Exploring Agri-Energy Opportunities

Some projects have a reach that goes far beyond the agriculture sector. Reducing greenhouse gases and increasing BC’s production of renewable energy is important to all British Columbians.

That’s why two of BC’s largest utility companies recently supported a study of anaerobic digestion feasibility.

Anaerobic digestion converts agriculture waste to electricity, reducing pathogens and odour by more than 90 per cent.

It even destroys weed seeds and produces a co-product that can be used for animal bedding.

The study – funded by IAF, BC Hydro, Terasen Gas and BC farmers – focused on the viability of anaerobic digesters at various agricultural operations in BC, including nine dairy farms, two beef cattle feedlots and hog operation.

“The BC agriculture sector has tremendous enthusiasm for this technology,” notes Matthew Dickson, the program manager for renewable agri-energy at ARDCorp. “We had 21 applications, but had to limit the number of feasibility studies to 12. The participating farms and feedlots each contributed $5,000 to the project.”

The main output of anaerobic digestion is biogas, a combustible gas that can be used to produce electricity or can be upgraded to bioethane, a substitute for natural gas. As expected, the study concluded that the technology is not economically feasible based on market rates for the electricity and natural gas.

Premium rates must be guaranteed in order for farmers to break even on their investment costs. However, there is definitely an interest in renewable energy, even at higher rates.

“BC Hydro and Terasen will use this data to not only determine the scale of agriculture operations they should be recruiting, but also the feed-in-tariff farmers will require,” observes Dickson. “Similarly, farmers can use this data to help benchmark the feasibility of anaerobic digestion on their own operations.”

“Because of this study, we have decided to go through with building an anaerobic digester,” states program participant and Delta dairy farmer Jerry Keulen. “It just makes sense to harness the waste from our farm.”

Funding: $85,659 through the federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. (A0637)