Behind the Nutrient Recycling Challenge

By Joseph Ziobro

It’s pretty great when your job involves finding the cutting edge of innovation. Over the past few years, I’ve been looking into technologies that make it easier for livestock producers to manage manure, protect water quality, and create new sources of revenue.

One area where we see promise is in nutrient recovery technologies. These technologies extract nutrients from manure and create fertilizer products that can be applied more precisely to crops and affordably transported greater distances. Thousands of livestock producers are asking for these technologies, but they are still not efficient enough to be in wide use.

That’s where innovation challenges come in. My teammate, Hema Subramanian, and I reached out to key players in manure management and asked, “What can we do together to get producers the technologies they want, and protect water quality?” People were extremely excited, so we convened a planning committee with dairy and pork producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists and environmental experts.

Together, we identified barriers to technology adoption and began crafting a prize competition to overcome those barriers. The Nutrient Recycling Challenge was born.

In a nutshell, we’re asking innovators to develop better and cheaper nutrient recovery technologies. A major draw of prize competitions is that they reach innovators from different backgrounds who can bring fresh perspectives to the table. We want outside-the-box thinking from innovators of all stripes — tenured scientists or weekend garage tinkerers.

Phase I of the Challenge is open now through Jan. 15, and we are looking for your concept papers describing technology ideas. Later in 2016, EPA and partners will identify the most promising entries and support semi-finalists as they turn their concepts into working technologies.

EPA is committed to building relationships with the livestock industry through partnerships. The Nutrient Recycling Challenge exemplifies this collaborative approach. Our starting point is that EPA and farmers both want healthy waters and prosperous agriculture. And we’re looking for your innovative ideas to help us get there.

For more information and to enter, go to www.nutrientrecyclingchallenge.org.

About the author: Joseph Ziobro is a physical scientist in the Rural Branch of the Water Permits Division at EPA. Joseph supports the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program as well as voluntary initiatives with the livestock industry.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

New Biogas Opportunities Roadmap is Part of Climate Change Solution, Emerging Biogas Industry Offers New Revenue Opportunities for America’s Farmers

Paul Gunning, Todd Campbell, and Reuben Sarkar Paul Gunning, Todd Campbell, and Reuben Sarkar

Cross posted from the USDA blog.

Farmers have long understood the need to care for our air, land and water. They know that farms are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for. Protecting natural resources protects their bottom lines and may be able to improve them as well.

Farmers are always looking for ways to make a living and be good stewards of the land, which is why the emerging biogas industry is so important to rural America. Across the country, biogas systems that capture methane from farming operations and use it to generate renewable energy currently provide enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of almost 70,000 average American homes.

For example, in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, where agriculture is the third leading employer of county residents, there are two anaerobic digesters, both on dairy farms, and three wind farms in operation. Collectively, these systems generate enough power to support and sustain 8,000 households. With a total of 8,900 households located in the county, renewable energy is virtually powering the entire county.

The potential for the biogas industry is well demonstrated, but there are still relatively few biogas systems in use on farms across the country. Research indicates that an additional 8,000 livestock operations are candidates to support biogas projects, in addition to the 239 anaerobic digesters currently operating on farms across the country. If its full potential was realized, a cost-effective biogas industry could produce enough energy from the livestock sector to power 1 million average American homes.

That is why the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap (PDF), released today by the Obama Administration, is so critical. It supports the Climate Action Plan – Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions and outlines voluntary actions to support the expansion of the American biogas industry and help it live up to its full potential.

A comprehensive plan to confront climate change should address methane as well as carbon emissions. Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities, responsible for about nine percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. Use of biogas reduces emissions of methane, reduces the emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels, and supports the Administration’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

The Opportunities Roadmap builds on progress made to date to address some of the barriers that currently limit biogas development and supports voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions already underway across the country. It also reflects a commitment to continue working with industry stakeholders on identifying steps to expand the biogas industry, including through the development of new technologies. Last year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the U.S. dairy industry renewed a partnership in support of a voluntary industry goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms by 25 percent by 2020. Methane capture systems are a significant component of this effort, and farmers stand to benefit significantly by the advancement of this technology.

It is important to point out that the emissions intensity of the production of meat and milk in the U.S. is much lower today that it was even a few decades ago. A recent report by FAO showed that North American production of milk and beef is among the most efficient in the world in terms of the GHG emissions per unit of production. With cost-effective technology deployment to utilize biogas, operations could capture increased revenues with reduced emission and other benefits, offering a “win-win” for farmers, communities and the country.

The Opportunities Roadmap also lays out a plan for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency to use existing programs to enhance the use of biogas systems in the U.S by conducting research to accelerate the development of bio-based products from biomass systems and strengthening programs that support farmers as they install these systems on their operations, among other things.

American farmers have a long history of innovation, and a strong commitment to conservation. These efforts are more important than ever as we face the challenges posed by a changing climate and weather variability. Supporting and expanding the biogas industry, using the plan outlined in the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, will help to strengthen those efforts while supporting new opportunities for America’s farmers, strengthening our economy, and ultimately making America more secure by increasing energy independence.

Learn more:

About the authors:

Paul Gunning is the Director of the Climate Change Division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Todd Campbell is the Energy Policy Advisor at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Reuben Sarkar is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation at the U.S. Department of Energy

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.