Lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis of an Anaerobic Co-digestion Facility Processing Dairy Manure and Industrial Food Waste in NY State

Animal Manure Management March 13, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

While the theoretical benefits of anaerobic digestion have been documented, few studies have utilized data from commercial-scale digesters to quantify impacts.  Previous studies have analyzed a range of empirical studies to constuct emission factors for a generic European AD plant processing source separated municipal solid waste.  However, most U.S. studies have applied reporting protocols and have been based upon theoretical assumptions.  Furthermore, GHG analyses of U.S. co-digestion facilities are limited to one scenario in protocol based analysis of community digester options. 


We are not aware of any peer-reviewed studies of US anaerobic co-digestion. Several case studies have presented calculations of impacts using GHG reporting protocols, however significant portions of the lifecycle have been neglected such as the feedstock reference case emissions, digestate storage emissions and fertilizer displacement impacts. Furthermore, they have often been modeled using general theoretical assumptions such as number of cows rather than empirical data on feedstock volume and characteristics and digester operation.

What did we do? 

A lifecycle GHG analysis was performed based upon data reported on a farm-based anaerobic co-digestion system in New York State, resulting in an 71% reduction in GHG impact relative to conventional treatment of manure and food waste.

The objective of this study was to provide a comprehensive analysis of GHG emissions based upon a NYS digester that co-digests manure and industrial-sourced food waste. Empirical data on feedstock (t-km transport, avoided disposal, TS, VS, TKN), digester operation (m3CH4, KWh, exhaust emissions) and effluent properties (TS,VS,TKN) were combined with regional parameters (i.e., climate, soil type and management practices) to represent a state-of-the-art, anaerobic co-digestion facility in NYS. This data was combined with information collected through interviews in order to model a reference case, representing the business-as-usual food waste disposal and manure management practices en lieu of the anaerobic co-digestion system.

What have we learned? 

Displacement of grid electricity provided the largest benefit followed by avoidance of food waste landfill emissions and reduced impacts associated with storage of digestate vs. undigested manure. Nominal land application N2O emissions were offset by inorganic fertilizer displacement and carbon sequestration in both cases. The higher volume of digestate increased net land application emissions as did increased transportation distance to the fields and lower carbon sequestration. Digestate is a by-product of the co-digestion process and its treatment must be considered in an LCA. Modeling of land application impacts are highly uncertain and can be significant.

The largest source of direct emissions was CH4 emissions. N2O emissions were larger in the land application phase than during storage. Direct fossil fuel emissions had a minor impact. Emissions were offset by displacement of grid electricity and fossil based fertilizers along with carbon sequestration.

Future Plans    

More empirical research is needed to measure emissions and to provide emission factors that incorporate key variables and characteristics affecting emissions. A whole system, dynamic approach is necessary to incorporate complex interdependencies between stages of farm and manure management.


Jennifer L. Pronto, Research Assistant, Cornell University

Ebner, Jackie              Rochester Institute of Technology

Rodrigo A. Labatut, Matthew J. Rankin, Curt A. Gooch, Anahita A. Williamson, Thomas A. Trabold

Additional information       

Figure 1: Contributional analysis of GHG impacts for the reference and anaerobic co-digestion cases.
Figure 1: Contributional analysis of GHG impacts for the reference and anaerobic co-digestion cases.

















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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.