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The Genie is out of the Methane Biogas Bottle

California utilities apply for permission to operate methane biogas facilitiesA mere month ago, the San Antonio Water System in Texas announced that it had become the first ever U.S. municipal wastewater treatment plant to sell renewable methane biogas through a commercial natural gas pipe line. Well roll me over Beethoven if California isn’t already going to trump Texas in the exciting world of biogas, because not one but two California utilities are applying for permission to produce methane biogas from multiple wastewater treatement plants as well as farms and other operations, too.

What’s the Big Deal About Biogas?

Methane is produced when microorganisms feed on human and animal waste. At conventional wastewater treatment plants, the process takes place in tanks called anaerobic digesters. The goal is to render the solid wastes into an inert, non-smelly material for ease of disposal, and methane is simply been flared off as a byproduct. More recently, treatment plants have begun to reclaim the methane and use it to run equipment on site. In agriculture, the federal AgStar program is encouraging livestock farmers to install digesters for reclaiming methane, as a means of cutting their utility bills, protecting the environment from excess animal waste and producing a marketable fertilizer, too.

California – Biogas Capital of the U.S.A.

California already leads the U.S. in solar installations, and it could soon lead in biogas production, too.  The two utilities, Southern California Gas Co. and its sister company San Diego Gas & Electric, have applied to the state Public Utilities Commission to develop biogas resources from the state’s numerous wastewater plants and farms. Food processing plants could also be another source of biogas feedstock. In a press release, the utilities cite the California Bioenergy Working Group, which foresees the potential for California to get up to 16% of its natural gas from biogas.

Benefits of Biogas

Interest on the part of utility companies is a clear demonstration that biogas has entered the big leagues. As further proof, agri-business giant Cargill is also getting into the biogas act. Aside from its usefulness in reducing greenhouse gasses, the mainstreaming of biogas production could also have a significant impact on the pollution caused by animal waste from agricultural operations, as more farmers contain and treat livestock waste in digesters. New York State is already putting the concept to work by promoting biogas production at dairy farms as a means of protecting water quality in upstate reservoirs.

Image: Natural gas on flickr.com by Karen Eliot.

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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