Can you describe what your company does?
Aum Energy is innovating at the intersection of advanced biology and agriculture to expand the scope of anaerobic digestion (AD) by developing proprietary microbial solutions. The end result is low carbon renewable natural gas (RNG / biogas) and organic fertilizer.
The importance of AD has been highlighted in recent years by a variety of teams, such as Michigan State’s Biogasdoneright collaboration, Iowa State’s C-Change and the IEA’s Bioenergy Task 37 group, led by Jerry Murphy from the Environmental Research Institute in Cork, Ireland.
By placing AD at the heart of the farm:
- Crop residues can be better utilized
- Organic fertilizers help replace troublesome phosphate-based alternatives
- Low carbon Heat and RNG/power can be productively used and surplus sold to raise incomes
- Better utilization of land
However, today’s AD technology design doesn’t allow for the efficient utilization of lignin-based feedstocks due to the manner in which lignin protects the cellulose chains. In the words of a Danish AD operator “we throw manure and food waste into our AD plant each month and any cereal straw (lignin-based) that goes it just comes out a month later undigested.”
Aum Energy and it’s partners have worked on degrading other tightly-packed lignin-rich compounds in recent years and a uniquely successful body of work has encouraged the team to look for other market problems that need to be solved, specifically those that support the reduction of emissions. Being able to degrade wood, cereal residues (often up to 50% of the plant), grasses/leaves opens up AD to another billion tonne/annum source of feedstocks that are currently underutilized or simply burned in the atmosphere, a common phenomenon in Asia.
How does policy influence the market?
The European Commission has created a body of incentives, which has accelerated the development of the biogas industry in Europe such that there are over 15,000 farm-based AD plants in operation currently. As the industry evolves and as nations seek to meet stringent Paris climate targets, it is expected that the AD industry will continue to grow in order to meet demands for organic fertilizer, circular economy initiatives and low carbon fuels. The European Biogas Association expects that the industry will deliver 1,000 more sites through this decade, especially in underplayed southern and eastern Europe.
Aum Energy’s particular relevance this trend lies in being able to open up the feedstock mix, so that there is less competition for maize (an issue in Germany) and so that forests can be better managed and also dedicated energy crops grown on degraded land.
In a similar vein, the American Biogas Council and Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas are optimistic about the future prospects for AD in the USA, where strong incentives such as the LCFS are sparking a boom in new projects.
As the industry develops, it is expected that not only will there be more agri-based farm projects, but also integrated projects on the outskirts of cities which also process food and other organic wastes. As individual scale of projects build, then it becomes more economic to upgrade biogas into biomethane and to connect to gas grids to optimize the climate impact as well as to secure long-term incomes for asset owners.
What does the future look like?
In terms of recent advances in biology, it is expected that science will provide the ability to supercharge the digestion process for a wide variety of feedstocks in different locations; all using their own bespoke microbial solution.
More efficient technology and lower processing costs will underpin the growth of AD in countries like France and Denmark where a tripling of industry scale is sought after and where locally-manufactured biogas will back out imported natural gas and also provide energy that can be dispatched at night, further reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Less transmission infrastructure reduces utility costs and risks.
Aum Energy sees a bright future for AD across the globe, from edge-of-forest projects, to mini-digesters in cities handling leaves/grasses to projects in SE Asia handling rice and palm oil plantation wastes. Sustainable energy provision also means sustainable incomes that are not tied to underlying agricultural commodity prices.
AD is nothing more than enhancing nature’s own processes in a controlled manner and it deserves more focus from investors and policy makers as part of a low cost energy transition.
About The Author
Daniel currently works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. His original assignment was to maintain and update facility safety documentation for all facilities on-site, and perform risk analysis. Over time, his role has expanded to leading continuous improvement efforts through product management.
Concurrently, Daniel volunteers with Techstars, helping organize startup weekends, and with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, organizing events on the local and national levels of the organization. He also volunteers with One World, and previously with Powerhouse Ventures, to source and screen startups for potential investment.
Daniel holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis, and recently completed coursework in energy innovation from Stanford. His passion is at the intersection of sustainability, innovation, and business.