Biogas on Dairy Farms: A Survey of Regulatory Challenges

Several recently adopted laws and policies in California have set in motion a process to seek strategies and solutions to lowering the state’s climate change impacts. A new report released by San Diego University examines the regulatory challenges related to biogas production and use on California’s Dairy Farms.

Producing energy from organic materials—also known as bioenergy—has
emerged as an important strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, producing biogas through anaerobic digestion of organic matter is gaining momentum in the U.S. and Europe as a viable method of bioenergy production.

Anaerobic digestion is a biological process in which bacteria converts organic materials into biogas in an oxygen-free environment. Dairy-based digesters typically use manure to create biogas. It is also possible to introduce other organic wastes into the process, such as crop residue, byproducts from food processing, and green waste. This process is called co-digestion. In contrast to dairy-based digesters, large biogas projects can be located near sources of manure and other materials that can be transported to a centralized digester.

Co-digestion and centralized projects are more common in European countries such as Denmark. California currently has about 22 biogas-producing digesters located on dairy farms. Some European countries have thousands of farm-based digesters and are producing significant quantities of biogas.

Market, financing, and regulatory challenges to producing biogas exist in California. The purpose of this report, Biogas on Dairy Farms: A Survey of Regulatory Challenges, is to conduct a preliminary review of existing water, air, solid waste management, electricity, and natural gas regulations to identify challenges or areas of uncertainty that might affect biogas production in Califoria as well as regulatory challenges that could inhibit expansion of the biogas market.