The Great Biogas Gusher

Why Pursue Bio-Energy?

The great Texas Oil Boom, also referred to as the Gusher Age, provided for dramatic economic growth in the US in the early 20th century, and ushered in rapid development and industrial growth. Although we typically think of the Middle East when we consider the impacts of oil discoveries on local economies (reference Dubai), at the time of its discovery, the oil finds in Texas were unprecedented; and the US quickly became the world’s top producer of petroleum.

As we all know, the rest of the world came to the party, and the US was soon falling in the ranks of top petroleum producers. Though the US oil reserves are vast, increasing concerns over the environmental impacts of finding, mining, extracting, refining, and consuming fossil fuels has incentivized the development of renewable energy resources, such as solar, wind, hydro, and bioenergy. Of these forms of renewable energy, bioenergy holds the promise for replacement of fossil fuels for transportation use.

a biogas collection systemWhat did we do?

Bioenergy may be described as fuels derived from organic materials, such as agricultural wastes, through processes like anaerobic digestion. The US has even more organic resources above the Earth’s surface than are identified in the petroleum and natural gas deposits yet to be exploited, yet the development of agricultural bioenergy systems seems to be progressing at a snail’s pace, as compare to the great Oil Boom. There is enormous potential in producing biogas from agricultural, industrial, municipal solid waste, sewage and animal byproducts which can be used to fuel vehicles. The EPA estimates that 8,200 US dairy and swine operation could support biogas recovery systems, as well as some poultry operations. Biogas can be collected from landfills and used to power natural gas vehicles or to produce energy. Wastewater treatment plants are estimated by the EPA to have the potential of about 1 cubic foot of digester gas per 100 gallons of wastewater, this energy could potentially meet 12% of the US electricity demand. Industrial, commercial and institutional facilities provide another source of biogas, in particular supermarkets, restaurants, and educational facilities with food spoilage.

What have we learned?

This presentation compares and contrasts the historical development of fossil fuel reserves with the potential for development of bioenergy from agricultural sources, such as animal wastes and crop residues. The US energy potential from these sources is grossly quantified, and current development inhibitions are identified and discussed. Opportunities for gathering biogas and bioenergy from multiple regional sources, similar to the processes used in the Texas oil fields, are discussed. The presentation offers insight into overcoming these obstacles, and how the US may once again rise to the top of the energy development rankings through efficient use and stewardship of our organic resources.

Percentage of waste water treatment plants that send solids to anaerobic digestion broken out by state

Future Plans

Biogas and bioenergy resources present an enormous opportunity for renewable energy development, and progression toward energy independence for the U.S. The U.S. currently has more than 2,000 active biogas harvesting sites, but claims more than 11,000 additional sites can be developed in the U.S., with the potential to power more than 3 million American homes if used to fuel electricity generating power plants. The USDA, EPA and DOE recently created a US Biogas Opportunities Roadmap which is off to a good start, which hopefully will initiate biogas programs, and foster investment in biogas systems to improve the market vitality in each state. To move the process forward, policy-makers, investors and the public need to have improved collaboration and communication on the state level. We need to develop a clear plan and strategy for developing these valuable biogas resources to promote environmental sustainability and economic growth of our b ioenergy sector.


Gus Simmons, P.E., Director of Bioenergy, Cavanaugh & Associates, P.A.

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USDA/DOE/EPA US Bioenergy Roadmap

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