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sector_ico_Environment_trans Environment

Opening of a functional genomic window on anaerobic co-digestion of mixed agricultural waste for enhanced biogas production

  • Project Leaders: Steve Hallam, Christopher Bush
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $499925
  • Program/Competition: GeneSolve
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2020
  • Status: Active

British Columbia is committed to reaching 15% Renewable Natural Gas (RNG or biogas) supply by 2030 to meet Provincial and National climate action goals. Current biogas supply in BC is 0.5%, and new technologies and feedstocks are needed to make up this shortfall.  

Animal agriculture farms have been highlighted as a provincial priority due to environmental impacts of their “waste” on communities, aquifers and downstream watersheds. These waste sources can be processed in anaerobic bioreactors to produce RNG, meeting two of the priorities set out by the province.

The University of British Columbia-based team leading this project seeks to develop the genomic tools to operate anaerobic bioreactors capable of handling mixed farm waste (pig, cow and chicken). Chicken manure contains 8 times the nitrogen content of pig or cow manure, which has the potential to increase the efficiency of biogas production when all three sources of manure are used together.

The current project envisions a new cooperative model for agriculture bioreactors encompassing five to 20 farms in the community. These cooperative systems would process manure only, exploiting the substantial poultry manure available for biogas production. Manure only conversion would bypass permitting and complexity threats associated with off-farm waste streams with up to 33% cost savings.

Industrial scale bioreactors host complex communities of interdependent microorganisms that collectively convert organic waste into methane. When the microbial communities within a bioreactor are disrupted, they are no longer able to function correctly and produce biogas. It can take weeks, even months for those microbes to stabilize and return to full production. The need for genomic tools is critical ensure the long-term reliability and cost effectiveness of bioreactors converting agriculture waste into renewable natural gas, and the construction of future bioreactors.