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Anaerobic Digesters and Other Biomass Options

Inspecting Biomass, courtesy of NRELAnaerobic digesters convert biomass material into energy. Digesters have both environmental and economic benefits — reducing odors from livestock manure, preventing the release of greenhouses gases, producing energy and heat, and reducing labor costs associated with manure removal.

Biomass energy can also be generated from the direct combustion or gasification of agricultural products and forest waste material. The most primitive form of biomass energy production is burning organic material in open fires. Better efficiency is available through modern wood and pellet stoves. The term "co-firing" refers to the practice of burning biomass material along with coal in a coal-fired electricity-generating power plant. Biomass material can also be gasified and turned into various fuels.

NOTE: Some of the following documents are available as Adobe Acrobat PDFs. Download Acrobat Reader.

ATTRA Publications

An Introduction to Bioenergy: Feedstocks, Processes and Products - IP359


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Anaerobic Digestion of Animal Wastes: Factors to Consider - IP219


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Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture - IP358

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Micro-Scale Biogas Production: A Beginners Guide - IP370


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Switchgrass as a Bioenergy Crop - IP302


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Digester and Bioenergy Publications & Links

Biomass Icon Other Helpful Publications on Anaerobic Digesters
Biomass Icon General Resources on Anaerobic Digesters
Biomass Icon Other Types of Bioenergy
Biomass Icon General Bioenergy Resources
Biomass Icon Success Stories
Biomass Icon Frequently Asked Questions FAQs
Biomass Icon Glossary of Anaerobic Digester and Bioenergy Terms

Other Helpful Publications on Anaerobic Digesters

Anaerobic Digester Technology
This is an article by William Lazarus from the University of Minnesota that describes digester mechanics and benefits. [PDF/1.47M]
Dairy Waste Anaerobic Digestion Handbook
From the Environmental Energy Company, this 57 page report addresses anaerobic digestion options specific to dairy operations. [PDF/1.13M]
Market Opportunities for Biogas Recovery Systems
This webpage and guide from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies states with the greatest opportunity to cost effectively install and operate biogas recovery systems using dairy and swine manure.
Methane Recovery from Animal Manures: The Current Opportunities Casebook
A 150-page report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that covers history, economic evaluations, case studies, and installer contacts for anaerobic digesters. [PDF/2.7M]
New Digester Opportunities-Studying Digester Feasibility for Mid-sized Dairy Farms
This 37-page report prepared by the Minnesota Project looks at digester systems for mid-sized dairy farms. [PDF/740K]
The AgSTAR Program
The Federal AgSTAR program encourages the use of methane recovery (biogas) technologies to manage manure.
The Economics and Feasibility of Electricity Generation Using Manure Digesters on Small and Mid-Size Dairy Farms
A 21-page report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that addresses the economics of anaerobic digesters/generators. [PDF/256K]
Turning Manure Into Gold: Converting Agricultural Waste to Energy
A 48-page report prepared by the Midwest Energy Research Center that includes case studies, permit and approval guidance, and lists of consultants and equipment manufacturers. [PDF/276K]


General Resources on Anaerobic Digesters

Animal Manure Management
The Heartland Regional Water Quality Initiative covers Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska (EPA Region 7). This Alternative Technologies website provides animal manure management options from this region as well as others from across the nation.
A national resource on agriculture and energy, eXtension provides an overview of manure treatment options and recommendations along with valuable resources on each option.
Midwest Rural Energy Council
A membership organization with Land Grant Universities in the upper Midwest, MREC's mission is to support outreach, education, and research on rural-energy issues.
The AgSTAR Program
The Federal AgSTAR program encourages the use of methane recovery (biogas) technologies to manage manure.
The Minnesota Project
The Minnesota Project provides resources on mid- and small-farm applications of biogas and methane digesters.
University of Nebraska: Manure Matters Website
This website includes monthly newsletter archives, livestock odor, an emissions modeling database, and links to other related resources.


Other Types of Bioenergy

Biopower for Farmers and Ranchers
This website focuses on the application of biomass power for agricultural producers with financial resources and good resources on small modular systems.
Growing Energy on the Farm: Biomass Energy and Agriculture
A fact sheet from the Union of Concerned Scientists that outlines how biomass could provide as much as $20 billion in new income for farmers and rural communities and reduce global warming emissions by the same amount as taking 70 million cars off the road.
Renewable Energy Policy Project: Bioenergy
A comprehensive information source for bioenergy including biomass types, ways to generate electricity, costs of bioenergy, and current policies.


General Bioenergy Resources

Agricultural Marketing Resource Center
Provides resources on value-added agriculture, including bioenergy feedstocks.
Bioenergy Feedstock Information Network (BFIN)
A useful gateway to biomass resources from the U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and other research organizations.
How Biomass Energy Works
This article by the Union of Concerned Scientists details the types, production methods, and applications of biomass energy.
Sun Grant Initiative
A national network of land-grant universities and U.S. Department of Energy laboratories, the Sun Grant Initiative is devoted to building a bio-based economy.
The BioenergyWiki
This webpage serves as an open and balanced electronic forum to promote the utilization of bioenergy in a sustainable manner. It advances the understanding of relevant issues and facilitates the sharing of information, views, and experience.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): Biomass Energy
NREL supports research and development efforts on biomass-energy technologies. This website offers information on recent biomass energy initiatives at the laboratory.
USDA Bioenergy and Energy Alternatives
Seeks to create jobs and economic activity in America, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and improve the environment by developing alternate energy sources and increasing the use of agricultural crops as feedstocks for biofuels.


Success Stories

Iowa Dairy Operation Profits from Anaerobic Digester
Jennissen Dairy Farm
Minnesota Dairy Uses Anaerobic Digester for Farm Power
Small Scale Anaerobic Digestion in Europe
Vermont Farm Converts Manure into Energy


Frequently Asked Questions
Try these frequently asked questions about Anaerobic Digesters (AD's).

Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Anaerobic Digester terms from MDA.


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This page was last updated on: May 20, 2016