North Carolina, Duke University look to pig farms to generate electricity from biogas
- Duke University announced last week it was abandoning plans for a combined heat and power (CHP) plant in favor of pursuing generating electricity from biogas. The university first announced its plans to build a CHP plant with Duke Energy in 2016.
- The Optima KV Project, which funnels biogas collected from swine farms to be converted to electricity, came online in North Carolina in late March, as reported by WUNC. The 3-farm, 5-digester project aggregates enough biogas to power an estimated 1,000 homes annually.
- Duke University is now in talks to expand an existing partnership to ramp up supply and delivery of electricity generated from swine biogas to campus. Duke, which has a goal of zero-emissions by 2024, estimates it could create enough steady demand for electricity and steam to drive 300 hog farms into biogas production.
Duke University has a history of championing biogas in North Carolina. Duke joined with Google in 2010 to run a pilot system in the western part of the state, where hog waste is still converted to electricity. However, that operation is "hundreds of miles west" from most pigs in the state, according to WUNC.
The large number of swine in North Carolina make the animals an ideal feedstock for biogas in the state — only Iowa has more pigs than North Carolina does. This kind of local sourcing can be crucially important, especially for expensive biogas projects. North Carolina's pivot to pigs is similar to Maryland, which has a large farming industry on its Eastern Shore, in its transition toward chicken waste.
Generally, biogas in the United States has seen modest growth lately, despite the heavy costs associated with setting up new digesters. At the federal level, however, biogas is at a kind of crossroads. The Environmental Protection Agency delivered a small victory to biogas producers early in the year, by increasing expected volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). However, President Donald Trump has talked up reforming the RFS, a process that has so far stalled and shown no concrete developments.
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