Current Status and Future Potential of Biogas Production from Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Sector

A study on biogas production from Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector was completed by the Canadian Biogas Association with support from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.  The study aims to quantify the current state of biogas production in Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector, including the end-uses of biogas and digestate; to describe the conditions that led to the establishment of the biogas industry in this sector; to identify the potential for growth as well as the challenges; and to present the broad requirements that could increase the production of biogas between today and 2030.

Executive Summary

According to the findings of the current work, Canada currently has 61 operational anaerobic digestion, or biogas, facilities in the agriculture and agri-food sector, and at least 5 facilities either planned, under construction, or in commissioning. The biogas facilities were organized into four subgroups: (1) livestock operations, accounting for 52 percent of projects, (2) greenhouse operations, accounting for 5 percent of projects, (3) food processing facilities, accounting for 33 percent of projects, and (4) biogas facilities designated as “other”, accounting for 10 percent of facilities. The Provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have the most anaerobic digesters, with Ontario accounting for 64 percent of the facilities.

There are several end-uses for biogas and digestate. Currently, 64 percent of the biogas facilities in this sector generate electricity for sale to the grid. The remaining facilities use the biogas for onsite heat and electricity generation and two facilities upgrade their biogas into renewable natural gas (RNG) for injection into natural gas pipelines. To date, almost all biogas produced by the livestock industry is converted into electricity, most of which is sold to a provincial electric utility as green power under a multi-year power purchase agreement. A small portion of the electricity and some of the heat is used directly on farms. The situation is reversed for the food processing industry that has much greater energy needs. Here the majority of the biogas is used internally to generate process steam and heat. A few facilities have installed biogas upgrading systems to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) that is injected into the natural gas distribution system. Renewable natural gas can be compressed or liquefied, and also be used as a fuel for vehicles.

To date in Canada, biogas development has been driven by supportive provincial policies and the proponents’ interest in managing waste and reducing their environmental impact, recovering nutrients, generating renewable energy, and lowering their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The study provides a deeper dive into provincial policies and programs, and provides some international perspectives. In Canada, provincial energy and waste management policies have been the main drivers influencing the build out of anaerobic digestion systems and how biogas is used (i.e. power or renewable gas). Carbon pricing and climate change policies have resulted in a second wave of development in the EU and US, and have the potential to support the growth of the biogas industry in Canada, depending on how the policies and incentives are designed.

In terms of its future potential, at first glance, feedstock supply and technology do not appear to be constraints to further development. Agriculture and agri-food biogas facilities have access to and can digest a range of agricultural and non-agricultural material. A reliable, high quality supply of suitable feedstocks is the cornerstone of any successful anaerobic digestion system. Important characteristics of feedstock include: availability, consistency, free of contaminants, good methane yield, and the ability to generate a tipping fee. Looking at provincially-aggregated waste and manure inventory numbers gives the perception that Canada has a very large supply of untapped feedstock. However, in reality, local inventory information is needed to assess feedstock availability within short distances, e.g. 25 km from a central location. By their nature both the digester feedstocks and the digestate are wet; placing limitations on how far the inputs and outputs can be transported. On the other hand, biogas or renewable gases derived from biogas can be stored and transported relatively easily.

Considering how the biogas industry has evolved, the Canadian energy context and learning from stakeholders in the industry, conditions that would support growth of the biogas industry include: (1) Established markets to provide financial stability and drive investment; (2) Supportive policy and programs; (3) Organics diversion from waste management systems, and support for value-added end products; and (4) Technical support and education related to digester operations and new technologies.

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