The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pacific Southwest Region has launched an online waste-to-biogas mapping tool to support the use of organic waste for energy projects.
The tool is an interactive map created to link food and other biodegradable waste sources with facilities, such as wastewater treatment plants, that can enhance energy production with their existing infrastructure. Wastewater treatment plants and some dairies manage waste with anaerobic digesters, which produce methane-rich biogas as a natural byproduct.
By adding food scraps or fats, oils and grease to an anaerobic digester, facilities can increase biogas production to make money while providing a renewable energy source, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These business and environmental opportunities may present a largely unrealized potential.
The tool allows users to determine the types of facilities located in their area, find out where clusters are located and calculate the distance between a waste producer and an anaerobic digester. The tool also functions in reverse – allowing generators of organic waste to find partner facilities that will accept it.
The new tool features information about on-site energy generation for California dairies with digesters (kilowatt hours/year), in addition to other options.
A study performed by the Northern California Power Agency in 2008, determined that agricultural wastes, wastewater, and food processing wastes could be digested to obtain 453 megawatts of energy – enough to run a utility-scale power plant while also preventing 3.7 million dry tons of organic material from ending up in a landfill. This use of biogas to displace natural gas would have a climate change abatement potential equal to taking approximately 160,000 cars off the road.
Financial assistance provided by federal, state and private sources can make on-site generation affordable and practical, according to the EPA. The mapping tool is found online at www.epa.gov/region9/biogas  . More information about co-digestion and funding sources can be found at www.epa.gov/region09/waterinfrastructure/funding.html .