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Home Biogas Production

Updated on June 19, 2013
Scientist in Argentina utilize biogas balloons to determine how much gas cows produce.
Scientist in Argentina utilize biogas balloons to determine how much gas cows produce. | Source

Is home biogas production a viable solution to reducing home heating costs? It’s a great question. One that people around the world are addressing through on the ground experimentation and technology development. This biofuel could drastically reduce our dependence on natural gas, butane, or propane, for home heating and cooking.

Greenhouse Emissions

What is Biogas

Biogas is methane gas. This methane gas is produced during digestive processes. In fact, cows have been accused of contributing to global warming via their gaseous emissions. Now not all the gas that cows produce is methane. They also emit other gases, but cows do emit 800-1000 liters of gas daily. To put that into perspective Argentina maintains 55 million cows. Doing the math these cows could produce as much as 55 billion liters of methane containing emissions daily!

Biogas is also produced during the anaerobic digestion or decomposition of organic material. This anaerobic environment can be created in a man made structure allowing for the collection and burning of this biofuel.

Anaerobic Digestion

Biogas (methane) is produced through a process of anaerobic digestion. This process requires an anaerobic environment (oxygen free) such as a digestion tract or an anaerobic digester.

Swamp gas is an example of biogas produced in an anearobic environment. When the submerged organic layer in a swamp is depleted of oxygen methane production commences. Anaerobic microbes breakdown the organic material in a complex series of processes. The by-product of these processes is methane, CO2, and other gases.

Biogas digesters duplicate this environment. Seeding the digester with animal waste, typically cow or horse manure, supplies the digester with a source of anaerobic microbes. Once the system is functioning other organic materials such as kitchen scraps, restaurant waste, and rotten produce can be utilized.

Anaerobic digesters in the City of Bakersfield
Anaerobic digesters in the City of Bakersfield | Source

The History of Biogas Production

From the collecting of swamp gas by Volta in 1770 to the construction of modern biogas plants, methane production has had a unique history.

China has been promoting the use of biogas digesters for decades and with good reason. Biogas can be produced with little effort in remote locations providing for cooking and heating needs. Rural family farms have a never ending supply of organic waste to feed anaerobic digesters. There is no need to haul or pipe natural gas long distances when you can make it right on site. Today more than 28 million Chinese households utilize biogas.

India, Germany, and China have all developed massive biogas production programs. These programs involve the use of human waste, organic or food waste that would otherwise go to landfills, and in at least one case up to 250,000 cows dedicated to biogas production. These countries not only have developed the biogas industry, but they've done so while promoting home biogas production.

In the United States you will seldom see home biogas digesters employed. Some agricultural facilities have begun to take advantage of this technology, but most do not. The trapping of methane produced by landfills and the utilization of anaerobic digesters in conjunction with sewage treatment facilities is common place in the U.S..

A simple  home biogas generator design.
A simple home biogas generator design. | Source
Telescoping biogas digester.
Telescoping biogas digester. | Source

Home Biogas Systems

Biogas production systems simply differ in size from commercial production facilities to home biogas systems. Though the dimensions may be vastly different the concepts utilized in most systems are still the same. There are three basic styles of biogas digesters that are typically used for home methane production. Pit systems, bladder systems, and telescoping systems.

Pit systems utilize pits or subterranean tanks to store the decomposing organic material. The waste is poured into the system via a pipe that enters the tank bellow the surface of the slurry. An additional overflow tank is use to both harvest the nutrient rich effluent produced by the digester, but also to pressurize the biogas in the tank.

Bladder style system utilize a storage tank, but differ in that they utilize a rubber bladder to pressurize the methane gas. This bladder allows the owner to visually assess the amount of gas the system produces.

Telescoping digesters are basically two cylindrical container which slide into each other. The top cylinder rises as biogas is produced. This acts both to pressurize the gas and provides the owner with a visual indicator as to the amount of gas the system has produced.

All of these systems can be used for the home production of biogas, but the telescoping types are the most portable. They can be prefabricated and delivered to the installation site adding to their ease of use.


Home biogas digesters are an efficient way to turn otherwise wasted organic material into useable methane gas. Though not seen often in the United States they are gaining popularity in agricultural communities. These systems may never be common place in urban communities in the US, but the most certainly have a place in rural and agricultural developments.


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    • collegedad profile image

      collegedad 5 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

      I checked out your blog. Now I know that Costa Rica is in my future. The heat may be a problem, but I'm looking forward to that adventure in the future!

    • profile image

      Casimiro 5 years ago

      Will do. I have a blog about our experience moving here, A Dull Roar. Stop by if you come to visit the country.

    • collegedad profile image

      collegedad 5 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

      I forgot that you live in Costa dream location! The wife and I have discussed retiring to Costa Rica. Maybe I'll be the old man up the mountain with the digester. LOL Let me know if you build one.

    • profile image

      Casimiro 5 years ago

      collegedad, I live in Costa Rica, in the countryside, so very unlikely to have trouble with authorities. :^) My neighbor told me that years ago he used to have a biodigester. He fed it with his cows' manure and used the gas for cooking. Not sure why he stopped using it, though.

    • collegedad profile image

      collegedad 5 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

      Hey Casimiro, When I interned at a sewage treatment plant in the 1980s they had a telescoping anaerobic digester. It produced enough methane to run the plants generators for six month out of the year. You may have issue with the local health code, but human waste does work.

    • profile image

      Casimiro 5 years ago

      Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. So, any folks generating this gas on purpose, please use it! :)

      I wonder if human waste can be used for this application? I'm definitely intrigued by the telescoping method as that seems doable by a DIY'r like myself.

      Great hub!

    • collegedad profile image

      collegedad 5 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

      We sure do JimTxMiller! For several years in the 90's I designed and installed animals was storage facilities using EPA funds. I could not convince them that liquid manure could be effectively used on the farm to create biogas. The average farm could easily have produced enough methane to heat their homes and supplied power to the entire farm with electricity to spare.

      Lipnancy, we have to. We are an energy dependent nation.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      How very interesting. I am for at least exploring different alternatives for energy. Voted Up and Shared

    • JimTxMiller profile image

      Jim Miller 5 years ago from Wichita Falls, Texas

      We need to bring all alternative energy and waste management systems to the table as we continue to divorce ourselves from fossil fuels. Thanks for sharing!