NW Natural is partnering with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) and Threemile Canyon Farms, LLC (TMCF) to build a first-of-its-kind biodigester. This initial Smart Energy project will be built and operated at TMCF in Boardman, Ore. The design, patented by J-U-B ENGINEERS, Inc. out of Kennewick, Wash., will be the first phase in a multiphase project and employs a technology that could be implemented at farms of all sizes throughout the region.
“The economic benefits of this type of project are exactly what we hope to encourage across the state, and especially in Oregon agriculture” said Gov. Ted Kulongoski. “By encouraging the use of tax credits for innovative investments like these, we are demonstrating ways we can help businesses and consumers address climate change and global warming.”
This biodigester investment is also the first project funded by the newly incorporated BEF Renewable Incorporated, a for-profit business that is a wholly owned subsidiary of the nonprofit Bonneville Environmental Foundation. The subsidiary business allows investment of foundation dollars in innovative renewable energy projects, which also support the environmental mission of the nonprofit parent organization.
“We’re trying something new here to produce a renewable fuel source, while also reducing methane emissions,” said Margie Gardner, CEO of Bonneville Environmental Foundation. “This is a design that holds promise for widespread use.”
Work will begin on the biodigester by the end of the year and should be fully operational by mid-March. At that point, waste from 1,200 cows – roughly 144,000 lbs. a day, will be added to the biodigester instead of being left on the farm. The first phase of the biodigester will reduce carbon emissions by 1,500 tons which equals the emissions from the natural gas use of more than 400 homes. While the biogas is to be used on site by Threemile Canyon Farms, it would be enough gas to supply about 102 homes.
The innovative design overcomes one of the biggest challenges for on-farm anaerobic digester development – namely, cost. Historically, the initial investment to construct a biodigester has been daunting for most dairy farms, especially those using flush systems common among western dairies.
J-U-B’s design incorporates a lined and covered lagoon that eliminates the need for the more standard high-priced concrete or steel tanks. The covered lagoon is filled with discarded automobile tires which trap and retain bacteria from the cow manure. In the treatment process, the retained bacteria break down the manure and convert it into methane-rich biogas, a renewable energy source. This process significantly improves the treatment efficiency of the system, making it a more cost-effective design.
Threemile Canyon Farms produces 1.1 million pounds of milk a day, all of which is shipped to Tillamook’s Columbia River Processing Plant in Boardman for processing and distribution. The farm grows approximately 5,000 acres of organic onions, potatoes, sweet peas and feed crops, along with approximately 20,000 acres of conventional potatoes and feed crops.