top of page

Biogas Digester


The Biogas Digester Team is working to developing a more sustainable future using biogas digesters. The biogas digesters are able to convert organic waste into methane gas (biogas), which can be used for energy and fuel. The team has partnered with Morven Farm, a local Charlottesville historical farm, and has been working on researching to improve their design after field testing in 2016.


The main focus of the Biogas Digester project is the researching, designing, constructing and testing of biogas digesters for application in mid-Atlantic region farms and residences. A biogas digester turns organic, biodegradable waste into methane gas that can be harnessed as an extremely low-cost energy source via an anaerobic bacterial process. Biogas digesters are commonly implemented in climates where temperatures do not dip much lower than 33 degrees Celsius (approximately 90 degrees Fahrenheit) due to the optimal temperature for productivity of the bacteria within the biogas digester.

Biogas Digester Statistics

  • A small-scale biogas plant can save, on average, 4.7 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

  • It is estimated that this simple, anaerobic treatment of animal waste and energy could allow over 1,300 tons of methane emissions to be avoided each year.

  • When animal waste is used to produce biogas on a farm, carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by nearly 180% and methane emissions nearly eliminated.

Digester plants isolate and destroy disease-causing organisms that pose a threat to both surface and groundwater. A threat to either of these water systems is a threat to both human and animal health.

Our community of focus is people interested in alternative energy options and their applications. Biogas currently does not have the support it should because it is not understood in this area of the world. We aim to show that biogas can and should be implemented in this area of the world. Sweden leads the world and produces 1.7 TWh of bioenergy a year, over five times more than the United States. China and Germany each produce three times more. The United States is the perfect candidate for increased biogas generation because it is made from a variety of wastes; forestry, sewage, livestock, and agricultural waste can all produce biogas. The United States can utilize biogas in the farming industry to reuse unwanted waste and create products at lower costs and higher efficiency.

Project Work

In previous years of the Biogas Digester project, the team has aimed to research biogas digesters, construct their own digester, and perform analyses to ultimately create a pamphlet to distribute to farmers, especially in developing countries, to effectively construct a winterized biogas digester. A few years ago, the team had researched and constructed a semi-working prototype of a floating drum biogas digester that produced enough gas to cook several meals a week. They concluded that this ultimate goal lacked focus and feasibility and took to the drawing board to decide a new direction. After considering many ideas, the team decided to reach out to local farms to see if they would be interested in partnering to build a biodigester on their farm. Since this would be a student project and would not necessarily be permanent, the project team wanted to work with a farm to be able to draw a report about the feasibility of similar projects around Virginia. The Biogas Digester team has recently reached out to many farms, including Morven Farms and Polyface Farms and have already received some positive feedback regarding potential partnerships.

Considering the long-term implications of this project, one must acknowledge the financial and environmental benefits of using biogas as an alternative energy source. The specific polyethylene digester design the team is considering costs under 500 dollars. The implementation of biogas as an alternative energy source is growing, however it is not common to climates like those in the United States. In colder climates, biogas digesters typically incorporate cold-tolerant microbes harvested from lake sediments whereas the project team is aiming to design an innovative and insulating mechanism to winterize our digester

Biogas Digester Project Report

Past Team Members

Name: Emily Leivy

Title: Project Leader from 2014-2015

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Graduation: 2016


Name: Madeline Wilson

Title: Project Leader 2013-2014

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Graduation: 2015


Name: Chandler Dalton

Title: Project Leader 2015-2017

Major: Systems Engineering

Graduation: 2018


Name: Andrew Citera

Major: Systems Engineering and Economics

Graduation: 2017


Name: Daniel Jacob Anthony

Major: Civil Engineering

Graduation: 2018


Name: Catherine Claire Pollack

Major: Chemical Engineering and Statistics

Graduation: 2018


Name: Ethan Sommerville

Major: Systems Engineering

Graduation: 2019


Name: Ben Neubert

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Graduation: 2020


Name: Sragi Khakurel

Major: Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science

Graduation: 2020


Name: Ben Kellogg

Major: Computer Science

Graduation: 2019


Name: Katherine McCool

Major: Civil Engineering

Graduation: 2019


Name: Victoria Toscano

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Graduation: 2019

bottom of page