Biogas at Duke University

 

Overview

Biogas from swine farms in N.C. is becoming a viable option to reduce reliance on fossil fuel used at Duke University and provides opportunities for positive community, environmental, economic and policy outcomes.

On April 10th, Duke hosted a climate forum to discuss Duke University's climate action goals and biogas. If you were unable to attend, Powerpoint slides and a video recording have been made available.

biogas infographic

History of Biogas at Duke University

In 2010, Duke University’s Carbon Offset Initiative led a partnership with Duke Energy and Google to demonstrate a full-scale swine waste-to-energy system in Yadkin County. The system captures methane gas or “biogas” that results from the breakdown of hog waste. This gas is burned in an onsite microturbine to generate electricity.

Methane gas has a global warming potential some 34 times more detrimental than carbon dioxide. Capturing this gas reduces the harmful impact on the environment, and it also creates a renewable fuel that can be burned to generate energy – offering a double dividend.

The Yadkin County system provided data that Duke University used to model a way to scale energy production from animal waste (and eventually other waste-generated methane) from a single-system approach to a multi-farm approach that would reduce biogas costs while increasing its energy production potential.

This research could allow for the capture of methane from nearly all hog farms across North Carolina, a state that ranks second in the nation in pork production, and lead to a new market for renewable biogas.

Exploring an Untapped Renewable Resource

Duke's initial plans for biogas only included offsetting those emissions it could not reduce. Using biogas on-site at Duke University was not possible at the time. But due to technological advancements brought about in part by the Loyd Ray Farms project and policy changes, Duke University began to consider biogas as a direct fuel source.

Loyd Ray Farms image
Loyd Ray Farms is a swine waste-to-energy project managed by the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative. The waste is flushed into an anaerobic digester where bacteria turn it into biogas. This biogas is used to generate renewable electricity onsite.

 

In late 2016, Duke University began a formal assessment to determine if a sufficient supply of biogas could be secured in North Carolina to reduce the need for fossil fuels on campus and support the University’s commitment to climate neutrality by 2024.

In addition to serving as a new source of renewable fuel, biogas is one of the carbon offsets Duke has explored as part of its commitment to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) signed in 2007. Duke set an aggressive climate neutrality date of 2024. And, despite an increase in total square footage, the University has managed to reduce its internal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 24 percent in the last 11 years. Much of those reductions have come from investing in energy efficient buildings, implementing energy conservation measures, and eliminating coal as an on-campus power source.

As Duke University continues to reduce on campus emissions and explore other renewables, the reality is the remaining emissions in 2024 will need to be offset to become climate neutral. The Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative has proactively developed a portfolio of options to generate and purchase carbon offsets, including residential energy reduction through efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar, and urban forestry. But these options do not currently provide sufficient scope or scale to meet Duke’s climate neutrality goal.

Securing biogas as a renewable fuel, however, holds significant potential in helping Duke University meet its goal of becoming climate neutral by its aggressive 2024 deadline because it will reduce the use of conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels, which means fewer emissions to offset.

Stakeholder Engagement

Duke University hopes to be in a position to make a decision regarding biogas procurement in 2018 following continued stakeholder engagement. As part of that process, Duke University has met with and gained insights from a host of key groups and community members, including:

  • Campus Sustainability Committee,
  • Duke Climate Coalition,
  • Student energy clubs,
  • Student researchers,
  • Duke faculty,
  • The board of advisors for the Nicholas School of the Environment,
  • Durham Environmental Affairs Board,
  • Area universities,
  • State environmental and community groups, and
  • State government officials.

The University will seek additional opportunities for engagement throughout the 2018 spring semester.

Additional Feedback

If you have any comments or feedback regarding biogas, please feel free to share them on this online feeback form.