Political Ecologies of Small Scale Biogas in the US

Authors: Shaunna Barnhart*, Bucknell University
Topics: Energy, Cultural and Political Ecology, Rural Geography
Keywords: Renewable energy, biogas
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As households, farmers, and companies look to diversify their energy options, anaerobic digestion for energy (known as biogas) is being adopted for multiple end energy uses. In the U.S., there are over 2,000 sites that produce biogas; this includes farm, waste treatment, and industrial systems. Of these, 242 are farm-based systems. The EPA classifies potential farm biogas sites by the number and type of livestock, needing a minimum of 500 cows or a minimum of either 2,000 or 5,000 hogs (depending on the existing manure management system). However, a growing number of homesteaders and small-scale farmers are building small-scale household digesters who do not meet these guidelines. This study aims to explore how farmers and homesteaders understand their energy choices, the role of biogas in farming operations, and how this connects to broader discourses of climate change and sustainability. By doing so, we can better understand how farmers, both large-scale and small-scale, can contribute to the shift towards a low-carbon future and why farmers might choose to do so. This objective leads to two core research questions guiding this work, (1) to understand how biogas producers connect their energy choices to national and international discourses of climate change and sustainability, and (2) to explore how a theoretical framework of political ecology informed by environmental governmentality can be utilized to understand these shifts in energy practices.

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