Turning Problems Into Profits: Ag Waste-To-Energy Trend Could Be A Boon For New Jersey Lawyers

by LeClairRyan

Scientists at the Rutgers EcoComplex in Bordentown are working hard to find new and more efficient ways to transform agricultural waste into energy. In the process, they stand a good chance of creating exciting new opportunities for energy  and utilities attorneys in the Garden State.

The EcoComplex, launched in 2012 by Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, is a wide-ranging collaboration of academics, government officials and businesspeople. Its areas of research might sound a bit cryptic at first—they include the likes of anaerobic digestion, gasification and bio-methane to CNG/LNG—but the basic idea is simple enough: By leveraging technology to make smart use of unwanted byproducts such as crop and animal waste, businesses can turn problems into profit. And they can help the environment in the bargain.

This is no small matter for New Jersey, where about 10,300 farms generate annual sales of more than $1 billion. According to state officials, New Jersey farmland produced 120 million pounds of bell peppers, 550,000 barrels of cranberries and 30,000 tons of peaches in 2012 alone. The state’s sizeable equine industry—its fourth-largest agricultural sector—is valued $46 million.

All of this agricultural production, of course, translates into large volumes of problematic waste—tons of unwanted plant matter, fertilizer runoff, horse manure and more. Clearly, if New Jersey businesses can succeed in learning how to turn this waste into the energy needed to heat homes, run vehicles and add power to the regional electrical grid, they stand to boost the bottom line, and then some. But if profit is the carrot in this equation, there is also a stick—namely, ever-tightening federal and state regulations geared toward curtailing pollution caused by agricultural waste.

Agricultural concerns in New Jersey and around the nation are facing stricter regulations on nutrient waste runoff. In particular, regulations dealing with the nitrates and phosphates found in both fertilizer and animal manure promise to force the industry to find cleaner and more efficient means of waste disposal. Meanwhile, states continue to embrace ambitious energy- efficiency goals. By 2020, for example, New Jersey aims to obtain 20.38 percent of its energy from clean hydropower facilities, agricultural waste, wind, solar, geothermal and other alternative sources. In Eastern Kentucky, one of the authors is currently working on a project that involves building a round-the-clock, baseload power plant that will be fueled entirely by waste wood; negotiations for an interconnection arrangement with the regional electrical grid are underway. One of the authors is also helping a university campus in Tennessee build a green-energy system fueled in part by agricultural waste.

But the nexus between energy and agriculture is not just a new technological frontier—it is a new legal one. Demand is growing for expert attorneys who can help forward-thinking clients bring their new approaches to market without running afoul of legacy environmental and energy regulations. Contract-drafting and ratenegotiating opportunities are emerging as well. After all, the power produced by new sources of energy must be sold into the grid.

University researchers on the cutting edge of science are helping agricultural concerns learn about, develop and implement alternative-energy technologies. Knowledgeable attorneys are needed to help these clients handle the legal dimensions of the 21st century energy economy. One of the biggest challenges involves education— helping the public understand both the perils and the promises of harnessing energy from agricultural waste. In some cases, as part of the process of winning entitlements and securing community approval, specialist attorneys will be needed to help clients properly manage and mitigate factors such as noise and vehicle frequency. Smart strategic planning on where and how clients locate and operate their alternative-energy machinery and equipment will be critical. The public also needs to be educated on the downside of failing to enact these technologies: Growing domestic and international demand means that agriculture, along with its waste byproducts, will continue to expand in the future. Failure to act could therefore mean polluted groundwater and other problems.

The promises of converting agricultural waste to energy include achieving something heretofore only dreamed about—robust energy production without the dirty downside typically associated with fossil fuels. Bio-digesters such as those being perfected at Rutgers, for example, can be taken directly to landfills. There is no need to build a new bio-digester facility in the middle of a suburban community and then feed the machine with an unending stream of garbage trucks. With a bio-digester, the machine can be taken directly to the problem, rather than the other way around.

And this is why attorneys interested in this subject must be more than experts in the law. They also need to understand the technology involved, and even, to some degree, the underlying biology and chemistry. By staying abreast of both the science and the latest developments in the field, they will better position themselves to understand, anticipate and respond to emerging legal opportunities and environmental questions related to alternative energy. They will also need to pay attention to the fast-changing world of state and federal incentives. The latest iteration of the farm bill, for example, includes $900 million in mandatory funding for renewable energy and biofuels projects, to be initiated over 10 years.

Despite the fondest wishes of would-be alchemists down the centuries—believe it or not, the groundbreaking physicist Sir Isaac Newton was among them—man has never been able to pull off the hoped for transformation of lead into gold. But while capturing the energy in horse manure or woody fibers is certainly less miraculous than alchemy, it relies on a principle enunciated by Newton himself: “Energy can be neither created nor destroyed; it can only change form.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© LeClairRyan | Attorney Advertising

Written by:


LeClairRyan on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.