The equity commitment will allow AMP Americas to pursue growth opportunities across its businesses.
AMP Americas is fueling the transformation of the nation’s heavy-duty trucking sector by providing clean, low cost natural gas and 100 percent renewable natural gas for vehicles. AMP Americas operates three business units – Renewable Dairy Fuels produces 100 percent renewable natural gas at its biogas facility at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, ampCNG owns and operates a nationwide network of 20 public-access, ultra-fast fill CNG fueling stations, and ampRenew sources RNG for partner CNG stations and ampCNG stations and provides risk management to help fleets and station owners reduce risk and save money. By taking advantage of an abundant domestic fuel source – dairy waste – and converting it into valuable, clean, carbon-negative transportation fuel, AMP Americas is saving fleets money, improving air quality and reducing GHG emissions.
“As an integrated clean energy company with production and distribution assets across the country, we wanted a partner with proven success in both the traditional and renewable energy sectors that could help us scale and execute our aggressive growth plans,” said Grant Zimmerman, CEO at AMP Americas. “EIV Capital has an excellent track record growing energy businesses and will help us as we invest in new biogas production, new fueling stations, and in growing our team.”
“We’re excited to partner with AMP Americas and to support them as they lead the way in CNG and RNG,” said Patti Melcher, managing partner at EIV Capital. “With its history of leadership and innovation, experienced management team and portfolio of high quality assets, AMP Americas is in an excellent position to flourish in this exciting and important market.”
This new full-scale-electric feed truck is the next step in Straus' quest to show that his Marin county organic dairy farm can be carbon positive, using agriculture as a solution to reversing climate change.
Straus, along with a local mechanic, spent eight years developing the 33,000 lb. gross weight truck to use as a feed truck on his farm. The truck measures, mixes and hauls feed before dropping it into the trough for his nearly 300 organic dairy cows.
An environmentally-friendly alternative to diesel-fueled trucks, the feed truck's motor is charged from electrical power generated from methane gas produced by the cows' own manure.
California dairy farmers are facing pressure to lower methane emissions under the state's ambitious new greenhouse gas reduction laws, which include methane emission reduction targets of 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030.
The state's Air Resources Board says that much of the reduction should come from converting methane from cow manure into energy. Dairy manure accounts for about a quarter of the state's methane emissions.
"What I've tried to do is create a sustainable organic farming model that is good for the earth, the soil, the animals, and the people working on these farms, and helps revitalize rural communities," said Albert Straus, CEO and founder of Straus Family Creamery.
Straus added, "My electric feed truck is not only a practical tool for my organic farm. It is also a symbol of the resourcefulness we need to fight climate change, which threatens our business and the future of American farming."
Straus' methane digester has been powering his farm since 2004, fueling his all-electric Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Leaf plus smaller farm vehicles and machinery. Working with the Marin Carbon Project, his 500-acre farm is California's first dairy to develop a 20-year carbon farming plan to sequester 2,000 metric tons of carbon every year.
Straus' goal is to demonstrate to the farming community and public that farmers can implement and teach others practical solutions to climate change. Ultimately, Straus is working towards getting his farm off fossil fuels entirely.
United States plug-in electrical vehicle sales have increased nine-fold since 2011, per Inside EVs. Yet Straus believes he is the first to put a full-scale electric feed truck into use, getting the jump on Tesla Motor's electric semi-truck slated for September 2017 release.
Next, he plans to unveil an all-electric Farmers' Market truck to transport his company Straus Family Creamery's organic milk, cream, yogurt, ice cream and butter to local markets in San Francisco Bay Area.
CR & R Environmental Services has a similar dream for the future – turning waste into energy through an advanced technology called anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion produces "biogas" from organic waste in a zero waste, 100 percent renewable process.
At a recent Economic Workforce Development Committee luncheon hosted by the Lake Elsinore Chamber of Commerce at the Diamond Club at Storm Stadium, Alex Braicovich, senior regional vice president at CR & R, shared the vision, the process and the progress of their initiative of "Turning Today's Waste into Tomorrow's Energy."
CR & R, a full service, privately held, integrated waste management company based in Orange County, California, was founded in 1963 with one truck in a waste-hauling operation and later added two recycling trucks.
Today, the company has grown to include 50 municipal contracts in Southern California and southwestern United States.
They have 12 processing contracts and utilize 1,000 trucks every day with 1,600 employees that serve 2.5 million residential customers and 50,000 commercial customers. They have two solid waste facilities, five transfer stations and two landfills – a large one in Yuma, Arizona, and a smaller one serving Catalina Island.
The company has always been on the leading edge, including having the first recycling buy-back center in Orange County, the first three-can, fully automated curbside collection system, the first network of Material Recovery Facilities and one of the first bio-filtration systems. READ MORE
One is a bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate that would create a 30 percent investment tax credit for qualifying biogas and nutrient-recovery systems. That would put renewable compressed natural gas on a similar footing with solar and wind energy.
A separate approach, currently before the Environmental Protection Agency, aims to create a pathway that would pay biogas producers for providing power for electric vehicles.
An energy consultant from Des Moines is one of several people in the U.S. trying to devise a record-keeping system that ultimately would pay biogas producers much more than they now earn for generating electricity. READ MORE
PrairieChar Chairman and CEO Robert Herrington said he started the company because his wife made him buy her a horse farm.
He suffered a broken back when a tree fell on him as he was clearing a pasture. Lying in bed recuperating, he called friends in California and asked them to send him business plans to review. One caught his eye.
"We're in the manure business," Herrington said of what has become his new adventure. "We take something you don't want and turn it into something you do."
Manure is a cost center in the cattle, swine and poultry industries. It causes disposal and environmental problems.
In North Carolina, one of the top swine producers in the nation, manure from swine and poultry adds up to 40 billion pounds a year. Swine manure put into lagoons causes odor and environmental problems that Herrington believes can be solved with PrairieChar's technology.
PrairieChar, which Herrington said was engineered to be a scalable, cost-effective solution, is developing machines the size of cargo containers that can be placed next to a manure pile. The manure never has to be transported more than 300 feet. The company's revenue-share model means it gets the manure for nothing and farmers turn a cost center into a revenue stream.
The machines turn the manure into two valuable sterile products, he said. The process eliminates emissions into the air and removes soil and water hazards. One product produced is a "100 percent OMRI organic fertilizer that can reduce conventional fertilizer needs."
The other is a sustainable, renewable coal substitute that produces an ash that is actually valuable instead of being an environmental hazard like coal ash. It is 90 percent pure phosphate that can be sold for 25-cents to one-dollar a pound.
"We can change the way we're dealing with environmental issues," Herrington said. "We could convert manure into 33 million tons of our products annually."
It would also create jobs paying $50,000 to $70,000 annually in rural America, he added.
The machines cost $550,000 to build. The company recently opened a Series A round looking for $5 million. Although the company currently plans to begin operations on cattle manure in Kansas, Herrington said that if enough of its funding comes from North Carolina, it will target swine manure "sooner rather than later."
One strategy for dealing with poultry poop is to turn it into biofuel, and now scientists have developed a way to do this by mixing the waste with another environmental scourge, an invasive weed that is affecting agriculture in Africa. They report their approach in ACS' journal Energy & Fuels.
Poultry sludge is sometimes turned into fertilizer, but recent trends in industrialized chicken farming have led to an increase in waste mismanagement and negative environmental impacts, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Droppings can contain nutrients, hormones, antibiotics and heavy metals and can wash into the soil and surface water. To deal with this problem, scientists have been working on ways to convert the waste into fuel. But alone, poultry droppings don't transform well into biogas, so it's mixed with plant materials such as switch grass.
Samuel O. Dahunsi, Solomon U. Oranusi and colleagues wanted to see if they could combine the chicken waste with Tithonia diversifolia (Mexican sunflower), which was introduced to Africa as an ornamental plant decades ago and has become a major weed threatening agricultural production on the continent.
The researchers developed a process to pre-treat chicken droppings, and then have anaerobic microbes digest the waste and Mexican sunflowers together. Eight kilograms of poultry waste and sunflowers produced more than 3 kg of biogas — more than enough fuel to drive the reaction and have some leftover for other uses such as powering a generator. Also, the researchers say that the residual solids from the process could be applied as fertilizer or soil conditioner.
The authors acknowledge funding from Landmark University.
The city council inked a deal May 2 with Vanguard Renewables to purchase power generated by an anaerobic digester at Bradford's Crescent Farms for 13 cents a kilowatt hour. READ MORE
This is a must-attend event for any operator, owner, developer or anyone looking for hands-on digester operations experience. Attendees will have the opportunity learn from top digester operators to learn how to increase biogas production, digestate quality, revenue and avoid costly, time-consuming and smelly mistakes.
Over three days, digester operations experts from the American Biogas Council and UW-Oshkosh will start the morning with you in the classroom and ERIC lab to review topics from operations basics and safety to advanced topics like lab testing and operation software and remote monitoring. Then, we'll head to a digester to spend half or more of each day working with the operations team, turning valves, collecting samples and troubleshooting issues. We'll have three different types of digesters for you to experience – continuous mix, dry fermentation and plug flow.
Sign up before the class fills up.
Tasked with helping Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) turn biogas into a more-refined form of natural gas, the team of Meryl Bloomfield, Heather Newell, K.J. Hafer and Dave Hansen saw that the state was among the nation's leaders in not only cattle population but in manure production.
Using an anaerobic digestion process, the team proposes turning that manure not only into fertilizer for crops but natural gas that NPPD could also use to create electricity that powers farms and rural communities across the state.
"Compared to other renewable energy sources – like wind and solar – biogas is more consistent," said Bloomfield. "Cows are always going to produce manure. You don't have to rely on having a sunny day or a windy day, especially In Nebraska, where wind and solar plants might not be as reliable as in Arizona and California."
According to The Cattle Network, Nebraska ranked second nationally in 2015 with approximately 6.3 million cattle or about seven percent of the U.S. population. One of the biggest uses of the manure produced by the cattle is the production of fertilizer.
The student team worked to develop a method that would allow the production of natural gas and still maintain a viable supply for fertilizer production. But that led to it expanding on its goal by proposing a solution that could be an economic boost to the rural community – a biogas upgrade refinery that would be strategically located near Broken Bow.
The refined natural gas from the Nebraska Biogas Upgrading Refinery would then be piped to NPPD's Canaday Station southeast of Lexington, where it could be used to create electricity.
"It would be centralized to where the cows are," Hansen said. "After designing the plant, we determined we'd need about a quarter of a million head of cattle to achieve the manure supply sufficient to reach the capacity NPPD is looking for.
The natural gas that would be similar to the gas used in homes across the country, Hansen said, except it would be collected as part of a natural process rather than relying on traditional means of extracting the gas – such as fracking or refining fossil fuels.
Newell also said the process would be more beneficial to the ecology.
"In doing this, we're reducing greenhouse gases from the cow manure that sits out and naturally becomes fertilizer," Newell said. "We're reducing the carbon dioxide and creating something useful from it."
Though their proposal isn't guaranteed to be implemented, Bloomfield said thinking about the human impact made this senior capstone experience valuable for the entire team.
"Knowing that it could be even a stepping stone to something for NPPD changed how we approached it," Bloomfield said. "When you're thinking theoretically, you can go a lot of different directions. When you're thinking about how it affects people and their lives, that's when it gets real."
Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have developed a new system to convert methane into a deep green, energy-rich, gelatin-like substance that can be used as the basis for biofuels and other bioproducts, specialty chemicals — and even feed for cows that create the gas in the first place.
"We take a waste product that is normally an expense and upgrade it to microbial biomass which can be used to make fuel, fertilizer, animal feed, chemicals and other products," said Hans Bernstein, corresponding author of a recent paper in Bioresource Technology.
Methane is an unavoidable byproduct of our lifestyle. Manure from dairy cows, cattle and other livestock that provide us food often breaks down into methane. Drilling processes used to obtain the oil and natural gas we use to drive our cars and trucks or heat our homes often vent or burn off excess methane to the atmosphere, wasting an important energy resourcePNNL scientists approached the problem by getting two very different micro-organisms to live together in harmony.
One is a methane-loving methanotroph, found underground near rice paddies and landfills — where natural methane production typically occurs. The other is a photosynthetic cyanobacterium that resembles algae. Originally cultured from a lake in Siberia, it uses light along with carbon dioxide to produce oxygen.
The two aren't usually found together, but the two co-exist in harmony in a bioreactor at PNNL — thanks to a co-culture system created by Leo Kucek, Grigoriy E. Pinchuk, and Sergey Stolyar as well as Eric Hill and Alex Beliaev, who are two authors of the current paper.
PNNL scientist Hans Bernstein collected methane gas from a Washington dairy farm and Colorado oil fields and fed it to the microbes in the bioreactor.
One bacterium, Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum 20Z, ate the methane and produced carbon dioxide and energy-rich biomass made up largely of a form of carbon that can be used to produce energy.
But Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum 20Z can't do it alone. It needs the other micro-organism, Synechococcus species 7002, which uses light to produce the steady stream of oxygen its counterpart needs to carry out the methane-consuming reaction.
Each one accomplishes an important task while supplying the other with a substance it needs to survive. They keep each other happy and well fed — as Bernstein puts it, they're engaging in a "productive metabolic coupling." READ MORE
The pilot system at Scott Brothers’ converts about 88 percent of the dairy’s gasified manure into biochar and other products
Sustainability in farming is a phrase that’s used a lot these days. In its simplest form, it’s about continual operation with minimal impact on the environment. At Scott Brothers’ Dairy Farms in Moreno Valley, Calif., sustainability has reached a never-before-achieved level, one that’s attracting attention from around the globe.
Manure plays a central role in the farm’s ‘Circle of Energy’ concept: the 1,100-strong herd eats high-quality feed produced from the farm’s 700 acres, harvested with machinery powered by a no-sulfur diesel fuel derived from the cows’ manure. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the system also produces irrigation water, potable water, fertilizer, high-value wax, sulfur and valuable nutrients, which, according to Steve McCorkle, enables these and future farmers to truly control their own destinies.
McCorkle is the CEO of Ag Waste Solutions (AWS) of Westlake Village, Calif., the designer and installer of the system at Scott Brothers. He got the idea of making diesel from manure during years travelling the globe working in the energy sector.
“It appeared to me that farmers all over the world seemed to share two very strong, common goals: a desire to be the best possible stewards of their land, and a desire to be as independent as possible,” he says.
At the same time, when McCorkle was working in remote deserts in the Middle East with no infrastructure for hundreds of miles, he and his colleagues had to convert waste gases into electricity and recycle wastewater.
“I realized that if we could economically convert wastes into diesel fuel, we could literally fuel our own petroleum exploration – and also achieve what farmers wanted, to be much more independent of the world outside their farms,” he says.
It seemed to him that there were two main factors that would make small-scale on-farm diesel production viable. One was modular and portable refining equipment, and, the second, a waste feedstock with a consistent chemical composition to make pre-conditioning less costly. With manure fitting the feedstock bill, McCorkle began in 2006 to work on the refining technology. By 2012, he was collaborating with the Scott brothers, who were looking hard at that point for solutions to deal with new groundwater and watershed salt load regulations – and an impending ban on applying manure to forage crops to boot. With some funding help from the California Energy Commission (CEC), the current pilot system was up and running at Scott Brothers by April 2015.
How it works
The system first removes almost all suspended solids and 40 percent of dissolved solids from the dairy’s liquid manure. Some of the extracted water is further purified to make it potable (and therefore satisfy manure application requirements specific to a regional state regulatory agency). The solids go into a pyrolysis gasifier and the resulting syngas is purified. Using the well-proven 90-year-old Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process, the hydrogen and carbon in the gas is converted to completely sulfur-free renewable diesel products. A refined wax (worth up to three times the price of diesel) can be processed further and/or blended with fuels such as kerosene – a significant additional farm revenue stream. AWS can also recover elemental sulfur and other nutrients from the process for either sale or re-use on farm.
Challenges along the way
As might be imagined, significant hurdles presented themselves during the years of AWS tech development, with conventional thinking and regulations topping the list.
“Operating permits are very difficult to obtain when the technology is new,” McCorkle explains. “Grants and incentives are generally available for new concepts and commercially-proven systems, but it’s not easy for ‘in-between’ tech concepts like what we’ve developed, using new enhancements to make the FT process economically viable on a small-scale, to gain financial support.”
When it was time to install at Scott Brothers, more permit and funding issues came up.
“We were not allowed to even move the AWS equipment to the farm until the ‘lead permit’ was secured (South Coast Air Quality Management District, SCAQMD),” McCorkle remembers. “Although AWS had obtained one of these permits at another farm site previously, and paid to expedite the Scott Brothers’ permit applications, it took a long time to obtain. We finally received help from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.”
The CEC grant required that the project obtain an exemption from CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), and the only way to do that was to build a temporary structure to shelter the AWS equipment.
“This is a large fabric-covered structure that we anchored to the ground with standard shipping containers,” explains McCorkle. “The county stipulated that we needed to supply engineering drawings of the entire facility, including the stresses that the shipping containers would encounter. We had to hire an engineer to design modifications to address the wind and other transverse forces the shipping containers would encounter on the farm.”
Taking the long view, AWS made sure its system exceeds the most stringent California regulations.
“Scott Brothers convinced us that if we could meet and exceed these requirements, we could then meet and exceed any standards across the globe,” says McCorkle. “An example of this would be the Zero Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) mandate and salt loading restrictions in the watershed. We are proving that we can meet these tough requirements through technology alone, as we have done at Scott Brothers, by removing all of the salts and TDS from the water and producing a potable water discharge. Once that has been recognized, we may be able to prove that we can add certain amounts of TDS into the soil in the form of biochar.”
McCorkle adds the AWS biochar combines the two key elements of healthy soil amendments, carbon and micronutrients, into one product, with the same content as raw manure but without the potential surface and groundwater issues. This is why he decided to concentrate the gasification efforts on producing a nutrient-rich biochar product, and capitalize on that before other manure gasifiers could get permitted in California to produce it.
Currently, the pilot system at Scott Brothers converts about 12 percent of the dairy’s gasified manure to diesel fuel per day, and about 88 percent into biochar and other products. To be a commercially viable, 24-7 operation and complete the ‘Circle of Energy,’ the liquid fuels production module will have to be upsized.
“We are now applying for a Phase II CEC grant to accomplish this,” says McCorkle. “We will then go to market with our new gasifier design, starting with biochar systems on farms to help farmers meet their permit requirements while selling and/or stockpiling biochar as a feedstock for future FT biofuel production at central plants. Biochar is an excellent feedstock for FT biofuel production that does not have a shelf life.”
In reflecting on the entire process, McCorkle has nothing but praise for Scott Brothers, which he describes as “an outstanding partner in overcoming the numerous challenges.” And while it was onerous, he believes the process of helping regulators understand the advantages of the AWS concept was very worthwhile because of the new standards and regulations that are being created.
“Although this approach can be very time consuming and costly,” he notes, “we believe that working directly with regulators and stakeholders is ultimately the best way to have the AWS solution become standard for creating future profit centres from manure.”
McCorkle strongly believes that creating viable profit centers from manure will have the highest impact towards making livestock operations more sustainable.
“Once the AWS ‘Circle of Energy’ concept is working well on individual livestock farms, the circle will grow to include other farms and organic biomass feedstocks in the community, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the entire community,” he says. “This will raise the resulting carbon credits and funding opportunities for sustainable solutions that will improve the agricultural economy as well as the environment. Many such community opportunities exist world-wide, and the AWS solution can be scaled and tailored to meet the needs of any community.”
Biochar and water from food waste digesters
AWS is also working to accept materials for its systems from anaerobic digesters that process food and other organic waste. In late July, AWS signed an agreement to perform a series of controlled greenhouse vegetable trials using biochar and fertigation water from an AWS system processing ‘food waste anaerobic digestate,’ in addition to biochar and fertigation water processed from manure. McCorkle says this is very exciting because anaerobic digestate is usually considered a waste that is increasingly difficult to permit for land application in its raw form, but value-added biochar and fertigation water can be readily permitted.
Hog manure from the project will produce approximately 2.2 billion cubic feet of pipeline quality renewable natural gas (RNG) annually, or the equivalent of 17 million gallons of diesel fuel annually (17 million DGE). Photo by Contributed photo
What happens when you bring an alternative energy company and pig farms together? Well if the farm owner is Smithfield Foods Hog Production in northern Missouri, which finishes two million pigs a year, and the energy company is Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE), the answer is a lot of renewable natural gas.
About six years ago, Smithfield (then Premium Standard Farms) was dealing with issues around its sustainable manure management plan. Rudi Roeslein, founder and president of Roeslein Alternative Energy, didn’t see a problem but a potential partnership. His company would capture the methane from Smithfield’s 88 lagoons spread out over nine farms and convert it into natural gas.
“We have a project that makes both economic sense and environmental sense. And we have worked through the technology of how to make it happen,” Roeslein says.
Project is launched
Discussions between the parties resulted in just such a project launching two years ago, with the goal to have the first natural gas-produced pig manure to be injected into an ANR pipeline sometime in the summer of 2016.
The project, although large in scale, is fairly simple in its overall concept. When it’s complete, Smithfield’s farms will have impermeable covers installed on each lagoon. When temperatures are favorable, anaerobic digestion will begin and biogas will be created. The biogas will be filtered/purified (collected and cleaned of sulfur and other impurities) into a gas that is 98 percent methane and has the same molecular composition as natural gas. The cleaned biogas, or renewable natural gas, will be transported underground to an interconnection with the ANR pipeline, and then transported to customers across the country.
When in operation, the hog manure from the project will produce approximately 2.2 billion cubic feet of pipeline quality renewable natural gas (RNG) annually, or the equivalent of 17 million gallons of diesel fuel annually (17 million DGE).
“We cannot look at manure as waste any more,” Roeslein says. “We have to figure out what we can do with manure to keep it in the cycle. There are no silver bullets. But this is a small step in showing how to use these underutilized resources to produce energy and return everything that remains productively back to the landscape. Because that’s how nature really works.”
One of the reasons this project was an ideal demonstration of how the biogas technology can work with the pig industry was location. The ANR pipeline runs across the Smithfield farms.
“RAE has been making very good progress covering the lagoons in a systematic approach,” says Sheldon Ripson, spokesman for Roeslein. “There are 88 lagoons, each approximately four acres [holding 15 million gallons of manure] that need to be covered, with a number of other pieces of equipment to handle the gas being installed along the way. It’s fairly complicated. But they are making steady progress.”
RAE is investing about $120 million into the biogas project. The company anticipates the project won’t just provide renewable natural gas, but also provide hundreds of jobs, and a model for how the swine industry can achieve a more sustainable and profitable business.
Ripson says future partnerships between RAE and other farms will take various shapes.
“Part of the vision here is to show this as a demonstration project on how a system like this can work for handling manure. It’s applicable on any number of operations across the Midwest.”
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report said there are thousands of hog operations where anaerobic digestion of hog manure can be economically viable.
“Farmers are busy doing what they do,” Ripson adds. “RAE brings expertise in delivering projects. A company like RAE can fill the gap with a model that makes sense for the producer, both economically and environmentally. Because if you don’t have both of those, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to go forward.”
Simple concept, big benefits
It will take months from the covering of the first lagoon to the last. Methane production, however, doesn’t wait. As the pipelines and purification systems are being installed, the methane is being collected from the first lagoons and being flared off.
Although natural gas isn’t being created yet, Smithfield has already seen some positive effects from just installing the covers. And, the two companies anticipate:
- the prevention of approximately 400 million gallons of rainfall water from entering lagoons
- the elimination of water treatment costs, as rainwater will safely return to the groundwater supply
- the prevention of approximately 850,000 tons of CO2 equivalent methane reaching the atmosphere
- the elimination of hog manure odors
“One of the biggest initial reasons for getting into the project was heavy rainfall that presented an issue with the lagoons,” Ripson explains. “There is a marked improvement with lagoon covers, which keep rainwater out. The rainwater is clean and goes back into the groundwater supply.”
Or the millions of gallons of clean water can be captured to feed hogs or irrigate fields.
Another benefit of anaerobic digestion is the variety of byproducts that can be created from the digestate solids. It can be spread on crops, or it can be used for agriculture, landscaping and public works projects with the benefits of erosion control, water absorption, soil nutrient infusion, and reduction of petroleum-based fertilizer use.
Selling the compost to third parties is something that will be looked into down the road. Currently, Smithfield, which has large tracts of land (approximately 50,000 acres), is pumping the liquid off the lagoons and spraying onto their fields.
Introducing prairie grass
The second phase of this project – and one that RAE is extremely excited about – is the potential of adding prairie grass to the mix. There is plenty of land in the Midwest that is considered either highly erodible or marginal, and where prairie grass is suited to grow. Farms with land that falls into that category could ideally see that land becoming profitable versus a liability, and provide habitat for wildlife.
“We are looking at native prairie restoration opportunities to produce additional feedstock to increase energy output. It improves the economic model of the project,” says Chris Roach, director of Roeslein Alternative Energy. “But that land restoration is also how we create more habitat and ecological benefits, which are frankly missing from all other models of producing renewable energy.”
Also, prairie grass is by itself a great fuel source. Restored grassland plantings from multiple species can produce fuels with greater net energy gains per acre than corn or soybeans. And mixtures of native perennial grasses and other flowering plants provide 51 percent more usable energy per acre than corn ethanol.
“It’s not something new,” Ripson says. “Germany has been doing it for some time. They have about 7,000 anaerobic digestion systems that handle waste grasses and other kinds of biomass to generate methane. There’s no reason that can’t happen over here as well by using prairie grass feedstock.”
The enormous scope of this project requires both flexibility and patience. Each of the nine locations requires a different set up. Due to that, it’s hard to estimate the final cost. But RAE owner Rudi Roeslein is dedicated to making it happen.
He’s not the only one who sees a big opportunity. There are currently 239 anaerobic digestion facilities in agricultural operations in the United States. And AgSTAR estimates that biogas recovery systems are technically feasible at more than 8,000 large dairy and hog operations.
“The RNG can go right into the pipeline and can be used anywhere across the country once it’s in that pipeline,” Ripson explains. “The company’s first offtake client for this project is Duke Energy in North Carolina. There is already a contract in place and the company intends to take a lot of this gas to help meet its renewable energy requirements.”
There also doesn’t look to be any problem finding future offtake customers, Ripson says.
“There’s an emerging market for renewable natural gas. For example, that market is more established in California where there’s quite a large interest in this kind of thing. The economics are quite favorable for renewable natural gas.
“The technology we have developed is ready to be deployed commercially in a project that makes both economic sense and environmental sense,” Roeslein says. “This is not just about converting the manure from almost two million pigs into renewable energy. It’s about taking environmental sustainability to a new level.”
An overall solution
This summer will be a big milestone for RAE as the RNG created from the two million pigs hits the pipeline. But many see this as only one of its many positive benefits.
“This project will show how farmers can do more than produce food. We can make energy, we can reduce waste, and we can be good stewards for our most important resources – land and water,” says Blake Boxley, director of environmental health and safety for Smithfield Foods Hog Production.
It’s a solution that is a win/win for everyone, Ripson says – the farmer, the energy companies, the offtake customers and the environment.
May 24, 2016, Chilton, WI – Both installation and commissioning are complete on a DVO, Inc. anaerobic digester at Austasia Modern Dairy Farm in Xianhe, located in Shandong Province, China.
This is DVO’s first installation in China, and the country’s first modern, operational anaerobic digester.
The digester currently processes the manure from approximately 5,600 milking cows at Austasia Farms. Biogas, one of the many valuable byproducts of the anaerobic digestion process, powers a boiler, which creates hot water. The hot water is utilized to heat the digester and various on-site facilities at Austasia Farms. Future plans for the biogas include creating renewable natural gas (RNG) or producing renewable electricity.
“This project is truly revolutionary in China,” said Steve Dvorak, owner and founder of DVO, Inc. “As dairy operations are built, the Chinese government is stressing the importance of including anaerobic digesters in the dairy operations’ design. Not only do digesters help China meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, they complement the country’s commitment to reduce agricultural pollution.”
"The Austasia team is pleased with the performance of our system which is producing considerably more biogas than other digesters in the country," said Quanbao Zhao, China representative and researcher for DVO, Inc. "They say it is a simpler system to operate, requiring less labor than other digesters."
The Vermont Public Service Board recently approved the project. The renewable natural gas facility will be located on the Goodrich family dairy farm in Salisbury.
Middlebury College expects to use 75 percent of the facility's output to help achieve its carbon neutrality and campus sustainability goals. VGS will buy some or all of the remaining natural gas. READ MORE
March 21, 2016, Merrillville, IN – Chicago startup AmpCNG launched at a farm in northwest Indiana that converted cow manure to renewable natural gas.
Nearly five years later, that manure from Fair Oaks Farm is still a core part of the West Loop-based startup’s business. But its reach has grown. It now owns and operates 19 compressed natural gas, or CNG, stations in eight states, fueling the increasing number of vehicles that operate on the resource. READ MORE
August 12, 2015, Turin, Italy — On the La Bellotta farm outside of Turin, the owners are demonstrating the concept of an energy-independent farm. And part of the mix is a unique New Holland tractor that runs on biogas produced at the farm.
CNH Industrial, which owns the New Holland Agriculture brand, recently hosted a trip to Europe for a group of journalists. The trip included a demonstration at La Bellotta of the New Holland T6.175 Methane Power tractor. READ MORE
January 26, 2015, Delta, BC — There’s magic in manure.
A Delta dairy farm has started converting manure from 250 milking cows into natural gas that will be used to supply energy to about 1,000 Metro Vancouver homes.
Engineered and supported by CH Four Biogas, a company specializing in anaerobic digestion, Seabreeze Dairy is ready to begin providing energy to B.C. homes, thanks to a partnership with Fortis B.C. READ MORE
At Fair Oak Farm in Fair Oaks, Ind., they get a lot more out of their cows than just milk.
Not long ago, the farm began using compressed natural gas (CNG) to run their fleet, the same CNG produced from their digester. Because Fair Oaks is a large farm — 32,000 cows — they can produce enough CNG to fuel their fleet of 42 milk tankers. In fact, the fuel they are using is replacing more than two million gallons of diesel fuel a year and significantly reducing the farm’s carbon footprint.
Mark Stoermann, project manager at Fair Oaks and director of operations for ampCNG — a transportation logistics company that operates the vehicles for Fair Oaks — has been there from the start. Discussions regarding the $12 million project began about four years ago. Stoermann said it was a decision based on economics.
Fair Oaks case has a large, centralized DVO digester, which is 275 feet by 300 feet and hold 6.2 million gallons. To get a sense of its size, imagine three football fields lying side by side. Manure is brought in from the farm’s dairies, which adds up to about 500,000 gallons of liquid manure a day.
Typically, farms with digesters produce energy to run the farm and then sell the rest back onto the grid. Stoermann says creating solely electricity wasn’t feasible for Fair Oaks. The farm was using about one third to power its 10 barns, cheese factory, café, gift shop and movie theater, but that still left two thirds.
“It would have to be sold to the grid, and that actually would have lost us money.”
CNG as an option
The farm looked for other opportunities for using that extra energy and CNG started making sense. To make it work though, it would require multiple partners. In this case, they were ampCNG, Kroger, Indiana’s Office of Energy Development, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Cities program, among others.
“We had all of this milk that we were hauling every day, so we were able to put together an agreement with Kroger that they would take milk on CNG to reduce the carbon footprint,” explains Stoermann. “So, we started to work with truck suppliers and working with Kenworth and Palmer trucking and the Ruan Trucking Company. We were able to put together a structure where AMP leased the trucks and then AMP leased them to Ruan who runs them for the dairy to the Kroger plant and buys the fuel from the AMP stations that Clean Energy built.”
The trucks weren’t your ordinary trucks. They were 42 new Kenworth T440 tractors powered by Cummins Westport ISL-G compressed natural gas engines.
From barn to digester
The process for creating the CNG to fuel these trucks is very similar to creating power. It begins with manure being collected, screened and fed into the digester.
Collection at Fair Oaks entails vacuuming the manure and delivering via tanker to the digester.
“We don’t pump the manure very much at all,” says Stoermann. “We do however pump the flush water from the back of the holding area, and we pump that up to three miles.”
The next phase is screening. In Fair Oaks case, they use sand as bedding and that’s not ideal for digesters. But cows come first.
“The vets told us sand is the best bedding and that’s what Fair Oaks wanted to use. The cows needs come before the manure system,” says Stoermann. “ We were one of the first [farms] working with Steve Dvorak and his group at DVO and Andrew Wedel with the McLanahan Corporation to get the kinks out of sand removal before it got to the digester.”
Today, Fair Oaks uses a three-phrase system to prepare manure for the digester. The first step, the sand laden manure goes to a pit with McLanahan sand manure separators in it. The flush water from the barn is pumped into the sand manure separator and as it’s mixed, the sand drops to the bottom.
Next, the liquid is pumped to a McLanahan hydrocyclone.
“That hydrocyclone takes a finer cut of sand and, from the hydrocyclone, the liquid drops into a gravity settling lane that gets the last two percent,” explains Stoermann. “With those three systems — McLanahan sand manure separator, McLanahan hydrocyclone and gravity settling lane — we can remove 98 percent of the sand and the last two percent is so fine that it actually makes its way all the way through the digester.”
The sand that’s recovered is reused for bedding. With this system in place, Fair Oakes purchases only five to eight percent of the bedding sand it uses each year.
Digester to pump
To turn the digester into a CNG producer instead of an energy producer requires a biogas cleaning system. That system was purchased from Anaergia.
“The manure is broken down into biogas,” explains Stoermann. “In our case, it’s about 60 percent methane and about 39 percent CO2 and that last percent of others includes H2S all the other things. The methane goes through a gas upgrading system and removes the CO2 and the H2S to form biomethane, which is 99 percent pure methane from a biological source.
“Once you add an odorant to it — a mercaptan, just like they add to natural gas in the oil fields — then it’s a renewable natural gas. When people use LNG (liquefied natural gas), there’s no odor. You can’t smell it if there’s a leak in the fuel system on the truck.”
Fair Oaks’ DVO digester produces in CNG the equivalent of 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel a day, which is necessary to run the Fair Oaks fleet. And that CNG is then piped about three miles to the nearest fueling station.
A year ago. it was pretty much just Fair Oaks trucks fueling up at the station, but now Stoermann says you see multiple trucks every day.
Power and fuel are only a piece of the digestion process. Manure that is left after the process is now ready for application, as it still contains all its nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
“The only difference is that after digestion process, it’s stable and it doesn’t generate the free fatty acids that raw manure does that causes all of the smell,” says Stoermann.
Fair Oaks applies the manure to its own land, but because it buys its corn locally, some of the famers also receive digested manure solids to replenish their fields.
Even if a farm isn’t as big as Fair Oaks, digesters can still be an answer. Stoermann says he sees farms with 500 and 700 cows with digesters and they are an excellent return on investment for electric generation. They are also easier to use without the extra cleaning system.
Harrison Clay, president of Clean Energy’s renewable fuels division, says that usually digesters that he sees used for energy or biomethane vehicle fuel projects are of commercial scale — around 60,000 tons per year.
“Usually what you see happen is that one farm will put a digester in and they’ll collect waste from all the surrounding communities, because one digester is big enough to handle typically more than one farm.”
For those who are interested in pursuing biomethane, but are worried their location may not be ideal, Harrison adds: “If they can get into the pipeline, almost all the pipes connect, and we’re able to move the gas around and get it to our stations. So the key is really not so much to be close to one of our facilities as it is to be close to a natural gas pipeline.”
Truck on the road
Fair Oaks has now had CNG tankers on the road for more than 16 months. The project has reduced emissions from carbon dioxide by more than 20 percent, carbon monoxide by up to 75 percent and particular matter by up to 95 percent. Fair Oaks has shown that manure to CNG not only works, it works well.
Companies talk about sustainability, but rarely do they go to quite the level Fair Oaks has taken it. It’s getting attention too. Hundreds of people have come to the farm to visit the site and the farm, including folks from the EPA, AgStar, DMI and the Innovation Center for US Dairy.
“We support them in their work on digesters and provide them any information we can,” says Stoermann.
The facility, slated to begin operation in early 2014, will produce renewable natural gas for Heartland Renewable Energy LLC, a partnership of AgEnergy USA LLC, based in Hampton, N.H., and San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy Inc. The partnership will sell gas produced from the facility to California’s Sacramento Municipal Utility District. READ MORE
State agencies have invested in milk trucks that run on cow manure, power plants fueled by ocean tides and artificial photosynthesis for powering vehicles and buildings. READ MORE
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