September 19, 2011 | General

Editorial: Biogas Buzz

BioCycle September 2011, Vol. 52, No. 9, p. 4
Nora Goldstein
Thirty years ago, in March 1981, BioCycle held its second of two conferences with the title, “Biogas And Alcohol Fuels Production – Biomass Energy For City, Farm And Industry.” The Proceedings from the second conference provide a glimpse into the state of the industry at that time. For example, in the introduction, BioCycle founder and Publisher/Editor Emeritus Jerome (Jerry) Goldstein contrasted the forward movement resulting from research and commercial-scale projects that “indicate the economic potential of a developing industry” with the federal government withdrawing much of its research support as well as certain financial incentives. Wrote Jerry: “The strength of ‘an idea whose time has come’ evidently can ignore much federal policy and rhetoric.”
Comparing presentations from the 1981 conference to what’s on the agenda for BioCycle’s 11th Annual Conference on Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling – October 31-November 1-2, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin – is fascinating. Consider, for example, a 1981 presentation titled “Dry Anaerobic Methane Fermentation” by a group from the Department of Agricultural Engineering at Cornell University. The paper analyzed the potential of anaerobically digesting dry or solid substrates. It focused primarily on agricultural crop residues, and clearly identified biogas-generation opportunities. Fast forward 30 years, and we have several presentations and a tour of the first dry fermentation digester in the United States in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Another topic covered at the 1981 conference was municipal waste to vehicle fuel, focusing on utilizing biogas from wastewater treatment plants and landfills. Fast forward once again to our 11th Annual BioCycle Renewable Energy conference, and you will see multiple sessions on this specific topic. The same holds true for utilization of biogas by natural gas utilities.
Thinking back to Jerry Goldstein’s phrase, “an idea whose time has come,” begs the question – are we there yet? And without hesitation, the short answer is “Yes!” We have a critical mass of projects, biogas markets, technologies and systems, financial mechanisms, technical knowledge and operating experience across city, farm and industry. We are making inroads on policies and incentives, although at too slow a pace for many people, especially when it comes to better pricing for renewable power. We have a vibrant and growing trade organization, the American Biogas Council, with around 125 members, up from only 40 or so a year ago.
This issue’s Renewable Energy Conference Preview, starting on page 23, captures the essence of this critical mass, as well as the opportunities to tap. The articles connect directly with Conference presentations in Madison. From Sturman Industries’ smart engines to Fair Oaks Farms’ milk tanker truck fleet capable of being fueled with dairy biogas, to industrial food processors and municipal wastewater treatment plants benefiting from anaerobic digestion (just to name a few of the topics), BioCycle readers will get a flavor of the Biogas Buzz. And the Renewable Energy Marketplace (p. 46-50) showcases the companies exhibiting in Madison. Also, be sure to keep checking the Conference website ( to learn about additional activities, such as Biogas Awareness Month events (see page 6) and ABC’s annual membership meeting (7:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m, November 1, during the conference).
While this issue features the buzz around the BioCycle Renewable Energy Conference, it also includes an excellent report on odor management at a composting facility in Ontario, Canada (page 51), and this month’s Community Sustainability feature on Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City, California (page 20), which is connecting kids to compost, gardening and healthy foods. Without a doubt, the BioCycle community is a reality “whose time has come.”

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