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At a glance
Anaerobic digestion is a natural biological process in which microorganisms break down organic matter into methane in the absence of oxygen. A properly operated anaerobic digester will efficiently convert the organic matter into a nutrient-rich, semi-liquid mixture (slurry) and a biogas that is roughly 65% methane. This biogas can be captured and undergo combustion to produce heat and electricity.
This technology is generating a great deal of interest for on-farm applications because animal manure is a suitable feedstock for anaerobic digestion. An on-farm anaerobic digester offers both the ability to treat manure in such a way as to meet increasingly strict environmental regulations. Furthermore, it generates valuable products (e.g., fertilizer) and potential sources of income (e.g., electricity and heat production).
Anaerobic digesters range in size from small, on-farm digesters that are suitable for processing manure from a small herd of livestock, to large digesters that process on-farm and off-farm feedstocks in advanced industrial digesters located in a central location.
From a purely financial perspective, the economic viability of anaerobic digestion in Canada is currently uncertain. Small to moderately sized livestock operations should only consider anaerobic digestion if this process is required for the effective implementation of their manure management plan or if other potential synergies can be found. Large livestock operations, farmer cooperatives that pool their manure and agricultural operators considering a centralized business model could consider the implementation of a centralized anaerobic digestion operation from a purely financial perspective, but as yet there is no example of an established operation of this nature in Canada to date.