Our Approach to Biogas Solutions
The Montrose Biogas team is focused on finding unique and sustainable ways to generate renewable biogas from waste streams. Additionally, dairy farmers recognize the opportunity to boost farm revenue by installing anaerobic digesters – converting the biogas from the farm’s manure to renewable natural gas (RNG).
Our experts design projects of all sizes that encompass early-stage project evaluation, permitting, technology selection, design, engineering, procurement, and construction management, as well as long-term operations and maintenance. A multi-disciplinary team of certified engineers, project managers, construction staff and operators make up the comprehensive suite of services necessary to develop, design, build, operate and maintain RNG facilities and yield customized solutions for clients.
Hi, I’m Bernie Sheff — Vice president of biogas engineering* here at Montrose Environmental Group and the chairman of the American Biogas Council. I’ve dedicated my career to advancing anaerobic digestion as a key component of technologies that are needed to put our nation on a path to a renewable energy future.
Montrose is a leading provider of environmental solutions both nationwide and throughout the world and our biogas team is focused on finding unique and sustainable ways to generate renewable biogas from waste streams. At Montrose, I have the pleasure of working closely with a talented team of engineers, designers, project managers, procurement specialists, construction superintendents and long-term operators.
The focus of our Biogas group currently is the digestion of dairy manure. But before you can begin to design an anaerobic digestion system, you need a comprehensive understanding of the manure that will be placed in the digester. I want to take some time to talk about our team’s extensive knowledge and experience working with dairy farmers and evaluating the waste generated by the herds they manage.
It is sincerely a complex process that starts with spending time at the farm, getting to know the site operations and nuances of that specific dairy, learning about their manure management practices, and understanding their goals for making their operation more sustainable.
The best way to explain this is to show you, so we’re going to go back a few months to a farm that I visited in Michigan to see what’s important to understand for a successful renewable natural gas project.
So we’re out at the farm and right now is what we call, meet the cows. And this is probably the most important part of the entire endeavor because we have to determine all the nuances associated with a dairy. Here, we have Holsteins, but we need to know if they’re Jerseys, if they’re Crosses; because all that has to do with manure generation. And then housing practices; this is a free stall and they’re bedding on sand here. We need to know if it’s a Saudi barn or if it’s some kind of combination of those.
Bedding practices are very important. We have sand over here — but we could have fiber, we could have recovered compost from the digestate, or we can even have waterbeds. All of those things fit into us determining — the “meet the cows” — and understanding what’s going on.
Manure collection — that’s the next step. How is this collected? Now, at this facility, we come through with a scrape and we push it all into one end and that’s where that sand laid manure is then separated. Or you could have flush flumes, which uses water to convey the manure.
And then, last but not least, where does that liquid go? If it goes to a lagoon, that’s all part of your CI calculations. There’s other things that we’re going to ask about when we’re here; when we do our “meet the cows,” we’re going to talk about what’s your somatic cell? That helps me understand how you’re running your dairy. What’s your growth vision? Right now, we’re standing here next to the girls, but maybe there’s going to be more girls in the future — maybe there’s another barn over there. We need to know about those things. And then we need to know what is your actual goal beyond just sustainability by making RNG? What do you really want to do out of this project?
Well, that was a nice walk around the farm. We met some cows, learned a bit more about the collection process, and gathered crucial information to help us better understand the project goals.
Once we have all the information we need, we generate a numerical model of the dairy. Taking into consideration some of the details we talked about on the farm, this is a critical step to determine the amount of biogas that can be generated from the project.
Following our calculation of how much biogas we can generate, we begin to look at other aspects of the project. We ask questions such as: is there an existing lagoon that we will incorporate into our design? Or will the RNG be injected into a nearby pipeline or maybe trucked to a central injection location?
Answering these questions is so important because it allows our team to determine a preliminary carbon intensity score, or CI. This number guides how much revenue can be generated by a project each year. Our team has been trained to run CI scores and is able to develop a good assessment of the number that can then be validated by independent third parties later on in the process.
Finally, after establishing a relationship with the dairy owner and developing the preliminary requirements of the project, our team works closely with all of the key stakeholders to advance the design for generation and ultimate processing of the biogas into renewable natural gas stream.
One of the most crucial parts of our process connects our engineering and design team with our safety and long-term O&M team.
In order for a project to be successful, safe and efficient long-term operations are needed to ensure that a digester system can run consistently for 10 to 20 years. Montrose knows how important a holistic approach is, so our in-house safety and O&M teams are engaged in system design upfront. This means that key system components are designed and implemented with the operator in mind so that once the project is built, it will generate the amount of RNG that was envisioned over the long-term.
We believe it’s important to have all of those skill sets on the same team so we can simplify the process and the farmer and investors only have to communicate with Montrose.
In addition to our extensive experience, our team has the geographical presence and financial resources to deliver projects of all sizes. This goes far beyond just the services to get your digester built and your gas upgrading facility operational, but it’s also compliance and permitting expertise, laboratory testing, project delivery, risk management, long-term O&M, and many more national and global environmental capabilities.
If you are a farm owner or investor looking to develop a renewable natural gas project, the Montrose team has all of the critical resources and experience needed to deliver success. As I mentioned, my personal mission is to advance biogas as a solution in this country and I can’t wait to engage with more farms to make that vision a reality.
*Bernie is no longer with Montrose, but this information is still pertinent to the work that the biogas team is focused on.