Manure Digester Biogas

By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University,

Revised June 2012.

The production of electricity or biogas from manure is an area of alternative-energy interest to many livestock producers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are an estimated 186 digester projects operating on commercial livestock farms in the United States as of March 2012. Most projects are located on dairy farms.

But is it feasible and what is the cost of this energy production? A major report from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published in October 2007 is perhaps the first in-depth analysis of the costs of anaerobic digester systems compared to conventionally purchased electricity, natural gas and liquid propane. The report discusses strategies for reducing the cost of anaerobic digester operations, as well as the economic advantages of employing these systems in remote locations where the costs of conventional energy are higher. The researchers found that, in most situations in the United States, anaerobic digester systems could produce energy for many livestock operations at a cost competitive with or below commercial natural gas prices.
The report was a collaborative effort of the USDA-NRCS and several major U.S. university research teams. The report was compiled and authored by: Jennifer Beddoes, NRCS, Meridian, Idaho; Kelsi Bracemort, NRCS, Washington, D.C.; Robert Burns, Iowa State University; and William Lazarus, University of Minnesota. Various projects and analysis efforts that created the core of publication were produced by: Noller Herbert, NRCS, Washington, D.C.; William Boyd, NRCS, Greensboro, North Carolina; Peter Wright, NRCS, Syracuse, New York; Conley Hansen, Utah State University; Raj Raman, Iowa State University; and Barry Kintzer, NRCS, Washington, D.C.


Anaerobic Digester Methane to Energy: A Statewide Assessment, Wisconsin Focus On Energy, 2003 - Survey of various systems in place and being used in Wisconsin with operating and capital cost information.

An Analysis of Energy Production Costs from Anaerobic Digestion Systems on U.S. Livestock Production Facilities, NRCS, USDA, 2007.

Managing Manure with Biogas Recovery Systems. Improved Performance at Competitive Costs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2002.

U.S. Anaerobic Digester Status Report, AgSTAR, U.S. EPA, 2010.

Other Links

Businesses/Case Studies

  • Colorado Pork, Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, 2007  - This medium-sized hog operation near Lamar, Colorado, uses its manure to produce electricity via an in-ground anaerobic digester.
  • EcoCombustion Energy Systems Case Study, Eric Anderson and Andrew Dane, 2008 - Located in Wisconsin, this corporation has successfully designed and created an on-site system that burns the manure from the dairy operation. As a result, there is minimal byproduct from the initial manure, and energy is produced from the operation.
  • Emerald Dairy Case Study, Eric Anderson and Andrew Dane, 2008 - This case study details how Emerald Dairy's anaerobic digester system takes the manure from the cows and creates outputs that are completely used on-site. As a result, the dairy has lowered its need to import outside products to the dairy.
  • Haubenschild Farm’s Anaerobic Digester, The Minnesota Project, 2002 - This 39-page report documents the use of a digester on a Minnesota dairy farm.
  • Viability of Methane Production by Anaerobic Digestion on Iowa Swine Farms, Iowa State University, 1999 - This is a case study on the MaCabe pork operation in Southern Iowa and its long-term use of a digester.

Links checked August 2013.