Wastecon/ISWA World Congress 2017: Methane matters

Wastecon/ISWA World Congress 2017: Methane matters

National and global leaders discuss the potential of methane gas to solve global problems.

October 2, 2017

Pictured from left to right: Chris Voell, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Patrick Serfass, American Biogas Council; and David Newman, World Biogas Association. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American Biogas Council (ABC) and World Biogas Association (WBA) are key advocates for biogas utilization and during Wastecon/ISWA World Congress in Baltimore in late September, key figured from each group made the case for developing biogas projects.

Chris Voell is lead, Agriculture and Wastewater, AgSTAR and Global Methane Initiative (GMI), for the U.S. EPA Climate Change Division.

He first discussed GMI, and what it does. It promotes cost-effective, near-term methane recovery through partnerships between developed and developing countries, with participation from the private sector, development banks, and nongovernmental organizations. It includes 43 countries and around 1,000 nongovernmental entities, including universities and private-sector businesses.

Why methane matters, he said is “It is an energy source.” “RNG (renewable natural gas) is gaining momentum in North America,” he said.

He noted a large biogas project Smithfield Foods is building in Missouri where it is turning RNG captured from dozens of hog manure lagoons into green electricity and sold to Duke Energy in North Carolina.

A number of grocers also are donating their food waste to anaerobic digestion and even making products from the remaining digestate materials.

David Newman, president, U.K.-based WBA, told attendees, “If food waste were a country, it would be the third greatest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the world.” He said the world is using land the size of China to produce food “which we are throwing away.”

Food waste is important, he said, for the Paris Climate Change agreement, because those who signed up for it must show how they are going to reduce GHG by 2020. “Food waste is a low hanging fruit,” he said.

Some countries in the E.U., like France and Italy have passed laws to reduce food waste by requiring it be donated to charities, and it is working, he said.

Patrick Serfass, executive director, ABC, said low electricity prices have created a transition from making electricity to making renewable natural gas from methane. A lot of interest is growing, he said. Currently, the market much less developed.

Germany is the leader in RNG projects in Europe with Sweden and the U.K., next in line. There are 459 RNG plants in 15 E.U. countries, he said, noting that the town in Sweden where Absolut vodka is made is almost fossil fuel free.

Serfass noted that the EPA does not value biogas from food waste as highly as manure and landfill gas in terms of Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) credits. He said that the problem was not from Voell’s office at the EPA but is a compliance issue. The landfill gas and manure credit is $40, while the credit from food waste is $15. “We would like to have that parity … without hurting the manure and landfill business. We need to make sure there isn’t an incentive to landfill food waste, which is what it is right now,” he said.

Wastecon/ISWA World Congress was hosted by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Maryland, and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Wien, Austria, Sept. 25-27, 2017.