Posted by Big Gav in biogas
The latest proposal is to capture the methane emissions produced by the tonnes of pig poo at the nation’s piggeries. The idea is to cover the open ponds where this poo is usually left, often two metres or more deep, capture the enormous amounts of methane that is created and either flare it or burn it to create heat and electricity.
The pig industry estimates that about 1.25 million tonnes of greenhouse gases from the nation’s 682 enclosed piggeries are emitted in this manner per year, and from other associated emissions from the pig industry.
It is estimated that about one million tonnes a year could be abated by 2020 if the 100-biggest piggeries decided it was worth the cost of investment to harness the methane emitted from the manure. The slumping cost of these technologies, and the ability to cash in on credits generated by the scheme, is likely to make that investment worthwhile, with a payback as short as 12 months or less.
Harvesting pig poo is the latest methodology to be approved by the government’s carbon farming initiative, following on from proposals to cull wild camels – there are more than one million of them and they are each responsible for emitting around one tonne of greenhouse gas a year – as well as various forms of reforestation initiatives.
Future methodologies will include better management of cattle herds, particularly in the far north. If cattle producers can improve their management skills, reduce the rate of still-births and early mortality, encourage richer grazing and get them to grow quicker and “spend less time on planet Earth," then they too could generate carbon credits from reduced emissions.
This was the intention of the carbon farming initiative – to engage farmers in a positive way in the carbon pricing issue, and to provide an incentive to correct practices that are either wasteful, or not environmentally friendly.
But, exotic as it may sound, as far as piggeries go, Australia is just catching up to the rest of the world. In Europe, piggeries receive a feed-in tariff guaranteed for 20 years for the electricity and heat that they generate from the effluent from their farms.
There are only about three farms in Australia that capture their methane, according to Janine Price, the manager of environment and climate change at Pork Australia, the producers’ peak body. But more are expected to embrace the idea, inspired not just by the inclusion of the practice in the carbon farming initiative, but also by the development of bio-gas technologies in New Zealand that dramatically reduce the cost of the practice – the price of scrubbers that remove hydrogen sulphides so the emissions can be used in biogas plants now amount a few hundred dollars, rather than a heavily engineered system costing in the tens of thousands.
If the credits generated by the piggeries qualify under the government’s carbon pricing plan, then they will get the fixed price set by the government. At $20/t, Pork Australia estimates the returns will be around $3 a pig, and up to $4.50 a pig at $30/t. If it is not included, the credits will be sold on the voluntary market, at a price more likely to be around $5/t.
Still, the technology changes means that farms with as few as 400 sows should be able to make money from the investment, and pay back within four years, even without carbon credits and renewable energy certificates.
Bigger farms could get pay-back within 12 months, because they will be able to install systems to generate heat and electricity for farm use. The industry as a whole could generate $20-$30 million of credits by 2020, depending on the uptake and, of course, the carbon price.