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‘Cow Power To Horsepower’ Researched In Bellingham February 16, 2010

Filed under: Farm/Ranch,Methane Digesters,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 4:35 pm

When you think of what federal economic stimulus money has paid for, the first things that come to mind might be highway paving, energy retrofits or high–speed trains. Now here’s one of the most unconventional stimulus projects we’ve heard of. An institute at Western Washington University is getting half a million dollars to examine how to convert cow poop into horsepower.

Five years ago, dairy farmer Darryl Vander Haak flipped the switch on the first poop–to–power generator in Washington State. Officially, the facility near Lynden, Washington is known as a methane digester. Manure from around a 1000 cows goes in one end. Then controlled decomposition yields methane gas. It’s burned like natural gas in an electric generator.

The rub is, electricity sales haven’t been very profitable, or profitable at all says dairyman Vander Haak.

Vander Haak: “We’re looking for alternative ways. The Northwest has too much hydropower to compete with. It would be easier to compete with the gas companies, I guess.”

That’s why Vander Haak was open minded when the director of the Vehicle Research Institute at Western Washington University came calling from down the road in Bellingham. Eric Leonhardt says he’s long had his eye on the dairy herd as a source of transportation fuel.

Leonhardt: “The problem is when the gas comes off the digester, it has not only methane in it — 60 percent — it also has carbon dioxide — forty percent, roughly. And it has a trace of hydrogen sulfide.”

Leonhardt says the challenge is to remove those engine–wrecking impurities cost–effectively. Other than that, powering vehicles with natural gas is not new. Generating the fuel from renewable sources has been done before too, for example at landfills. The U.S. Department of Energy gave the $500,000 grant to improve the fuel refining process and then demonstrate whether biogas could be cost–competitive. At lot depends on the price of fossil fuels.

Leonhardt: “At $6 a gallon, the payoff period isn’t very long.”

Banse: “So $6 a gallon for petroleum fuel?”

Leonhardt: “Yes. If you start at $3 a gallon, it’s a push. It is right on the edge of being possible.”

This spring, the Vehicle Research Institute plans to retrofit a donated airporter shuttle bus. It will take a few months of road testing to confirm Leonhardt’s cost estimates. The researcher has already calculated that the cows from just two large dairies could fuel all the public buses in his home of Whatcom County.

I’m Tom Banse in Bellingham, Washington.

Tom Banse, KUOW –


Manure digester not all that Zillah dairy expected February 5, 2010

Filed under: Farm/Ranch,Methane Digesters,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 7:38 pm
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Dan DeRuyter doubts he would do it again if he knew what he knows today.

The 42-year-old dairy producer east of Zillah operates the only manure digester in Eastern Washington, one of four currently operating in the state.

His 1.2-megawatt capacity digester may ultimately be the only one in a county where facilities like his that turn manure into electricity and usable products would appear to be a natural.

With 61 dairies and about 139,000 cows, Yakima County has the highest concentration of milk producers in the state, which carries with it the dubious distinction of being a large producer of manure.

A single dairy cow produces nearly 150 pounds of wet manure a day.

As a result, dairies are considered one of the culprits contributing to a groundwater contamination problem in the Lower Yakima Valley, where one out of every five wells has nitrate levels above what the federal government considers safe.

While the federal Environmental Protection Agency is trying to pinpoint the source of the contamination, some dairies are trying to find their own solutions, which led DeRuyter to explore what kind of a difference a digester could make on his manure output.

He was encouraged by local and state policymakers, but things aren’t turning out quite the way the models envisioned when he built the $3.8 million facility and began producing power more than three years ago.

DeRuyter, whose dairy has 3,000 cows, has run into a problem with Pacific Power, which has a contract to market his power at a rate of about 6.1 cents per kilowatt hour this year, or more than $1,700 per day. It is a six-month contract that began in November.

The utility argues that a tariff it proposed – ultimately approved by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission – prohibits it from paying him for more than 1 megawatt of electricity at that set rate.

The rate is designed to assure small start-up generators a firm rate to support their operations.

As it stands now, an interim renewal agreement allows DeRuyter to be paid for no more than 1 megawatt, enough power to light about 500 homes.

But DeRuyter needs to be able to market electricity at his capacity of 1.2 megawatts to make the project pencil out and provide a return on his investment.

His operation averaged under 1 megawatt during its first three years. Efficiencies have boosted his ability to generate more power.

Now he finds paying for and operating the digester is a draw on the equity in his farming operation. And it is occurring at the worst time, as dairy producers try to slog through a downturn in milk prices. Prices to dairy producers dropped nearly in half to $12 for 100 pounds early last year. Prices have since rebounded some.

“It’s a situation where they have me over a barrel and just don’t care,” argued DeRuyter, who has taken his case to state lawmakers.

Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt in Portland responded the utility is operating under rules established for it that can’t be ignored.

“Those are the rules we operate by. They can be changed and there are processes involved. We have been talking to the Legislature and talking about the administrative rules to make alterations,” he said. “I don’t think we are opposed to making changes. Until they happen, we have to work with the rules we have.”

“It’s not in our power to make an exception and pretend 1.2 megawatts is 1 megawatt,” he added.

State law and regulations that set out what utilities must do raise public policy questions about the role the state should play in encouraging renewable energy sources, especially in light of Initiative 937.

The initiative, approved by voters in 2007, required utilities such as Pacific Power to meet targets for the use of renewable energy resources in their portfolios.

The ultimate target is 15 percent renewables in the portfolio by 2020.

The commission, which regulates electricity, could modify the tariff rate by rule, but has not done so. Commissioners have to make sure that utility customers receive the best rates possible for power service.

Efforts to modify the system in the Legislature have failed because the various parties – producers and utilities – can’t agree, according to a state lawmaker who is working on the issue.

State Rep. John McCoy, a Tulalip Democratic lawmaker and chair of the Technology, Energy and Communication Committee, said he sympathizes with DeRuyter’s predicament. But right now there’s not consensus to move forward.

“I want to fix that. We have to keep plugging away,” McCoy said in a telephone interview. “I don’t want the DeRuyters to go away. I have talked about anaerobic digesters for years. Now, legislators are starting to get it. I still can’t get the utilities to come around.”

Dairy operators in Yakima County and elsewhere are watching.

Jay Gordon, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, said DeRuyter’s experience is sending the wrong message to others about building a digester to expand uses for the huge amount of manure created every day in Yakima County.

“It needs to be where we can show this will give you a return on investment and not lose your shirt,” Gordon said. “This sends a loud message to farmers and energy companies there is some risk.”

The digester on DeRuyter’s dairy is composed of a huge concrete-lined digester, a 3.3 million-gallon tank that mostly sits below ground level and an engine room with two 900-horsepower motors.

About 150,000 gallons of manure are flushed into the system every day.

Heat is applied to activate microbes that feed on the manure, creating methane. The methane is used to power the motors that turn a generator and create electricity.

Byproducts include a bedding material he uses for his cattle and fertilizer. The bedding material also could replace peat moss for nursery companies. Other uses for the byproduct also are being looked at, such as wood pellets and plywood.

DeRuyter also said the digester has reduced odors from the dairy, something about which his neighbors have commented to him.

Other digester operators in the state are faring better, primarily because they are in the Puget Sound Energy service area.

Kevin Maas, president of Farm Power Northwest LLC, a company that is operating a digester for two farmers in Mount Vernon in Skagit County, said Puget Sound is paying for power up to two megawatts – Puget’s tariff limit – at a rate that started last year at 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour and rises over the next nine years to 12 cents per kilowatt hour. The other two digesters are located in Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

The cap of two megawatts represents what is known as Puget Sound Energy’s avoided cost, what the investor-owned utility would have to pay to generate the energy itself or purchase the energy from someone else.

In Pacific Power’s case, its avoided cost is 1 megawatt.

Pacific Power officials say any production above the 1 megawatt must be submitted under a request for proposals process by which rates are set on a competitive basis and generally are lower.

But Maas argues Pacific Power is doing only the minimum it is required to do.

“The regulations don’t require them to do anything more than the minimum and that is what they are doing with Dan,” Maas said.

DeRuyter said Pacific Power could approach the commission to modify its existing tariff or seek an exception to allow it to go beyond the 1-megawatt limit.

But the utility would have to do that for all producers, said Tom Schooley, accounting manager in the commission’s energy section.

Maas points to Oregon, where utilities are required to offer longer-term contracts and accept power from generators up to 10 megawatts.

“The state government could change all of this by doing the same thing as Oregon,” he said. “It is something the Legislature could solve if it weren’t distracted by a $2.6 billion shortfall.”

The issue is getting a renewed look by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The last chance for a legislative fix died last week when a McCoy bill that sought to modify Initiative 937 died.

The dairy federation’s Gordon said should nothing change in the current, short legislative session, he may try to start a between-session dialogue on the issue.

“My plan is to put together a letter to the UTC and send it out to the utilities asking why we have such a low tariff rate on renewables and can we change that to what we have in Western Washington?”

DAVID LESTER, Yakima Herald-Republic


Methane digester ready to go at Threemile Canyon Farms December 18, 2009

Filed under: Farm/Ranch,Methane Digesters,Oregon,Renewable Energy Projects — nwrenewablenews @ 3:42 pm

Marty Myers, general manager at Threemile Canyon Farms, has high hopes for the operation’s new fuel plant.

Workers just completed building a $1 million methane digester near the milking barns.

Myers and Tom Chavez, the farm’s waste manager, hope to begin producing methane gas from the digester in early January.

“This is a pilot project that should handle the manure from 1,000 to 1,500 cows,” Myers said.

Threemile Canyon Farms has a flush dairy. That means employees use water to clean the stalls, washing animal waste into a drainage system that pumps it over revolving screens that remove large solids for composting.

The wastewater then flows into clarifiers, similar to those used in municipal wastewater systems. They allow solids to settle to the bottom, from which the waste again is pumped over the screens.

Myers said some waste from the bottom of the clarifiers eventually will go to the digester, where bacteria will decompose it, producing methane.

The rest will go through settling cells and finally into the lagoon.

“The lagoon water is then clean enough to be pumped through the irrigation system through the pivots as fertilizer,” he said.

The digester isn’t much to look at. Most of it is underground, comprising a 29-foot deep inverted pyramid that is 160 feet square at ground level.

Troy Green, a Kennewick engineer who helped design the digester, said it’s filled with 31,000 neatly stacked tires.

Myers said he and the engineers think this digester will process manure twice as fast as a traditional digester, which takes 20-25 days.

“I think this will reduce the time to seven to 10 days because of the tires,” Myers said. “They give a place for the bacteria to live.”

Waste that isn’t routed to the digester will go through settling cells and finally into the lagoon.

“The lagoon water is then clean enough to be pumped through the irrigation system through the pivots as fertilizer,” he said.

The gas will be collected and used to fire a boiler. It will heat water for use on the 17,000-cow dairy.

This pilot project will determine the system’s success. If it works, Myers plans to build up to a dozen digesters to handle manure from the entire dairy.

“It’s a successful project if it produces enough gas to heat our … water for the dairy,” he said.

The dairy’s propane bill runs about $120,000 per year to do that today. That’s why the methane digester project is a partnership among the farm, Northwest Natural Gas and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

Myers expects it will be 18 months after startup before he’ll know the digester’s effectiveness, but he’s eager to find out.

“If it’s as successful as we think it is, the next eight to 12 will be lesser cost per unit.”

Producing methane from cow manure could even become a revenue stream, Myers said. If the farm can’t burn all the methane it produces, it might build a co-generation plant or sell methane to Portland General Electric, which has a generating plant about four miles from the farm.

DEAN BRICKEY, The East Oregonian –


Dairy farm utilizes alternative energy sources October 26, 2009

Filed under: Farm/Ranch,Methane Digesters,Montana — nwrenewablenews @ 3:12 pm
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A farmer in tough times has to squeeze every penny from his operation, but Huls Dairy is squeezing in places few farmers have.

Dairy cows at the Corvallis farm produce 6 million gallons of manure a year, which this fourth-generation farm in Northwest Montana’s Bitterroot Valley taps for methane fuel and a bagged, organic lawn-and-garden fertilizer sold as Afterburner Boost.

The methane generates enough energy to power Huls’ 350-cow dairy operation, plus one home.

“Our farm has tried to utilize our cows, to market whatever we have,” said Tim Huls, who is facing the lowest payments in nearly three decades for his farm’s milk. “It wouldn’t be enough to offset the dairy crisis, in terms of taking you from being in the red, but at this point it’s paid its own way, particularly in fertilizer. Afterburner Boost does very well in the marketplace.”

Finding small ways to save or make a buck has become crucial for Montana farmers struggling with feast-or-famine market prices. Huls likens the erratic price behavior of his commodity to a seismograph reading for Yellowstone National Park. After receiving a record high price for his milk two years ago, Huls would now need dairy payouts to increase a third just to break even.

For Huls Dairy, the decision to go into the methane energy business was as much about squeezing a dollar as bracing for environmental change. Methane from livestock is increasingly being viewed as a liability for farmers, one they might be penalized for producing possible federal legislation to curb global warming.

Methane is 21 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. By scraping the manure from the alleys inside the dairy barn and feeding the waste into an anaerobic digester, Huls Dairy makes a burnable fuel to power its operation, rather than releasing the gas into the atmosphere.

Other farmers are turning to no-till crop practices to minimize the amount of carbon dioxide they release when seeding. In doing so, they allow pollution captured by crops and pulsed into the ground through roots to remain sequestered in the soil. Their hope is that carbon sequestration will offset their costs under any future pollution penalties imposed by the government.

Like Huls, their environmentalism earns a small profit. Farmers sell their sequestered carbon as offsets for industrial polluters buying green credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. But there are concerns that money for carbon won’t be enough.

“There’s a fair amount of uncertainty in the ag world right now about climate change,” Mattson said. “Where does climate change take ag? When you’re working in a business with low, single-digit margins of two or three percent, it’s a concern.”

At Huls Dairy, Tim Huls is thinking about other ways to save a dollar, like local marketing, or better state and federal price controls to keep dairies from operating at a loss. The milking machine squeezes teats as the cows turn round. The pensive dairy farmer squeezes pennies, nickels and dimes.

“You can’t stop feeding your cows. You can’t stop milking your cows. You do what has to be done every day,” Huls said. “You watch costs. You can get involved in policy at the federal and state levels. And you pray, I guess.”

By TOM LUTEY Billings Gazette –


Brothers Turn Cow Manure into New Source of Electricity October 5, 2009

Filed under: Biofuels,Methane Digesters,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 1:08 pm
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Dairy cows make milk, and they make poop — 30 gallons a day. Now farmers can send the cow waste to machines that will convert it to electricity. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire will visit one of those electrical plants in Skagit County today (Monday).

Daryl Maas owns the plant with his brother Kevin.

Maas: “Doesn’t everyone always dream of working with manure their whole life?”

He says they got into renewable energy when they tried to build wind turbines on their grandfather’s farm. That didn’t work out. But they heard about machines called manure digesters. And they decided to get into it. He says the hardest part isn’t the smell. It’s convincing farmers that it’s a good idea.

Maas: “Farmers in Western Washington are just allergically scared of regulation, of environmental issues. And if they feel like getting involved in the project is gonna make their life more complicated and give them more scrutiny, that’s really tough for them.”

But Daryl and Kevin Maas convinced two farmers in Skagit County to pipe their manure to their new power plant. The digester extracts methane from the manure and burns it in a generator to make electricity. Daryl and his brother sell the electricity to Puget Sound Energy.

This is kind of gross, but what’s leftover are solids and liquids. Daryl and Kevin give them back to the farmers, because they can actually use them. Daryl says the solids are a good replacement for sawdust in cow bedding. That can save a farmer $10,000 to $15,000 a month. Farmers can use the liquid as fertilizer — and Daryl says it’s better than raw manure because it’s so thin it can run through a hose.

And to Daryl, the whole thing smells like money. He and his brother paid over $3 million to build the digester. But he says they’ll make the money back in six years. He plans to build three more in Western Washington.

Phyllis Fletcher, KUOW News


Skagit, Wash. manure-to-power plant on line September 25, 2009

It takes slightly more than three gallons of liquid cow manure to create one kilowatt-hour of electricity.

A lot of poop. A small amount of electricity. A big environmental boost to a dairy farmer.

A fledgling anaerobic manure digester is now running at roughly 80 percent capacity near Rexville in southwestern Skagit County. The plant produced its first power on Aug. 30 and will host Gov. Chris Gregoire at a ceremony next Monday.

The digester accepts the liquid manure in a big holding tank, where it gives off methane gas that is then burned to produce electricity.

It is the first or fourth of its kind in Washington – depending on how you catalog the device. Ferndale-based Andgar Corp. built all four.

Washington already has three conventional poop-to-methane-to-power digesters near Lynden, Monroe and Sunnyside. However, they essentially accept manure from one dairy farm each.

The Rexville operation – built and run by Farm Power – is different in a couple ways.

It is set up to accept manure from two or more dairy farms – enabling smaller operations to participate.

And it is designed to accept and extract methane from icky, slop-like wastes from seafood and chicken processing – as well as other food wastes. Farm Power had to get a bill passed in the Legislature this past spring to make combining the food and cattle wastes easier from a regulatory aspect.

Dairy farms produce huge amounts of manure that can ooze into groundwater and eventually into streams and rivers to cause pollution problems.

Farmers take many measures to deal with this problem, but digesters are a more cost-efficient way to tackle the matter, said Daryl Maas, one of two brothers behind the Rexville operation.

Kevin and Daryl Maas – who grew up around Skagit County dairy operations – saw Washington’s first digester built near Lynden in 2004 and became fascinated by its potential.

But they saw that very few farmers could afford to build similar digesters, Daryl Maas said.

The brothers created Farm Power in 2007, which raised $3.5 million – including $1 million in federal and state grants – to build the Rexville facility that is currently taking manure from two nearby dairy farms. The site has the capability to expand to accept manure from additional farms.

At full capacity, the Rexville site can handle 55,000 gallons of liquid manure a day. That translates to 750 kilowatt-hours – enough to power about 500 homes.

That’s one-tenth of 1 percent of the roughly 500,000 homes served by Puget Sound Energy (PSE).

The Rexville facility adds to what PSE can offer in “Green Power,” a program in which utility customers can request to have their electricity partly or totally supplied by renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass facilities.

Roughly 24,000 of PSE’s 1.1 million overall customers have signed up for Green Power sources, said utility spokesman Andy Wappler.

“Now farmers have a brand-new product to sell – renewable energy,” Wappler said. Maas said the brothers have three more digesters on the drawing board – two in Whatcom County and one near Enumclaw. They hope to build an average of one per year.

Meanwhile, Maas said the manure can be returned to the farmers in better shape after the methane is extracted.

The returned manure has its nutrients broken down, which makes it a better fertilizer. Without going through the digester, the same manure would take longer to break down into essential nutrients for fertilizer.

Also, the process produces a mulch that can be used for livestock bedding.

By JOHN STANG, Seattle Post Inteligencer –


WWU Gets Grant To Convert Cow Manure To Fuel September 3, 2009

Western Washington University’s Vehicle Research Institute has been awarded a $500,000 grant for turning cow manure into clean-burning bio-methane for vehicles.

Part of the funding from the Department of Energy will go toward placing new engines in three buses used by Bellingham’s Bellair Charters.

Not only will the busses produce a fraction of the CO2, but they are also using a renewable resource made from cow manure, which would ordinarily just add its greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, according to VRI Director Eric Leonhardt.

The bio-methane used to power the buses comes from a dairy digester at the Vander Haak Dairy in Lynden.

Manure is put into the digester, which separates the solids from the gases, Leonhardt explained.

The gases are then run through a “scrubber,” to make them clean and ready to burn in a combustion engine.

Leonhardt said Whatcom County cows alone could produce enough bio-methane to run every car, truck, bus and piece of farm equipment in the county.

Tracy Ellis, KGMI (AM)