project is to evaluate the biogas potential and impact on nutrient management of off-farm feedstocks for anaerobic digestion.  

What Did We Do?

The Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center (ADREC) has carried out hundreds of biogas methane potential tests (BMP’s) over the past 5 years.  The purpose of the BMP is to evaluate if a feedstock is anaerobically degradable and predict the biogas production under ideal conditions.  As part of the biogas testing, many feedstocks were also characterized for their nutrient composition.

What Have We Learned?

While off-farm feedstocks do offer opportunities to improve the profitability of anaerobic digestion systems, operators must also consider the costs associated with bring material onto the farm.  Water contained in off-farm feedstock contributes to the manure volume and adds cost during land application.  Nutrients contained in feedstocks need to be measured and considered in the context of nutrient management planning.  In addition, the regulatory and record keeping requirements associated with off-farm feedstock should also be factored into any cost-benefit analysis.

Future Plans

ADREC is planning to continue the BMP evaluations as part its normal fee for service activities.


Dana Kirk, Specialist, Michigan State University,

Louis Faivor, Technician, Michigan State Univeristy

Additional Information


[1] KTBL.  2012.  Biogas Profitability Calculator.


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