From Manure Management to Renewable Energy Generation: Livestock Geographies and Changing Renewable Energy Landscapes in the US

Authors: Shaunna Barnhart*, Bucknell University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Energy, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Renewable Energy; Alternative Energy; Political Ecology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 4
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As households, farmers, and companies look to diversify their energy options, anaerobic digestion (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 large scale farm-based systems tracked by the EPA, which suggests a minimum of 500 cows, or 2,000-5,000 pigs, for biogas to viable at economies of scale for generating electricity that can be used on-farm and/or sold back to the grid as an additional revenue stream. In addition, there is a growing network of homesteaders and small-scale farmers in the U.S., outside of the EPA network, that are building small-scale household digesters for direct household energy consumption. The use of biogas as a new energy source can increase and diversify the renewable energy portfolio thus reducing fossil fuel energies and their impacts on climate change; although climate change may not be the motivating factor for farmers to adopt this new technology. Applying a political ecology analysis framework, this paper explores the farm-based biogas industry through a discourse analysis of national media, examination of government and industry documents, and survey and interview data with farm-based biogas producers to investigate how livestock geographies are changing renewable energy landscapes. Preliminary results indicate that the economic and waste management benefits, as well as the potential for on-site energy use and consumption from existing waste streams, are key decision making factors.

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