June 14, 2017 - A bill within the House is proposing to establish federal tax credits for farmers who invest in nutrient recovery systems.

The Agricultural Environmental Stewardship Act was introduced in the House last week by bill sponsor U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., and cosponsor U.S. Rep. Tom Reed. Bipartisan legislation aims to promote new technological investments that produce energy and limit runoff into waterways.

The proposal could benefit farmers within the Chautauqua Lake watershed and elsewhere by making nutrient recovery systems like manure digesters more affordable. Manure digesters collect manure and convert the energy stored in its organic matter into methane. READ MORE
Published in News
May 31, 2017, Orange County, Cali. - In the "Back to the Future" film franchise trilogy, Dr. Emmet Brown replaced the plutonium-based nuclear generator in the De Lorean time machine with a "Mr. Fusion" generator from the future that uses garbage as fuel.

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

Published in Companies
May 30, 2017, U.S. - A pair of federal efforts could make it more profitable to turn organic waste from agriculture and other sources into energy by taking advantage of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

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
Published in Biogas
May 29, 2017, Boston, MA - For years, dairy farmers have used cow manure as fertilizer to spread over crops like corn and hay. But two farms in Western Massachusetts have a new use for all that manure -- renewable energy.

Luther Belden Farm in Hatfield and Rockwood Farms in Granville are embarking on a project to turn cow manure into electricity as a way to become self-sustaining and stabilize their finances in what they say is a volatile market.

The farms are working in partnership with the the Hampshire Council of Governments and Pennsylvania-based startup Ag-Grid Energy.

The farms hope to break ground on two on-site agricultural anaerobic digesters this summer. READ MORE
Published in Energy
May 24, 2017, Granville, Mass. – The Town of Granville could soon be using cattle to create energy.

The town's select board plans to power their municipal buildings with credits from Rockwood Farm, which is planning to build a methane digestor.

A digestor converts manure into methane gas, which will run a generator that will heat and power the farm. The farm will sell its metering credits to the town.

The local renewable energy would reduce the cost for powering town buildings. READ MORE
Published in Anaerobic Digestion
May 23, 2017, Potsdam, NY – Clarkson University will use federal funding to advance anaerobic digestion techniques for small-to-medium-scale dairy farmers.

The university will work in conjunction with the Cornell Cooperative Extension farm dairy specialists on farms working to improve manure management.

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand recently announced $500,000 in new federal funding for Clarkson University.

The funding was allocated through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

NIFA grants support research and programs that help dairy producers and growers achieve long-term viability, high yield, and labor efficient production of local agricultural products. READ MORE
Published in Anaerobic Digestion
May 19, 2017, Waunakee, WI - Once infamous for spills, permit violations and even an explosion, the manure digester just north of Waunakee is now receiving accolades from an environmental group dedicated to clean lakes.

The Clean Lakes Alliance presented Clean Fuel Partners, LLC, the digester operator, with the Lumley Leadership Award for Lake Stewardship for its efforts to reduce phosphorus entering the Yahara Watershed.

"We were completely surprised and caught off guard when we were announced," said Clean Fuel CEO John Haeckel. "I would like to think it's because we have been working to make the Waunakee facility work, to sort of resurrect it from a place where it wasn't successful."

The manure digester was originally built in partnership with Dane County and operated by a different company, Clear Horizons, with the intention of removing algae-causing phosphorus from three area farms that would otherwise flow into lakes and streams.

The digester also captures methane in the process to produce energy. READ MORE
Published in Anaerobic Digestion
May 15, 2017, Raleigh, NC – PrairieChar, a Kansas company developing a system to convert animal manure into useful products, won the $10,000 cash prize and $3,500 in legal and financial advice at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center's 2017 Ag Biotech Entrepreneurial Showcase.

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."
Published in Companies
May 9, 2017, Sacramento, Cali. - The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is now accepting applications for project funding from the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP), authorized by the Budget Act of 2016.

This program receives funding from California Climate Investments Program, with proceeds from the state's cap-and-trade auctions, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing a variety of additional benefits to California communities.

CDFA-DDRDP will award between $29 million and $36 million for the installation of dairy digesters in California that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Existing milk producers and dairy digester developers can apply for funding of up to $3 million per project for anaerobic digestion projects that provide quantifiable greenhouse gas reductions. The program requires a minimum of 50 percent of total project cost as matching funds.

Prospective applicants must access the "Request for Applications" at for detailed information on eligibility and program requirements.

To streamline and expedite the application process, CDFA is partnering with the State Water Resources Control Board, which hosts an online application tool, Financial Assistance Application Submittal Tool (FAAST).

All prospective applicants must register for a FAAST account at

Applications and all supporting information must be submitted electronically using FAAST by Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. PT.

CDFA will hold two workshops and one webinar to provide information on program requirements and the FAAST application process (see below). CDFA staff will provide guidance on the application process, provide several examples and answer any questions. There is no cost to attend the workshops. Individuals planning to attend should email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with his or her contact information, number of seats required and the workshop location.

Sacramento – Friday, May 12, 2017
1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
California Department of Food and Agriculture
2800 Gateway Oaks Drive, Room 101
Sacramento, CA 95833

Tulare – Monday, May 15, 2017
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Tulare County Agricultural Building Auditorium
4437 S. Laspina Street
Tulare, CA 93274

Webinar – Tuesday, May 16, 2017
9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
To register for the webinar, please visit the program webpage at

Prospective applicants may contact CDFA's Grants Office at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with general program questions.

Published in Anaerobic Digestion
May 8, 2017, Nigeria, Africa - Chicken is a favorite, inexpensive meat across the globe. But the bird's popularity results in a lot of waste that can pollute soil and water.

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

Published in Biogas
May 5, 2017, Haverhill, MA – A local farm has received the go-ahead to begin turning animal waste into energy – and will save the city an estimated $300,000 as a result.

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
Published in Energy
April 25, 2017, Lincoln, NE – For a team of University of Nebraska-Lincoln chemical and biomolecular engineering students, biogas refining isn't just a senior design capstone project, it's a potential means of supplying Nebraska's rural communities with a renewable source of energy that comes from resources that are both local and plentiful.

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."
Published in Biogas
April 21, 2017, Richland, Wash. – Oil and gas wells and even cattle release methane gas into the atmosphere, and researchers are working on ways to not only capture this gas but also convert it into something useful and less-polluting.

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

Published in Energy

Many would say that solids are the most critical component to handle in a digester, but water is a critical factor as well, logistically and financially.

Published in Anaerobic Digestion

April 13, 2017, Haverhill, MA — The city's board of health has approved a waste-to-energy digester for farm in Bradford.

Published in Anaerobic Digestion

April 5, 2017, Hartford, CT – Connecticut’s dairy farmers could soon become the newest alternative energy producers, thanks to an innovative “Cow Power” initiative promoted by State Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr., co-chair of the General Assembly’s Environment Committee.

Passing unanimously out of the committee, the Cow Power bill – SB 999 – promotes the use of cow manure as a renewable energy source through the process of anaerobic digestion. The bill also creates an easier, cheaper and faster state and local permitting process for farmers who are interested in adopting this technology.

“‘Cow Power’ is a term for the conversion of cow manure into electricity, enabling farmers to make money by adding a new, desperately-needed source of farm revenue,” said Senator Kennedy. “Instead of storing tons of manure in open cesspools that contaminate the water supply and release tons of climate-destroying methane into the atmosphere, farmers can place the animal waste in an anaerobic digester located on their property.”

An anaerobic digester is a large metal tank that uses bacteria to convert manure and food waste into valuable biogas, which, in turn, provides fuel to a generator that produces electricity that can be used by the farmers or sold on the power grid through virtual net metering. This can allow farmers to assign surplus energy production from their generator to other metered accounts at retail, not lower wholesale, prices.

“Farm-based anaerobic digesters now number over 250 nationwide and have already become significant sources of electricity in places such as Lancaster County, PA, and Vermont,” said Senator Kennedy. “In addition to becoming a valuable and diversified source of electricity, anaerobic digesters solve many other problems, such as eliminating farm odor, reducing manure-based water pollution, and creating a by-product that is non-toxic and pathogen-free that can be used or sold as animal bedding or fertilizer. We need to cut through the red tape, streamlining and simplifying Connecticut’s permitting process to accelerate this technology and save our farms.”

SB 999, which will initially establish a pilot program for three farms in Connecticut, is welcome news for Connecticut’s farmers. The state’s 111 registered dairy farms are seeking new revenue sources to preserve their farms as they struggle to compete with much larger dairy operations in the Midwest, where labor and land costs are cheaper.

“This is a natural process that kills pathogens, recycles nutrients, and more,” said Henry Talmage, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, at the public hearing for SB 999. “In addition to generating electricity, installing agricultural anaerobic digesters destroys methane and reduces overall carbon emissions, making it outperform other Zero-Rec emitting technologies.”

The goal of the pilot program is also to identify the best technologies, examine economic risks, and modernize Connecticut’s future digester permitting pathway.

Now that SB 999 has passed the Environment Committee, it moves to the floor of the state senate for further action.

Published in Dairy

If there is one thing that California dairies know a lot about, it’s regulations.

Published in Dairy

March 23, 2017, Emeryville, CA – New Logic Research recently announced the successful commissioning of a VSEP vibrating membrane system to make clean water from digested cow manure.

The VSEP system, located in the Italian Alps region of Wipptal, takes the effluent from an anaerobic digester and transforms it into clean water which can either be reused or safely discharged to the environment. The project was implemented with the expert assistance of O.B. Impianti, New Logic's distribution partner in Northern Italy.

Although cows have a simple diet, the digestive system of ruminant animals makes for complicated wastewater treatment scenarios. VSEP's vibratory shear mechanism, coupled with a filter pack design means, it can create crystal clear permeate from water heavily laden with biological material like cow manure.

"Digesters are great at making green power and reducing contaminant levels in the waste, but in most cases, further treatment of the liquid effluent is still necessary,” said Greg Johnson, CEO of New Logic. “Many have tried to treat digester effluent with standard spiral-wound reverse osmosis membrane systems only to find that it's incredibly difficult, if not impossible. That's why VSEP is a perfect fit for digester effluent treatment: you get the reverse osmosis separation you desire, but deployed in a robust system designed to tackle the world's toughest applications."

The Wipptal project is a cooperative one, taking cow manure from more than three-dozen local farmers. The liquid manure is transported to the treatment facility where more than 60 percent of it is transformed into clean water, while the remainder is turned into concentrated organic fertilizer. The only pretreatment between the digester and the VSEP is a 100-micron screening device to remove large particles from the feed material.

O.B. Impianti and New Logic are already building on the success of the Wipptal installation – they are currently working on two additional installations on the continent, where EU funding is frequently available for such projects.

Published in News


North Carolina has long been a major pork-producing state, with the industry providing well over 50,000 full-time direct and indirect jobs. However, being the second largest pork-producing state in the U.S. means that North Carolina must contend with mind-bending amounts of swine manure and associated ammonia. The 2.3-plus million pigs housed in more than 2,000 facilities produce so much waste that the state government has mandated the conversion of manure
into energy.

That means biodigesters. But which digester designs might be best to address the situation? Shlomi Palas believes he has found the best technology to handle North Carolina’s serious swine manure problem.

“There have been some biogas plant designs tried by other parties in this state, but we believe we have found the right solution,” says Palas, CEO of Charlotte, NC-based Blue Sphere Corporation.

Blue Sphere has operated for more than two decades and has facilities in several countries, including Italy, the UK, and now Holland and the U.S. The firm oversees entire waste-to-energy facilities, choosing appropriate technologies from well-established contractors and arranging to generate and sell electricity, scrubbed biogas, organic fertilizer, compost and other valuable products.

Electricity production at Blue Sphere’s $20-million, 3.2-MW food waste biogas facility in Johnston, RI, will be connected to the grid in that state by March. Its $27-million, 5.2-MW food waste facility in Charlotte began supplying electricity to Duke Energy in mid-November 2016, with full commissioning and feedstock ramp-up occurring over the next few months.  

After almost two years of researching the most suitable technologies for hog manure, Blue Sphere feels it has succeeded in finding the best, most-efficient systems for its two new digester facilities under development in North Carolina.

Palas says they are confident in the chosen vendors for several important reasons.

“The technology providers have long-proven experience and track records of many installations in swine manure processing, and their technologies are working 100 percent,” he reports. “While American hog manure has a little more liquid than European hog manure, the combination of the U.S. and Europe technologies will have the appropriate adaptations to be successful with us here, and the companies involve have also provided us with financial assurances.”

European hog manure has about two to three percent solids, but due to feeding regime differences, American hog manure contains one to 1.5 percent solids.

Removal of liquid from the hog manure will be done onsite at individual farms using a combination of technologies. Again, Palas says these sorts of separation system are new to North America, but are working well in Europe and have been successfully tailored for U.S. swine manure.

“Transporting liquid is very costly, so the need to pre-treat on site is critical,” he notes. “We bring the manure dry matter up to 20 to 30 percent and then transport it to the digester.”

Once fully operational, the new NC facilities will produce an annual revenue of about $10 million [estimated] from renewable energy. However, while the biogas from both the Charlotte and Rhode Island projects is being used to generate electricity, Palas foresees a significant shift coming and so the hog manure biogas may be used differently.

“There is a change going on in the gas market, from electricity production to production of bio-methane, compressed natural gas and liquefied biogas for vehicles,” he says. “The engines that use this gas are already well-developed and already many Fortune 500 countries use trucks and cars that run on this fuel.”

Blue Sphere is developing other sites in North Carolina and worldwide, and Palas attributes his firm’s success to many factors, chief among them is an ‘agnosticism’ to digester technologies.

“The biggest mistake that other firms have made, and are still making, is that they get stuck with specific systems,” he explains. “We are open to using tech from Italy, Canada, Germany, China, Japan, United States and other parts of the world to find the best fit for the feedstock we have. We focus on the waste first. We actually have a dedicated staff member to find and keep up with technologies from all over the world. But no matter the technology, the systems must be bankable and well-established so that we can obtain funding and build a project successfully. We cannot work with startup technology.”

Having said that, Blue Sphere cannot handle North Carolina’s colossal swine manure problem alone, and the company is strongly encouraging other renewable energy players to participate.

“The process begins with permits, site selection, establishing a market for the gas and so on, and that can take over a year,” Palas explains. “Construction can take another 12 to 18 months. We have every intention of being a primary player, but due to the timelines involved, we cannot do it alone, and we are inviting others to get involved in this serious challenge. Hog manure is a huge market.

“We are starting with these two food waste digester projects and will make sure they are running well,” he adds. “Once we have proved our solution is workable, we’ll know we have a winner and then we can go across the country.”

In January, Blue Sphere also held some meetings in Canada, so stay tuned for developments north of the border as well.



Published in Swine


For Eric TeVelde, owner of Open Sky Ranch Dairy near Riverdale, Calif., the business case to purchase a deeply discounted, mothballed, but structurally sound anaerobic digester on his newly-acquired farm was just too good to ignore.

TeVelde, who purchased the Central Valley dairy in 2012, now operates five, free-stall milking barns on the farm with about 4,500 milk cows. They have an additional 4,500 dry cows and replacement cattle in what is one of the largest dairy farms in Fresno County. TeVelde and his family had been dairy farming in the Central Valley for generations.

The dairy operates a closed flush manure management system where barns are flushed clean with water two to three times a day. This generates about 30 million gallons of liquid manure annually. The manure and waste water mix is transported through a storage and piping system, eventually being pumped into one of several nearby lagoons, which all told have a holding capacity of about 100 million gallons.

The dairy farms about 1,500 acres, primarily growing feed for their cows. Prior to the restart of the anaerobic digester, the raw manure was processed through a US Farm Systems-brand solid separator, with the liquid manure continuing on to the lagoons and the solids reused as bedding. TeVelde says the liquid manure was sold or land applied on the dairy’s cropland as organic fertilizer.

It is this approach to manure management that concerned state legislators because of the amount of methane released by storing the raw liquid manure. By treating the manure through an anaerobic digester prior to land application, this removes the methane while retaining all of the other beneficial nutrients, which is why the state is financially supporting this approach to manure management to help reach its methane emissions reduction target. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that methane emissions have 25 times greater impact on climate change than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

The decommissioned anaerobic digester and the accompanying biogas management technology that TeVelde purchased was situated on the Open Sky Ranch Dairy property. After talking to other dairy farmers who had installed anaerobic digesters and working with California-based biogas power developer, Maas Energy Works (MEW), TeVelde recognized the potential of refurbishing the facility and using the biogas for power production. He decided to purchase the installation in 2015.

In California, an anaerobic digester is often a lined, underground, covered lagoon where biologically-rich waste material – like liquid manure – is collected and retained over a specified time period. The microbes within the manure in the oxygen-free environment generate methane, which can be captured, scrubbed, and used as fuel, with the liquid and solid by-products still available for organic fertilizer or cow bedding.

California, the largest milk-producing state in the U.S., announced last November that it wants its dairies and other livestock operations to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. The regulations currently in development will take effect in 2024.

TeVelde says his purchase of the digester was not in response to this specific regulation, but he definitely was anticipating that the dairy industry was on legislators’ radar.

A state grant to cover nearly half the $2 million cost of redesigning and refurbishing Open Sky’s digester helped to sweeten the deal. It was a $973,000 matching grant under the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program. In July 2015, the department distributed grants totaling $11.1 million to five dairy digester projects from the program.

What gave TeVelde further assurance that his biogas recovery and power generation system would succeed where the previous owner had failed was working with Maas Energy Works. MEW already had nine biogas recovery and power generation systems working on dairies throughout the western U.S. Once they sat down and crunched the numbers, TeVelde could see the business sense in purchasing the digester and pursuing the redesign project, with the government grant support.

The biogas recovery and power generation system designed and built by MEW and owned by the dairy came on line last August. The dairy looks after day-to-day operations, with ongoing and contracted monitoring by MEW.

“What the dairy has contracted with us to do is that we monitor the equipment 24/7 and control the equipment from our control centre in our office,” says Daryl Maas, owner of MEW. “We do all the parts ordering, calibration of the equipment and all the maintenance check list.”

TeVelde says he and a hired contractor look after what needs to be done to maintain the digester and power generating system, with direction provided by MEW. The contractor looks after such details as regular oil changes on the engine powering the generator and any other maintenance requirements.

“The maintenance list provided by Maas Energy is not very extensive, and if I miss one day, it’s not the end of the world,” says TeVelde. “I just want to make sure everything is working properly.”

So far, he has found the system manageable and functioning as advertised, and is anxious to see how well it performs over the next five to 10 years.

He says the power generated by the 800 kilowatt (kW) system replaces all of the dairy’s power consumption, and estimates that with saving of about $500,000 per year, the system should pay for itself within five years.

In fact, the system is generating more biogas than the current power generator can consume. California restricts power generation from a single generator to offset the dairy’s own power bill and using the same system to sell excess production. So the dairy is seriously considering installation of a second power generator, using the excess biogas currently being flared to produce power to sell to the grid.

Restarting the digester has not caused a major disruption in manure flow at the dairy. Maas says the company’s goal is to take a plug-in approach to work within the existing manure management system.

He describes the Open Sky Ranch Dairy redesign and refurbishing project as unusual, because the biogas produced by the previous system owner was not used as fuel for power production. The goal of the old system was to capture the biogas, scrub it, and then sell it as a commodity through existing natural gas transmission lines. However, the owner had difficulty cleaning the biogas economically so it met utility grade specifications. Given the current low price for natural gas, this led to the project’s ultimate failure. Maas agreed that given current natural gas prices, using the biogas as fuel in power generation makes more business sense for most dairies.

“Although the State of California wants more of those projects, and were working very hard to try to build those projects, that’s a hard lift,” says Maas.

“That’s a complicated business model, so most people do electricity,” Maas adds.

One further incentive for Open Sky Ranch Dairy to voluntarily pursue the project prior to any regulations requiring methane reduction from the dairy is that the dairy is eligible to sell greenhouse gas offset credits, also known as carbon credits, to help pay for the project. As part of its service, MEW conducts all the paperwork for the verification of the carbon credits generated by the facility.

Upon inspection, Maas says the digester portion of the mothballed installation was in, “pretty good shape. It was built to all the latest water board requirements here in California. It just needed some repairs and redesign.”

This was a huge advantage for TeVelde because construction of the anaerobic digester is by far the most expensive part of any biogas recovery system. The major expense of the project was to remove the old biogas recovery, treatment and transmission hardware down to the concrete foundation, and then install all the new hardware needed to clean the biogas, power the generator, and monitor the overall system.

The project required the installation of blowers to circulate the biogas in the digester, an iron sponge scrubber to remove sulfur from the biogas, a building to house equipment, electrical switch gear to connect the generator to the power grid, and the 800 kW Dresser Rand Guasor engine and generator.

The digester is a continuous flow model with a retention of about 40 days. The raw liquid manure is processed through the solids separator, then through the digester, with the liquid byproduct continuing on to the storage lagoons. It is land applied as fertilizer in the spring and summer.

“The manure system hasn’t changed much,” says Maas. “The main thing is that we are getting energy out of the manure now and stabilizing it somewhat. All the existing (manure management) structures have remained in place. We have just added one more step in the process . . . Also, we take out the carbon and the hydrogen for fuel, but we leave in the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all the things that the soil wants.”




Published in Dairy
Page 1 of 18

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