Cow Power: Reducing waste, boosting electricity supply
Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on January 23rd, 2013
Source: The Morning Sentinel.
Photo by David Leaming, The Morning Sentinel
From ‘‘Cow power’ turns manure, food waste into mighty electricity source‘ by Ben McCanna
Every day in rural Penobscot County, a large dairy farm harnesses clean-burning gas from cow manure and food waste, and it generates enough electricity to power 800 homes continuously. The process, commonly known as cow power, has the potential to earn the facility $800,000 a year. It also creates byproducts — animal bedding and a less-odorous fertilizer — that save the farm about $100,000 a year. Cow power is more consistent than solar and wind energy, and it eliminates greenhouses gases that otherwise would enter the atmosphere. The $5.5 million project could pay for itself in five years. After that, it’s all gravy. So why aren’t more farms doing it?
For five generations, the Fogler family has milked cows on a pastoral setting of open fields, mixed hardwoods and red barns. Now the scene includes a distinctly modern facility. [...] For the past 13 months, Exeter Agri-Energy has been combining cow manure and industrial food waste at this location. In its first year, the company generated 5,200 megawatt-hours for the grid, which earned the farm about $520,000 from Bangor Hydro Electric. Now that the kinks have been worked out, the facility is on track to produce about 8,000 megawatt-hours a year. At 10 cents per kilowatt hour, that’s $800,000. The project was installed in four months beginning in August 2011. It cost $5.5 million and received $2.8 million in grants from Efficiency Maine, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Treasury Department. The facility is a subsidiary of the Foglers’ Stonyvale Farm, which hosts the project on its land. Stonyvale also supplies the system with 20,000 gallons of raw cow manure every day. [...]
Why isn’t manure power spreading? In the United States there are about 100 cow-power facilities. Only a dozen combine food waste with manure. In Maine, there is only one. Curt Gooch, dairy sustainability engineer at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said digesters first appeared in the U.S. in the 1970s, during the oil embargo; however, when oil prices dropped again, interest in the technology dried up. Then, in the late 1990s, there was a resurgence. Digesters have continued to crop up since then, but it’s still not widespread. “The potential is huge,” he said. “It’s a big bud that’s waiting to blossom.” In Europe, cow power is in full bloom. About 5,000 anaerobic digesters operate in Germany alone, Gooch said. There are several reasons why, said Spencer Aitel, co-owner of Two Loons Farm in South China and board member at Maine Organic Farmers and Gardners Association in Unity.
Cow-power producers in Europe are paid three times as much per kilowatt hour; European countries are more densely populated, so odor control is highly valued; and European governments tightly regulate milk prices so they’re always profitable for dairy farmers. Installing cow power requires a substantial investment, which is extremely difficult for U.S. farmers, who are often in the red. On Friday, for instance, 110-year-old Garelick Farms ended production because the cost of making milk exceeds the amount dairy farmers receive. Also, the technology is viable only for very large farms, Aitel said. [...] “Biodigesters are never going to replace solar, wind, hydro or anything else, but they are going to add to the portfolio.” [...]
>>> You can learn how the digester works and read the full article on the Morning Sentinel.