Imagine driving past a ranch or farm and not have one’s olfactory receptors assaulted. Emerging technology in biogas conversion is doing just that by transforming waste produced by cattle and livestock into energy and fertilizer and reducing emissions. Given that cattle and livestock actually produce more emissions than vehicles and our western diet is very animal protein centered, this new industry in biogas conversion is an answer to the dilemma of what to do with excess agricultural waste from both livestock and plant material. The process is called anaerobic digestion (AD), and an enterprising company from the UK called New Generation Biogas (NGB) has developed a new type of AD digester.
Anaerobic digestion is a biological process where microbes break down biodegradable material to produce biogas, which then can be used as energy to generate electricity, heat and even fuel. NGB has been fine tuning the mechanics in this relatively new field since 2009 which has resulted in an accelerated conversion rate, breaking down organic material in days rather than months. And now NGB has managed to scale down this AD system to be made commercially available for small to medium-sized farms under the brand name Archemax.
As developing countries adopt a more westernized diet, there will be a higher demand for things like dairy and meat, which will mean more livestock producing more emissions. To ease the pocket books of farmers, initial investment would be comparable to the cost of machinery like a combine harvester. Having a system in place that not only helps reduce emissions and odor, but produces a viable energy source as well as fertilizer, will have farmers see a return on their investment within five years. As NGB director Howard Sutton says, “This [Archemax] is about as environmentally friendly as you can get.”