Send to a FriendSend To A Friend  Print This PagePrint This Article

Canadian Biogas Association Conference Highlights

By: Sonja Persram - Monday, November 13, 2006
Source: Sustainable Alternatives Consulting, Inc.

The Canadian Biogas Conference in September provided a window to some interesting data, initiatives, and rationales for farm biogas installations.

Farming income levels are a biogas industry driver
Many Canadian farmers are finding that operating a farm as a sole income source is not necessarily sustainable.  Dr. Tom Hutchinson, Professor of Ecological Agriculture and Pollution Ecology in the Environmental & Resource Studies Program at Trent University observed that in 2005, the average farm income in Manitoba was -$37,000, and it was slightly better in Saskatchewan at -$35,000, both figures not including subsidies.  Additionally, farms increasingly impinge on the environment, creating waste streams that pollute air and water. 

What is becoming apparent as a potentially successful means of income augmentation, are the life cycle opportunities presented by anaerobic digestion and biogas. Using these technologies, nutrient cycles are created of waste-as-food for successive processes, which can produce: methane, electricity, carbon credits, liquid manure, solid waste, and organics.  A source of excitement for the agricultural community is the necessity of avoiding antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides in the material -- including manure -- that goes into a digester (or they will render the digester's bacteria inoperable).  This change to organic production, in turn, additionally augments the value of a farm's operation, especially important for beef farms given concerns around avoidance of bovine spongiform encephalitis.

Standard Offer Contracts
Standard Offer Contracts(SOCs) have commenced in November.  SOCs offer a fixed tariff over a 20-year term for initiatives generating up to 10 MW.  Biogas projects qualify for these Standard Offer Contracts.  The current,  published price for  power produced from biogas installations is $0.11/kWh (all figures Cdn) with a performance incentive of 3.52¢/kWh for on-Peak hours.  Twenty percent of the Base Rate would be inflation-indexed based on the year-over-year Ontario CPI change.  This tariff is price competitive for larger biogas installations, however industry proponents are concerned that the rate would not be economically viable for smaller installations.  Discussions are under way to obtain a more cost-competitive price structure. 

Germany's biogas market / Ontario market outlook
Currently, the number of biogas installations in Ontario is around a half-dozen, while in Germany there are 2,500 (map and tables are courtesy of GE Jenbacher).

The following table demonstrates the German biogas market potential even more dramatically:

Biogas production in Germany



Installed power

550 MW

10.000 MW

Electricity from biogas

2.8 TWh/a

76 TWh/a

Jobs Created



CO2 Emission Reduction

4 Million t/a

103 Million t/a

A report by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association notes that there are around 8,000 Ontario farms with herds large enough to sustain biogas digesters of 100-200 kW, with a total generation capacity of up to 400 MW.  Add in opportunities presented by landfill gas, waste from food oil, and energy crops, and productive capacity could reach 1200 MW.  Cost concerns for small-scale initiatives might also be mitigated via other programs, for instance Germany created an incentive for 250 KW engines.

Biogas installations are also a significant source for distributed generation since costs are optimized when the distance between harvest and generation is minimized. This is an attractive feature given the province's aging transmission system.  Additionally, methane produced can be stored in chambers that allow demand shifting.

GE Jenbacher is the current name of an approximately 800-year old Austrian company that makes gas engines developed to last 40 years.  The engines range in capacity from 300 kW to 3 MW, and provide options for on-site power generation on demand, as well as co-generation of heat and power; tri-generation combining heating, cooling and power, and CO2 greenhouse fertilization.  They function on natural gas, biogas, as well as landfill and other gas fuel sources.  Organic matter such as municipal organic waste, manures, wood waste, slaughterhouse waste and energy crops can be mixed within the anaerobic digestion systems.  See their table below for biogas yields.

Biogas Yields


Gas amount

Power generation

Organic matter

m³ / t dry matter

m³ / t wet matter

kWh / t wet matter


Cattle manure





Chicken manure




Fresh plant parts











Corn plant





Sugar beet leaves





Potato leaves





Grass silage





Corn silage





Barley hay





Oat hay





Wheat hay (raw)





Wheat hay (fine)





Bio waste





Food waste





A diagram of a digester/engine system is below:
GE Jenbacher's gas engine sales are global: Netherlands (18%), Germany (15%), Pakistan (10%), Italy (8%), Spain (6%), Russia (5%), Hungary (5%), Great Britain (4%), Japan (4%), the U.S. (2%), other countries (balance).  A large initiative in Alberta, Canada is being developed to handle waste from 36,000 head of cattle, including a 1MW cogeneration system.  Of total investment costs, 60% support preparation of the biomass, the digester and the gas holder; and 40% finance the cogen plant.

Greenhouse application
Another means of increasing farm income is to expand growing seasons.  This typically requires greenhouses, yet energy costs can be onerous.  Not only does a biogas installation provide electricity for lighting and cogen heat for the greenhouses, but it can also offer CO2 exhaust gas that is clean enough to be piped into the greenhouses, and so provides an optimal growing environment while preventing CO2 emissions.  And, waste organic matter is an ideal nutrient for the digesters, which produce compost, which goes back to the greenhouses.  Eighteen percent of GE Jenbacher's biogas installations are in Dutch greenhouses.

Infrared spectroscopy tool
Chris Ferguson, Dr. Tom Hutchinson, and Nils Semmler have developed a method of measuring the changes in gases emitted from manure pre-and post-treatment by an anaerobic digester, using a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer.  The system directs an infrared beam 100 meters across a manure-covered field to a mirror; the infrared radiation is then re-directed back into the spectrometer.  The spectrometer measures the absorptions within the measured infrared radiation caused by the out gasing of the manure.  The system can allow for single-site or a cooperative?s mobile testing of treated manure.

Applications and Implications
Commercial applications for this infrared spectroscopy tool include opportunities for quantifying carbon credits. 

This system might also be a means of measuring relative benefits of sustainable agriculture compared to unsustainable practices, along the lines of green building valuation systems.  Increasingly, costs that formerly were externalized, and benefits that had been foregone due to non-sustainable activities (e.g. opportunity costs such as loss of CO2 to the atmosphere instead of harnessing it for greenhouse utility), are being embraced through a life-cycle approach.

Jan M. Buijk, Sales Manager, GE Energy - Jenbacher Gas Engines
(416) 804-2203,

Chris Ferguson, Research Associate & MSc. Candidate
(705) 748-1011 ext. 1698, 

Dr. Tom C. Hutchinson, Professor, Environmental (705) 748-1011 ext. 1634,

Nils Semmler, Acting CEO of Canadian Biogas Association and President, RENTEC Renewable Technologies Inc.
(519) 913-0065,

Send to a FriendSend To A Friend  
iGreenBuild Blog
Advertise With Us

Follow Us
Newsletter Sign Up

Related Articles

Report on the 2006 Denver GreenBuild Conference