Recent federal policy changes have allowed captured methane from anaerobic digesters (AD) to help ethanol meet the Renewable Fuel Standard’s national goals. Agriculture generates almost a tenth of US carbon emissions, and agricultural AD has emission reduction potential far greater than ethanol, especially when the biogas generated is upgraded to Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) for pipeline injection or vehicle use. However, American investment in agricultural AD has grown slowly compared to the European Union due to differences in energy security and environmental stewardship. Research is scarce on farmer decision-making when investing in AD, resulting in a lack of understanding on how best to support farmer adoption.
This study reviewed the literature and the AgStar Livestock Anaerobic Digester Database in order to understand the current feasibility of agricultural AD investment in the US and specific to Pennsylvania. A set of discussions with farmers and industry experts will also provide an accepted list of factors most important to AD investment decision-making in preparation for a choice study. The future choice study will measure tradeoffs between investment factors in order to best inform policy to improve and increase farmer adoption of AD in New England. So far, the key factors are: Environmental Stewardship, Grant Amount, Project & Permit Consultant, Return on Investment, Risk Tolerance, and Odor Control.
Policy recommendations include: AD developer review forum, standardized state ombudsman programs, streamlined permitting processes, a stable economic credit similar to Germany’s feed-in tariff, and state mediation programs for utility interconnection and net metering. A greater understanding of the political, economic, and social factors impacting investment in agricultural AD can significantly reduce national carbon emissions and provide the basis for future negative carbon energy with RNG.