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Cow poop to energy - a dairy incentive and an electricity solution

Recently there was a three-day meeting in Boise, Idaho orchestrated by the C3 and The Kenyon Group, and encouraged by the Idaho Office of Energy Resources. The meetings included a parade of energy-related projects in various stages of development brought before a group of investors. The purpose was to marry money with viable projects that could use investment capital.

As was reported here recently, Idaho is the nation’s third largest producer of dairy products. According to the Idaho Dairy Council there is a concentration of over 380,000 dairy cows in the south-central (Magic Valley) portion of the state and over 500,000 dairy cows state-wide. Dairy cows will typically produce approximately 120 pounds of poop (manure) per day. Multiply the cows by poop production, and you can see the potential for a significant problem.

One major problem with cow manure (poop), is that it stinks. But there are others; for instance, cow manure contains a lot of nitrogen which is good in the short term for plant nutrition, but can contaminate soil and groundwater resources in the long term. Cow manure often contains E-coli and other pathogens, so care needs to be taken in how the manure is handled. Of course, flies love it.

In an effort to turn the proverbial lemon into lemonade, Leslie White and Laura Knothe with The New Energy Company, Middleton, Idaho have devised a turn-key process of producing electricity from cow poop. The situation is a definite win for all parties that get involved including the farmer, the investor, and the grid.

The New Energy Company will either utilize a large dairy with 3,000 head of dairy cows or more, or combine two dairy operations. New Energy will enter into an agreement to lease a portion of the dairy land on which to place her proprietary anaerobic digesters.  The manure will be totally consumed by the anaerobic digesters, a portion of the solids in the manure will be returned to the dairy as bedding for the cows. The left over water (with phosphates and nitrates removed) can be safely used for irrigation.  Providing bedding for the cows and clean irrigation water both significantly reduce the costs of production.

The biogas from the cow poop contains approximately 60% methane gas, which is used to fuel generators and produce electricity. Depending on how efficient a dairy is in manure collection, a 3,000-head dairy is capable of producing two megawatts of electricity. If you add the waste whey and other agricultural wastes from the dairy, it is possible that up to four megawatts can be produced.

New Energy’s turnkey solution will not only provide much needed electricity from renewable resources to the grid, but has numerous additional benefits. Cow manure creates an odor control problem, spreading manure provides excessive nutrient loading on land surfaces; both issues are reduced by the New Energy Program thus reducing the impact of regulatory and environmental issues. Not only are costs of production lowered, but there is an additional income stream to the dairies through receipts from the lease of a portion of the dairy land for the digesters.

And of course, carbon credits are available because of the reduction of methane that enters the atmosphere, when compared to the typical dairy processes. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is in excess of 20 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide due to its effectiveness for trapping atmospheric heat, according to the US EPA.

On perhaps a more practical level in the current economy, the price of milk is considerably down, and has been for some time. Perhaps you do not see that price drop in the stores, but dairymen have been lucky to break even over the last 18 months.  The reduction in production costs and environmental and regulatory issues, as well as added revenue stream will be extremely attractive to dairy farmers.

Comments

  • GP in SR 4 years ago

    If this happened in India, where cows are sacred, my reaction would be "holy shit!" If it catching on in Sonoma County, Rohnert Park just won't smell the same...

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