Implementing digesters ‘challenging’ but incentives-based model offers promise

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Dairy Sustainability methane emissions carbon removal climate neutrality Net zero

A study that projected how California’s dairy sector could become climate neutral in the next four years bets on the industry’s widescale adoption of digesters and novel methane-reducing feed additives – but are these projections realistic?

The study, conducted by researchers from University of California, Davis (UC Davis), offers science-backed projections about how methane mitigation strategies in the Sunny State could provide tangible pathways to climate neutrality. Three scenarios were modeled; the first was ‘business as usual’, where emissions remained constant and did not decrease; the second one projected a 40% methane emissions reductions through the use of anaerobic digesters; and under the third scenario, in addition to the 40% enteric methane emissions reduction, a further 10.6% methane reduction was achieved through the use of feed additive 3-NOP.

The industry would hit climate neutrality by 2027 under the second scenario and achieve even greater reductions under the third, but there are several limitations - 3-NOP has not been approved yet for use in the US, though this is expected in 2024. Then, CDFA-funded dairy digester projects through 2023 are set to enable the industry to meet 42.6% of its overall reduction target – but a mix of 420 additional digester and manure management projects would still have to be implemented across the state if the sector is to meet the remaining GHG reduction stated under SB 1383.

DairyReporter contacted Denise Mullinax, executive director of the California Dairy Research Foundation, to ask about the sector’s progress and the potential for the Californian dairy industry to meet these lofty reduction targets en route to carbon neutrality. Asked about the plausibility to see all 420 projects implemented – in particular, the remaining digesters – she told us: “California is well on its way to hitting that number of digesters in the state. That said, digesters are an expensive technology and California is home to some of the strictest air and water regulations in the nation. These issues as well as others make implementing digesters on dairies challenging.”

Asked if there is enough willingness from the sector for a sustained push towards reaching the emission reduction target through manure management or/and feed, Mullinax said the current voluntary system of incentives has been effective and more is currently being done to support farmers. “California’s voluntary, incentives-based approach has been effective in promoting the adoption of digesters and alternative manure management technologies that capture or avoid methane emissions,” the CDRF executive told us.

“Dairy producers are open to applying this same strategy to methane-reducing feed additives. Producers need solutions that are approved, fully vetted and economically-viable. A recent State of the Science Summit hosted by the UC Davis CLEAR Center and CDFA brought together key players to help advance solutions and the implementation mechanisms that are needed. There is a lot of interest and support from throughout the dairy supply chain.”

On the availability of methane-reducing feed additives such as 3-NOP and Bovaer – both expected to be approved next year – Mullinax admitted it would ‘take time’ for new feed options to become available at scale – but efforts are underway to ensure such products are accessible for farmers as early as possible. “Producers need approved and validated feed additive options,” Mullinax said. “It will take time for new products to be approved and made commercially available at scale. Collaborative efforts are underway to create an incentives-based early adopter program that would help in covering added costs and allow for methane-reducing feed additives to be adopted at scale.”

Related topics Regulation & Safety Sustainability

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