C-CHANGE is leading the exploration of creating a new agricultural value chain based on the production of renewable natural gas and associated co-products through anaerobic digestion of herbaceous feedstocks, combined with manure from livestock.

Iowa State’s C-CHANGE hosts virtual conference exploring a biogas value chain

By Dan Kirkpatrick, Iowa State University Office of the Vice President for Research

More than 200 innovators, researchers, government officials, farmers and thought leaders from across North America joined in a lively discussion regarding the potential of renewable natural gas during the October 19, 2020, C-CHANGE Conference, “Why are we missing the boat on biogas?”

This inaugural conference of Iowa State University’s Consortium for Cultivating Human and Naturally reGenerative Enterprises (C-CHANGE) served as a platform to bring together experts from agriculture, energy, government, science and society to share new ideas for expanding the value chain for renewable natural gas, a component of biogas. The conference was originally intended to be an in-person event March 25-27, 2020, but was rescheduled as a half-day virtual program due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A critical priority of C-CHANGE is to advance new agricultural value chains to return value to people and the land,” said Lisa Schulte Moore, C-CHANGE director and professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State. “A value chain based on renewable natural gas and associated co-products that are derived through anaerobic digestion of herbaceous feedstocks, combined with manure from livestock, can foster new economic growth in rural America while also enhancing farm prosperity, human health, energy security and ecosystem resources.”

Schulte Moore served as a co-host for the conference with Tom Richard, director of the Institutes for Energy and the Environment at Penn State University. The conference featured keynote presentations on growth opportunities for biogas and renewable natural gas from:

  • Rudi Roeslein, founder and CEO of Roeslein Alternative Energy;
  • David Babson, program director, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy of the U.S. Department of Energy;
  • Debi Durham, executive director, Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority; and
  • Faizal Hassan, director, Biogas Marketing, Element Markets.

Here are a few of the top observations from the keynote presenters:

  • Rudi Roeslein: “What we’re looking at is how do we improve water and soil? What effects does it have on climate and wildlife? How do we restore carbon and produce energy? We don’t want to look at these things in separate silos. We want to look at prairie and cover crops and their benefits in all these various dimensions and not focus purely on energy.”
  • David Babson: “We see a negative emissions industry needs to be created to build the capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere . . . and to help service our carbon-based economy with new sources of renewable carbon.”
  • Debi Durham: “As a proud agricultural state, Iowa has great potential to benefit economically and environmentally by further realizing the value-added attributes of biomass in the development of bioenergy, biofuels and biochemicals.”
  • Faizal Hassan: “You can use renewable natural gas to produce electricity for electric vehicles, and you can use it as a feedstock in the diesel fuel space to reduce the carbon intensity score for the fuel produced.”

The keynotes were followed by breakout sessions that featured presentations and content from subject matter experts and guided discussion between these experts and conference participants. Breakout topics included: Anaerobic Digestion; Co-products; Distribution and Markets; Feedstocks; Policy and Financing; and Societal Value.

“Biomass systems and regenerative agricultural systems have the ability to support the sustainable production of renewable energy while also drawing down carbon emissions,” said Penn State’s Tom Richard. “This conference served as valuable platform for advancing the discussion around creating a renewable natural gas bioeconomy that also reduces our carbon footprint, benefitting our agriculture economy, our rural communities, our environment and society as a whole.”


The Consortium for Cultivating Human And Naturally reGenerative Enterprises, or C-CHANGE, began in 2018 as an Iowa State University Presidential Interdisciplinary Research Initiative created to address the challenge of delivering abundant, affordable and safe food to 10 billion people without compromising the Earth’s supportitve capacity in the long term. In 2020, C-CHANGE expanded to a multi-institutional consortium including Iowa State University, Penn State University, Roeslein Alternative Energy, FDC Enterprises Inc., the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, and partner organizations with a Sustainable Agricultural Systems program grant from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture. C-CHANGE is further funded by grants from the Iowa Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and Walton Family Foundation.